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VR Entertainment Businesses Take Hold in San Diego

RECREATION: Immersive Technology Offers Wide Variety of Experiences

SAN DIEGO COUNTY – There’s nothing fake about the popularity of Virtual Reality – video and computer technology that puts people in a simulated world and makes them feel like what they’re watching and experiencing is actually happening.

VR has become a player in education and in the healthcare industry throughout the world, but it has become big business with gaming fans, growing its audience since the 1980s, and even before then.

Fortune Business Insights reports that the global virtual reality market size was valued at $25.11 billion in 2023 and is projected to grow from $32.64 billion in 2024, and exponential growth rates show it at $244.84 billion by 2032.

Zippia reports that there are 65.9 million VR users in the U.S. and more than 171 million VR users worldwide.

Gaming and entertainment segments hold the highest shares in the market, as companies heavily invest in developing content, software and hardware for gaming purposes, Fortune Business Insights reports. The growing popularity of virtual theme parks, museums and arcades are what drives the majority of VR growth.

Whether playing arcade-like games, sharing artistic painting opportunities, working to escape virtual escape rooms, simulating vehicle racing or chasing zombies, VR offers opportunities for groups of friends, family members, business and corporate teams and individuals to experience new dimensions of reality where imaginations soar and indoor adventures are just a VR headset away.

Global companies like Sandbox VR in Mission Valley and Battleground (part of the Anvio chain of VR) at Plaza Bonita have found homes in San Diego County, but local companies are also finding their place in the space.

Jourdan Browne
Co-founder
Let’s Play Virtual Reality

Jourdan Browne, who co-founded Let’s Play Virtual Reality with his brother, Cameron Browne, at the Westfield North County Shopping Center in 2020, calls the industry “an exciting one filled with visionaries.”

“Every company seems to have a different vision for how they want to implement VR to help the real world,” he said. “I think the end goal is fairly defined but the route to get there seems to be the part that everyone has a different opinion on. The end goal has always been full immersion; a virtual world that feels just as real as the real one.”
Even local museums are having a day with VR.

At the Fleet Science Center, the museum’s new Pulseworks VR Transporter takes users to the Moon, on a spacewalk, floating around the International Space Station or zipping through the cosmos with motion technology and surround-sound audio.

While some VR brands are diving into haptic technology (vests and gloves that allow you to physically feel the impact of the actions of your character), others are focusin their attention on brain-computer interfaces that allow you to control the interfaces with just thought.

Browne said he believes it will be the collaboration of those companies that will lead to VR’s full potential.

“The industry still has a long way to go though,” Browne said. “It hasn’t hit the mainstream quite yet. The VR gaming market has been fairly stagnant over the past few years. Large corporations that would be more than capable of making something truly great in VR have strayed away from the VR industry because of this reason.

“It’s not lucrative enough for them to develop new games and experiences for these headsets yet. Everyone seems to want a piece of the industry but they are all waiting for the right time. Once that time comes, there will be some truly great experiences waiting for us.”

Let’s Play VR and COVID

Browne said his business was ready to open March 1, 2020 but the pandemic scrapped those plans. He said he and his brother “scraped by” before finally opening April 1, 2021.

“We had depleted all our extra funds we had saved for emergencies, our credit was in the gutter and our 0% APR loans expired without being paid off, which amounted to an overwhelming amount of interest we had to pay,” Jourdan Browne said. “We needed to hit the ground running when we opened if we were going to survive. Luckily for us, we did! Turns out, people being cooped up in their houses for the past 14 months had increased the demand for entertainment venues drastically.

“We were flooded with customers every weekend and had to increase our capacity at the shop a few months in to account for how busy we were. After a year and a half of taking no owners’ pay from the shop, we were able to completely pay off all our credit cards and start taking a small paycheck every month.”

Other Spots Seeing Success

The GRID started in Carlsbad but has since moved to Oceanside, and has been providing entertainment since 2016, behind founder Jon “Pan” Oakley, who studied computer engineering at Fresno State University.

The GRID pioneered the first location based competitive multiplayer VR game designed specifically for eSports. Its innovative approach has set new standards in the VR gaming industry, combining the excitement of eSports with immersive virtual reality experiences, Oakley said.

Pan Oakley
Founder
The GRID

Oakley not only offers VR experiences at his Oceanside business, he creates them as well. Oakley began prototyping VR in 2008.

“I was an early innovator in creating a first-person shooter that tracked Room scale,” Oakley said. “However, my approach used off-the-shelf technology that investors at the time shied away from because they couldn’t own the patent.”

Now in his 50s, Oakley watched early VR offerings in the 1980s and made it part of his education path. He said joined the game industry so he could understand its fundamentals, knowing that the next generation of immersive entertainment would originate from there.

“I had been prototyping on my own for a number of years,” Oakley said. “(The GRID) started as a branch of one of my businesses that was a surf simulator.”

San Diego Virtual Reality just went live on June 25 after seven months in the plans of husband-and-wife co-founders Ashwini Kandukuri, whose day job is running an Airbnb, and Chanakya MalladiI, who works for a major technology company.

Ashwini Kandukuri
Co-founder
San Diego VR

Keeping their eyes on business trends, the couple learned last year that VR gaming had brands that were missing in San Diego and were needed locally.

“Our goal was to get as many VR experiences as possible under one roof for people with different tastes and price points to experience them and have fun,” she said.

The couple purchased three different VR business licenses and made its “umbrella brand” San Diego VR, which has more than 90 venues across more than 25 countries. The couple found a 4,000-square foot spot in the Miramar area, a site large enough to host two other complementary games in a gaming arena.

Kandukuri said she and her husband have been watching the VR industry advance in the consumer space and professional space, a trend they expect to continue.

“The future is bright for VR because it is the next frontier in gaming and with tech only getting sharper and more sophisticated, and companies around the world investing and producing new games and devices, the possibilities are endless,” she said.

“We are already using it without knowing it when it comes to AR/VR. Amazon and Google already have product placement and image search. Gaming has improved exponentially with so many gaming providers launching games that blow you away. Gaming has always been a billion-dollar business and VR will just keep it going.”

San Diego VR
FOUNDED: 2024
FOUNDERS: Ashwini Kandukuri and Chanakya Malladi
HEADQUARTERS: Miramar
BUSINESS: VR Site
OUTSIDE INVESTMENT: $400,000
WEBSITE: sandiegovr.com
CONTACT: 858-396-0009
NOTABLE: SDVR co-founders Kandukuri and Malladi have been real estate and small business investors for years, expanding into VR after a gaming-focused birthday party their son attended

Let’s Play Virtual Reality
FOUNDED: 2020
FOUNDERS: Jourdan Browne, Cameron Browne
HEADQUARTERS: Escondido
BUSINESS: VR Arcade
REVENUE: $200,000
EMPLOYEES: 5
WEBSITE: letsplayvirtualreality.com
CONTACT: 442-257-2095
NOTABLE: LPVR offers activities to challenge participants to work together and communicate to solve complex puzzles and navigate unfamiliar scenarios

The GRID
FOUNDED: 2016
FOUNDER AND CEO: Jon “Pan” Oakley
HEADQUARTERS: Oceanside
BUSINESS: VR Playground and VR Game Development
REVENUE: $175,000
EMPLOYEES: 2
WEBSITE: thegridvr.com
CONTACT: 760-542-0954
NOTABLE: The GRID pioneered the first location based competitive multiplayer VR game designed specifically for eSports.

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