Sandbox VR gets millions from celebrity investors in hopes to make VR cool again

Hong Kong-based start-up Sandbox VR has just secured $11 million in a fresh round of investment. The company hopes that the new investors, which are primarily A-list celebrities, will help convince consumers that VR is cool.
A Sandbox VR store
Sandbox VR currently has 8 premises across the US and Asia. Photo: Sandbox VR

Sandbox VR has recently added a prestigious selection of A-list celebrity investors to its books.

The section of film and sports stars include Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Keisuke Honda, Kevin Durant, Michael Orvitz, Orlando Bloom and Will Smith.

The eclectic selection of celebrity investors includes a couple of Limited Partners of the Andreessen Horowitz Cultural Leadership Fund.

The group doesn’t hold much in the way of real-world tech expertise. But for Sandbox VR, that’s not really what they’re looking for at this stage. The real value for the VR start-up lies in the celebrity status of the group, across film, sports and pop culture in general.

In an interview with Tech Crunch, Sandbox VR’s President and Chief Product Officer, Siqi Chen, described one of the main issues the company is facing in its current stage of growth.

“Part of it is brand, in that VR is not perceived as a cool thing to do… so having influential people on board helps with that perception a bit,” Chen said.

Public perception of the technology appears to be the key obstacle keeping it from breaking through from the core enthusiast user base, to a wider, more sustainable audience.

How is Sandbox VR different to its competitors?

A number of companies have invested in VR gaming experiences. But their approaches to the concept of location-based VR vary considerably.

Sandbox VR stands out from its competitors in the way it integrates its real-world spaces with the in-game environment.

A Sandbox VR play space
Sandbox VR offers open-plan VR experiences. Photo: Sandbox VR

Rather than creating real-world objects, such as doors, for players to interact with whilst using VR equipment, Sandbox VR utilizes clear rooms with open floor plans.

This allows the company’s development team to prioritize multiplayer games which rely on open spaces. This has the important advantage of allowing Sandbox VR to incorporate multiple separate stories/games into the same space.

When it comes to creating a scalable, profitable business, this has some tangible advantages.

As a result, Sandbox VR is still securing funding at a time when other location-based VR companies are not.

By the end of 2020, the company aims to have increased the number of active locations across the US and Asia from 8 to 16.

Sandbox VR’s competitors

One of Sandbox VR’s main competitors is The Void. The Void has taken the opposite approach to Sandbox VR’s open floor plans.

Instead of putting players in a rooms with no real-world objects, The Void integrates physical props and environmental elements into the gaming space.

The Void's Ghostbusters experience
The Void has a VR Ghostbusters experience, perfect for Halloween. Photo: Steve Jurvetson via Flickr

They even add effects like wind if, for example, a player walks near a window. While this makes the player experience a lot more immersive, it means the business as a whole is less scalable.

Rather than being able to integrate multiple games into the same space, physical props have to be added and removed. When it comes to investability, this has clearly given Sandbox VR the upper hand.

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