Operator Profile: Arctic Sun VR Reopening VR Arcade


May 18, 2020 | 7 min read

Just remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. It will come back.

– James Pollock, Owner of Arctic Sun VR

Arctic Sun Virtual Reality was established in 2016 by James Pollock and opened to the public in February of 2017. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Arctic Sun VR was forced to close on March 18, 2020. On May 8, 2020, Alaska’s governor announced that they would move into Phase 2 of their reopening plan, which allowed Arctic Sun VR to open that day, with little notice.

We caught up with James Pollock to ask him about his experience, after just one weekend of being open following almost 2 months closed.

Q&A with James Pollock, Owner of Arctic Sun VR

Q: How has your business changed?

Unfortunately, we had to lay off all our staff. We made sure to give them all of the information concerning how to apply for unemployment as soon as possible to start getting benefits, as well as the latest news about what was happening in terms of government support programs. We are in constant communication with them and keeping them up to speed on changes. When I am able to I will bring them all back, sometime after reopening.

We have decided to only have the Arcade open 4 days a week for now. We are now closed Monday through Wednesday and then open Thursday through Sunday from 12-10PM. Weekdays are usually slower and now, with only one person working (me!) it is better to take a little more time off, so I don’t get burned out.

Q: What has your experience been like since reopening?

So far, it has been pretty slow. We only announced that we were reopening about 4 hours before we did so last Friday, May 8, 2020.

Q: How have your cleaning & hygiene protocols changed?

Ultimately the reason we made the call to reduce days of operation is because in the U.S., the CDC’s (Center for Disease Control) cleaning and disinfecting guidelines call for weekly disinfecting of any carpeted areas or being shut down for 72 hours to allow for natural deactivation of the virus. We also have extensive cleaning protocols which include sanitization before every reservation, as well as throughout the day and at the end of every day. This includes use of antibacterial wipes and on HMDs and controllers, as well as special attention to couches, tables, and other public surfaces. We also zap HMDs, controllers, and keyboards with a UV light wand. We offer disposable face covers to anyone who wants them, and we have even upgraded the headsets to replace all the audio straps so that the headphones rest on the ears. 

Our stations are set up in a way that they naturally force social distancing. Because each player must be in their own station and the stations are 8x8 guests are practicing social distancing while they are playing. We have also blocked extra seating in our station viewing areas to ensure an ample distance from one group to another. We have rearranged our party room. Usually, there is seating for 16, now we just have a few small tables and comfy chairs.  

We are encouraging people to fill their waivers out on their phone or tablet before they arrive at the Arcade. We use a Smartwaiver and there is a link to the waiver in every reservation confirmation email.

We have also developed marketing materials around the safety and hygiene of the Arcade to communicate to our guests how much we do to keep and run a clean facility. We have a 12x18 poster printed and framed in 4 different locations throughout the Arcade, on the front door, at the front desk, two in the play areas, and one in the party room. We also have laminated versions taped on the entrance to the Arcade and taped in our middle waiver console to block it out for social distancing.

Q: How have customers responded?

The guests who have played since reopening have responded well - they are happy to see that we are open. They’re also happy to see that we have signage, posts, and visible cleaning supplies around. None of the people that have come in have been first-time guests so they all knew what they were “getting into.” Even before COVID-19, sanitation and cleanliness were top priorities; we have always made a show of it and kept extra sanitation supplies in the stations for the guests.

Us fellow VR Arcade Operators should reach out and help one another during these times. For example, I saw that Jason Van Hierden, CEO of VRKade in Canada, had created a really awesome graphic promoting hand washing in a light-hearted & fun way. I reached out to him to see if he'd mind if I used the idea as well. He promptly & kindly responded and granted me permission. The graphic below was created off of his original version. Remember fellow Operators, we're all in this together. 

Jason Van Hierden also granted me permission to use his floor graphics, which combine social distancing with on-brand images. Guests have really enjoyed them!

On social media, most of our guests are very supportive, and happy to see that we are open. We do have a few guests who stated that although they love our facility, they think it is too soon for us to reopen. We acknowledge and value the opinion of all of our guests and try to reassure them that we are doing everything we can to make sure that we have a safe and sanitary facility for them to play in. We let them know that it is okay if they are not comfortable coming back out yet, we will be here when they are.

Q: What else have you done differently in terms of operations?

We did implement some price changes which will turn out to be big for us, but it will be hard for the guests to tell because our base pricing did not change at all. We decreased the number of players allowed to share a station from 3 to 2 and increased the “extra player in a station” price from $5 to $10. This will naturally force more people to book individual stations instead of sharing stations driving our revenue up for the same number of people that walk through the door.

This was the perfect time to make the change as we had to get rack cards and trifold brochures reprinted, update the website, training manual, pricing sheet, and other marketing material. While we were closed, we could be very thorough to make sure we got all the changes properly implemented across all the communication channels and booking software.

Q: What marketing did you do to win back customers?

We have been active on Facebook throughout the closure, through email and our Facebook page. Initially, we asked the community for help in the form of gift card purchases. We also continued to promote our VR Summer Camp program letting customers know that they could reserve spots in advance. To keep the audience engaged we also teased and promoted new games, like Half-Life Alyx, and best sellers like SUPERHOT VR to give them something to look forward to. Since we reopened, we have been highlighting our early returning guests to thank them and we have been showing off our cleaning supplies and systems to make them feel safe.

Q: When do you think you will be back at pre-COVID-19 occupancy?

Within 3-6 months UNLESS there is another wave of the virus.

Q: Any advice for other VR Arcade Operators?

Reassure your guests. Focus on cleaning. And then the hardest part - you need to show your guests how clean your facility is and not JUST the guests IN the Arcade. You need to show the guests outside the Arcade. Make it fun too. Your guests are coming to your facility to have a good time. People are nervous, so reassure them. Don’t harp on being clean - make being clean FUN,

There are a lot of VR Arcade Operators in a tough position right now. A lot of folks have not yet reopened. Just remember, when you open your doors and have a less than stellar first weekend back: this is a marathon, not a sprint. It will come back.

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