Power

VR pioneer The Void is plotting a comeback

Assets of the location-based VR startup have been acquired by a former investor, who plans a relaunch with key former team members.

The Void popup location in the Westfield World Trade Center.

The Void's New York outpost closed during the pandemic. Now, the company is planning a comeback under new ownership.

Photo: The Void

Location-based VR pioneer The Void may rise from the ashes next year: A former investor has acquired key assets of the defunct startup and is now looking to relaunch it with key team members, Protocol has learned. The company is said to be actively fundraising, and is getting ready to start hiring additional talent soon.

The Void's patents and trademarks were recently acquired by Hyper Reality Partners, a company headed by former OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel, who also used to be an investor in and board member of The Void. Hyper Reality Partners is actively fundraising for a relaunch of the VR startup, and is said to have raised as much as $20 million already, according to an industry insider.

Hyper Reality Partners did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Steckel has managed to sign up key talent previously tied to The Void, including former Chief Creative Officer Curtis Hickman, former VP of Content Jason Howard and Steve Shaiken, former COO of The Void's predecessor, Evermore Park. The team has mostly stayed quiet about its plans, but is getting ready to talk about them more publicly as part of a forthcoming hiring push.

"Hyper Reality Partners is a team made up of world-renowned industry leaders in location-based virtual reality," reads a placeholder page on the recruiting platform Breezy that doesn't list any open positions yet. "Having acquired The VOID assets and IP, our mission is to take VR well beyond where it has been before. [...] HRP & The VOID are now entering a period of rapid expansion and are looking for more talented team members to join us. This is a unique opportunity to shape the future of VR and the entire entertainment industry."

Hyper Reality's revival of The Void is just the latest twist in the history of a startup that was once seen as a pioneer for VR and out-of-home entertainment. It was backed by investors including Disney, Comcast and James Murdoch's Lupa Systems, and operated around a dozen VR centers across North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Using a modified VR headset, a VR backpack and a special tactile vest, The Void allowed attendees to explore VR worlds, complete with functioning doors and other props that increased the sense of immersion. Some of the company's experiences were based on Hollywood blockbuster franchises including "Star Wars," "Ghostbusters," "The Avengers" and "Jumanji."

However, The Void's penchant for high-profile locations in some of the world's best-known shopping centers came with a significant price tag, forcing the company into debt even before the pandemic completely shuttered its retail business. Unable to pay its bills or service its debt, The Void was forced to transfer its IP to a creditor in late 2020. The new owner of the company's assets, who structured them under a holding company called VR Exit LLC, told Protocol at the time that he was looking to either resell them, or relaunch The Void after the pandemic subsided.

Regulatory filings show that The Void's IP ultimately sold for around $2 million to Hyper Reality Partners this summer. The deal apparently did not include much of The Void's retail hardware; some of the company's former mall landlords sold off its VR headsets, backpacks and other equipment as abandoned property this summer.

Before going belly-up, The Void is said to have spent millions of dollars on developing its own headset based on modified Oculus hardware, as well as its own VR backpacks and accessories. However, much of that technology is obsolete by now: Vendors like HP have standardized VR backpacks and other location-based devices, and the industry is quickly moving toward much lighter standalone technology.

"We are maybe 12 months from no longer using a backpack, and rather using local 5G networks to transmit the experience directly to a headset," Walter Parkes, CEO of The Void competitor Dreamscape, recently told Protocol.

In addition to relaunching with new equipment, The Void is apparently also looking to tweak its operating model. Instead of a large number of mall-based locations capable of running just one or two experiences at a time, the company now plans to open much larger standalone entertainment venues that include non-VR components as well as food and beverage services, according to a source with knowledge of its plans. Hyper Reality Partners is said to be eyeing Las Vegas for a first location of this type.

The Void previously operated a VR center in the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian hotel and casino in Las Vegas. That location now houses a VR center operated by The Void competitor Sandbox, which itself reemerged from a pandemic-related bankruptcy restructuring earlier this year.

Correction: This story was updated to reflect that Sandbox is The Void competitor that's in the Venetian.

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