By | December 9, 2023
Squid Game guards.

Netflix’s streaming video series Squid Game: The Challenge — a reality TV version of the hit series Squid Game — produced a winner who took home $4.56 million in real-world money on the show.

And now Sandbox VR is reporting that its VR-based location entertainment show, Squid Game Virtuals, has also taken in $4.56 million in its first two months on the market, said Steve Zhao, CEO of Sandbox VR. That means it’s the biggest hit ever for the company.

On September 19, Sandbox VR launched the virtual reality experience based on the hit Squid Game series. And registrations are now available at Sandbox VR locations. The games start on September 29.

With over 265 million views on Netflix, Squid Game has become the most watched streaming series of all time. Netflix granted Sandbox VR a license to immerse fans in the exciting world of Squid Games through a full-body VR experience in 46 Sandbox VR locations.

“It was very timely,” Zhao said. “We’re doing pretty well. We think it’s going to pick up over the holiday season.”

At $50 per person, that means about 80,000 people have gone through it. That’s a new record for a game launch for Sandbox VR, Zhao said. It has also given a boost to other Sandbox VR games like Deadwood Valley.

I played it at the company’s San Francisco location on Market Street and it was quite entertaining. I came in last, which is good to know in case I ever have to depend on my survival skills in real life.

The Squid Game Virtuals VR experience at Sandbox VR transports players to iconic locations from the series, where they become competitors in intense challenges inspired by the show. Fortunately for gamers, the Sandbox VR version is a bit more forgiving than the Netflix show, or the event reality TV version. For example, nobody really dies in a bloody mess. It is not a graphical version of Squid Game.

Game demo

Squid Game guards.

When you arrive at the location, log in for your appointment. Some people enter. But it is best if you sign up in advance with your team. You get a video walkthrough of the experience, and it includes tips like not bumping into your teammates while wearing the headsets.

Previous versions of Sandbox VR’s games had you wearing heavy VR headsets wired to backpacks, which were sort of like giant batteries. But this time I attached some sensors that the cameras could sense to track movement, and I wore a VR headset. But it was quite light and there was no backpack.

There are a total of eight games in each Sandbox VR location. Your group of up to six players can play for about 30 minutes and maybe get six matches done in that time. You compete against each other to get the most points and win the piggy bank. The losers are all “eliminated”. If you want to play all eight games, you have to go back more than once.

Step on the wrong tile and you die in Cross the Glass Bridge.

Although the show is quite serious, annoying and scary, this experience is just fun. Your whole body is the game controller.

You make life or death decisions that could result in your elimination. Players will compete against each other in games like “Red Light, Green Light” and “Cross the Glass Bridge,” along with new twists that expand on the Squid Game world. After each game session, players will receive personalized highlights that show their in-game reactions and summarize their unique Squid Game story.

Like the show, Red Light, Green Light makes you quietly take small steps while the head of the large viewer is turned away. But as soon as she says Red Light, you have to freeze. Otherwise, you’ll turn into a white ghost, floating around and losing precious seconds while those who aren’t frozen can move and collect precious coins. The difference between Sandbox VR and the show? No sniper will take your head off if you’re caught moving under a red light.

In the Cross the Glass Bridge game, the show has a long bridge with glass titles on it. You can step on the glass to the left or right. If you step on the right glass, you can continue across the bridge. If you step on the wrong tile, it will crack and you will fall to your death. With Sandbox VR, the bridge was only three tiles long. I successfully walked on the first tile, but then my foot landed on a glass that shattered.

Suddenly I found myself plunging into the darkness. Or so I thought. While I knew I was in a VR experience, my knee actually buckled and he fell to the floor. I stood up, embarrassed. Then I was out of the game for a while while I moved to the beginning of the bridge. Then I got going again and raced against the clock.

Just like in the show, there are chances to either cooperate with others or sabotage them. You can make people do wrong things, or outright lie to them in a co-op game. You can make a secret alliance if you want and backstab others.

This is where I’m falling down in Squid Game Virtuals.

There are story-like elements. When you’re in a room with other survivors, there are AI characters who gossip among themselves, talking about things like the money or their chances of survival.

At the end of the mini-games, you go through a ranking ceremony. The one with the most points survives the experience, with all the fake money. If you want to beat your score, you can come back again.

A big comeback

Let the GamesBeat Squid game begin.
Let the GamesBeat Squid game begin.

Zhao said the team talked to Netflix in 2019, and it showed them their Star Trek experience before the pandemic hit. But with COVID-19, Zhao said the company went into “hibernation.”

“We were a bare-bones team just trying to survive,” he said.

All stores were closed. In 2021, the world began to open up again and people began to come out in droves to the locations after being housed. And so the talks with Netflix started again, and they discussed intellectual properties where they could collaborate.

After Sandbox VR raised $37 million in November 2021, the company was able to start opening new locations again. When thinking about what it could do with Netflix, Zhao said the team knew creating a full-body experience that took full advantage of the immersive platform was what it needed to do. Given the choice of four different IP addresses, Sandbox VR’s team jumped at the chance to make the Squid Game. Netflix had already done location-based experiences with Stranger Things. But this was the crown jewel.

Instead of following the show exactly, Sandbox VR made some of its own mini-games to leverage its platform for players. Hampden said they knew they were on to something when people screamed and laughed during playtests. There is a little more humor than in the show. Especially at the end.

Let the GamesBeat Squid game begin.

The Squid Game development team at Sandbox VR was not large. Most of Sandbox VR’s teams are around 12 to 15 people, Hampden said. They worked on the project starting with pre-production in September 2022, and they finished it in less than a year. Recently, the team has been polishing.

How the fans reacted

Squid Game Virtuals

The Squid Game Virtuals is the second game that Sandbox VR has launched this year. And it previously announced that its Deadwood Valley game has generated $23 million in the past 12 months at just 30 locations. (There are now 43 seats). Zhao expects Deadwood Valley to generate over $100 million in ticket sales over its lifetime.

Regarding Squid Game, Zhao said, “It’s our best-selling title. It represents over 30% of all tickets sold since launch. It’s been a phenomenal experience and guests love it.”

In addition to the Squid Game, Sandbox VR offers seven other proprietary experiences based on popular Hollywood series and their own original intellectual properties. All Sandbox VR experiences are developed by an in-house triple-A game studio led by gaming industry veterans like Hampden. Hampden has been with The Sandbox for five years and he previously worked on Sony’s PlayStation VR, as well as Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag and Assassin’s Creed: Rogue at Ubisoft.

These experiences are specifically designed for groups to enjoy as social experiences, allowing teams of up to six friends to freely explore and roam virtual worlds together, relying on each other to succeed.

Now the company has built back to over 800 employees, including retail employees.

Zhao said the encouraging thing was that the Sandbox VR version of the game didn’t use any hand-held props, which often complicate a VR experience. He said he appreciated Netflix giving Sandbox VR the freedom to make its own games.

“They let us exercise our own creativity,” he said. “We think we’re elevating the brand.”

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