Interview: Jonathan Nowak Delgado, Spree Interactive
The experience economy
Based in Germany, Spree Interactive excels in providing turn-key, free-roam VR attractions for location-based entertainment operators. Bryony Andrews, editor of GlobalAmusements&Play.com, spoke to managing director and co-founder Jonathan Nowak Delgado about the future of the experience economy in a post-COVID world, and the role of commercial VR attractions for the LBE industry…
Headquartered in the German cities of Munich and Nuremberg, Spree Interactive (formerly known as Holodeck), has played an integral part in a number of world-first projects in recent years. Of particular note are the VR Roam&Ride tracking system for Europa Park’s legendary Valerian coaster, as well as the tracking system for VR Bumper Cars at Erlebnispark Schloss Thurn. Now, however, the company has turned its hand to the product side, creating turn-key VR attractions for the LBE industry.
Spree Interactive’s central product offering for operators is its turn-key VR attraction, Spree Arena, which comes in two sizes: 10x10m, catering for ten congruent players, and 6x6m, which caters for six congruent players and which was launched just last month at the ShowUp virtual trade conference.
“As a turn-key offering, Spree Arena includes every aspect an operator needs in order to get started: from hardware and software through to consultation, installation, training and technical service,” explained Jonathan. “The new six player version combines several aspects – a compact footprint, high throughput and affordability. We’ve deployed a new generation of technology which allows us to eliminate a very expensive component and to pass this cost reduction along to our clients.”
A content-led business model
Central to Spree’s offering for operators is what Jonathan describes as a “Netflix-style” subscription approach to content, which ensures operators always have access to new games. Operators purchase Spree Arena with a ‘content bundle’ that fits their needs – whether that’s two new games per year as standard, or more specialist content as needed. Aware that content is key when it comes to VR attractions, as well as developing games in-house, Spree has worked with a number of partners to ensure its content offering is second-to-none.
“Different content genres target different audiences,” said Jonathan. “Edutainment content like Mission To Mars targets field trips. Esports titles like Tower Tag target teenagers and the adult segment. Quick turn-around mini-games target the birthday party segment.”
Spree’s second product offering is its VR bumper car entertainment system. “The addition of VR technology updates these legendary attractions with modern, interactive fun,” Jonathan said. “In April 2021 we’ll release the newest game for this attraction: a sci-fi based futuristic racing adventure in partnership with I.E. Park.”
So what makes Spree stand out within the LBE sector? Jonathan believes the company’s values are as important as its product offering.
“Firstly, we are focused,” he said. “Keeping the big picture in mind, we execute simple and pragmatic solutions which are flexible. Secondly, we care – we promote an empathetic and friendly team culture based on respect and trust. This is extended to our business relationships with partners and customers where we seek to form long-term, win-win relationships. We conduct business with good humour.
“Thirdly, we listen. We enjoy creating innovative and unique experiences with and for our customers and users; we are customer-centric and use rapid prototyping, early user testing and continuous user feedback. And finally, we are accountable. We focus on commercial success and hold to our self-imposed goals. We implement our current strategy in time and on budget and focus on the essentials.”
The COVID effect
While the COVID-19 pandemic has been a huge force affecting the attractions industry over the past 12 months, Jonathan believes that this “COVID induced break” will not permanently damage the sector.
“Overall we are in the midst of a megatrend towards the experience economy. The deep human underlying desire to share great experiences with others will stay the same, if not will increase after the lockdowns, as recent McKinsey studies have found. With many brick and mortar retailers going out of business, we have seen lots of demand and interest from shopping mall operators for location-based VR entertainment, which is exciting. However, our model is not to operate the attraction ourselves, but to find a professional operator who can excel in that role.”
Several of Spree’s clients have, of course, suffered from the lockdown measures, however Jonathan revealed that many of them are using the time to renovate, innovate and get prepared for reopening after the lockdowns. To support its clients in operating in a post-COVID world, Spree offers a hygiene concept which includes operational & cleaning processes. “We recommend different operational processes – for example, one way systems, operating at a lower capacity, and a cleaning system using alcohol wipes that kill 99.99% of bacteria and germs. We also offer a UV cleaning option but have found that operators prefer the manual cleaning option.”
Capitalising on the e-sports boom
Although 2020 was a challenging year for business at every level, Spree Interactive nevertheless managed to complete some very impressive projects. Jonathan identifies the company’s partnership with Hollywood studio Pixomondo for immersive educational experience ‘Mission to Mars’ as a particular highlight. “The 15-minute adventure is well-favoured not only among users but also FECs, since it is a leading attraction for school field trips. In addition, the Mission to Mars experience leaves parents satisfied when their children are having fun and learning at the same time,” said Jonathan.
Spree has also recently announced its newest product launch: Tower Tag. Developed from the ground-up for location based entertainment centres, Tower Tag is a ‘hyper-dynamic’ futuristic PVP shooter – a bit like paintball – with a grappling hook locomotion method that Jonathan says quickly becomes second nature to players. It’s particularly well-suited to e-sports competitions, a rapidly growing section of the gaming market that offers great opportunities for publicity and encouraging repeat play.
“We predict Tower Tag will serve as a new major gamechanger for our current and future customers,” said Jonathan. “The game has achieved the title of number one VR esport game globally, and has over 1 million plays. Tower Tag has leveled us at the entrance of the esports market and we’re excited to keep our audience and game library growing.”
In November 2020, Spree Interactive successfully secured a seven-digit investment from two strategic investors and two financial investors in the second closing of its seed round. So what will this funding enable, in both 2021 and beyond? “We will expand our footprint globally with distribution partnerships,” said Jonathan, “and expand the breadth of our game offering to allow our clients to be able to cater different target segments.”
Expansion may be on the cards, but Jonathan maintains that Spree Interactive’s overall purpose for 2021 will remain the same: “Enabling guests to have unique and emotional experiences with others, every time they play on a Spree system.”