Despite its massive popularity in other parts of the world, VR gaming struggles to find a solid footing in India. Beyond the scope of virtual gaming, VR escape rooms have also mushroomed as the technology has evolved. These escape rooms are entertaining and serve as a fantastic stress-relief platform.
India’s sole movie-themed virtual escape room, Breakout, allows players to immerse themselves in adventures for an hour. In conversation with Debolina Banerjee of Sportskeeda Esports, Hareesh Mothi, CEO of Breakout, discussed the VR gaming landscape in India and more.
Mothi hopes to push VR gaming to the next level with Breakout
Q. Compared to video and mobile gaming, VR gaming is not that popular in India. What is the major contributing factor for such a scenario? How do you think it can be marketed to make it more popular?
Hareesh: Compared to the online live-streaming gaming experience Breakout offers, VR gaming is much more expensive. There is also the additional necessity of expensive equipment such as VR glasses and body detectors. The price factor clashes with the spending mentality of India's consumer base, which is mainly middle-class.
Another possible reason for the absence of popularity for VR games in India could be the lack of awareness. The most critical criterion is affordability to make anything mainstream in this country. Until then, companies can market the product to project the experience worth the cost.
Q. The modern VR gaming market is slowly overcoming the difficulties of the traditional VR gaming experience. However, do you feel that certain risks will always be associated with VR gaming regarding healthy playing habits?
Hareesh: Certainly! The point of VR gaming is to blur the lines between the virtual and the real world. I think it will forever remain a struggle to reach an objective consensus about where to stop this blurring.
Many people have gotten hurt while playing VR games due to their senses being wholly immersed in the hyper-realistic world of the game. Until VR gaming finds a way to separate the game world from the real world without disturbing the level of sensory immersion, I feel that the standard risks will always stay with us.
Q. Many professionals in the gaming industry believe that gaming is a major stress buster. Do you think VR gaming fits in the equation?
Hareesh: VR gaming can be stress-relieving when you consider how it distracts players from their real-life surroundings. In that sense, it works very similarly to our live escape rooms.
Think of it this way. When the real-world pressures stress you, all you want is an escape. You automatically look for ways to detach yourself from the stressful reality and take a break. No better way to do so than to immerse into an artificial environment that is convincingly real.
Q. VR gaming is often targeted at a niche audience. How do you plan on popularizing it so that it is accessible by more people, in terms of gameplay and financially?
Hareesh: As I said before, to popularize VR gaming, organizations need to find ways to bring it into affordable price ranges. Perhaps they could introduce different forms of VR gameplay that are more inclusive.
The reason why our virtual, live-streamed escape room managed to get a firm footing in India and globally is that:
- We have managed to keep the cost within the purchasing power of our target audience.
- It is easily accessible.
If VR gaming can be developed in a substitute way to keep players fully immersed in the game without requiring assistance from expensive external tools, it can have a better chance in the Indian market.
Q. The concept of an escape room is new in India. What kind of audience do you think would be most interested in this concept? How do you plan on reaching your target audience?
Hareesh: At Breakout, we have different experiences catered to other people. There is an exclusive kid escape room. There are also party and corporate packages to choose from. We also offer a generation 4 virtual escape experience to connect with remote teams for an immersive session.
No matter the age or occasion, our escape rooms can be a point of interest for anyone looking for a fun experience.
Word of mouth has been the most influential in growing our customer base. Apart from that, social media and other digital marketing platforms have also been helpful in terms of reaching out.
Q. Breakout Escape Rooms provides a one-of-a-kind experience to players who are into VR gaming. How did the idea of creating a virtual escape room come to be? What is the ultimate mission and vision of this initiative?
Hareesh: We thought of creating virtual escape rooms after the pandemic hit in 2020. The situation was so drastic that we had to make some tough executive decisions for survival.
Our facilities were shut down for six whole months and we also had to let go of many people. During this crisis period, our team came up with the idea of virtual escape experiences. It very quickly snowballed from generation 1 to the current generation 4 live-action missions that we offer.
Though we started the virtual experience as a substitute for the physical ones during the pandemic, we have seen great success with the concept. Most of the teams we have hosted in the past two years have given us very positive feedback.
We decided to continue offering virtual sessions along with the physical ones. Our vision is to host remote teams worldwide and continue developing the experience into one of the most revolutionary turning points in escape room technology.
Q. Breakout is a movie-style themed escape room. Which movies inspired the creation of Breakout?
Hareesh: The inspiration behind the creation of Breakout was not a movie. My personal experiences of playing escape rooms worldwide pushed me towards this venture.
I played my first escape game in Poland while on a business trip. I felt drawn to the concept immediately and there was no looking back after that. I went on to play escape rooms in about 12 more countries before starting my own.
Through all these experiences, I realized that most escape brands do not focus on the storytelling component of the game. I thought to create something more engaging, like a live movie. Thus, the concept of movie-styled escape rooms at Breakout was conceived.
Q. Can you give us a sneak peek at what players expect from the gameplay? What are the different types of escape rooms that they can enjoy?
Hareesh: Players can choose from seven different games.
- Curse of The Pharaoh is a horror-themed room where you fight with ancient curses
- The Murder Mystery is a detective-themed room where you solve a homicide case.
- In Bank Job, your mission is to loot the Royal Bank of Rajasthan.
- Kidnapped follows the story of a kidnapped 6-year-old whom you try to save before a time bomb ends up taking her life.
- You play the role of a CIA agent in Classified, investigating the death and disappearance of several high-profile psychopaths from a Classified Mental Asylum.
- Trapped in an archaeology-themed room where you are captured inside a mysterious place where the oxygen might run out any time.
- Kids' special room, The Enchanted Forest, tasks players with a mission to find the mythological treasure hidden in the forest to save their kingdom.
Virtually, we offer four hyper-immersive escape experiences:
- Sherlock Calls, where you unravel a murder mystery.
- Hostage, where you work with a humanoid to rescue the 6-year-old victim.
- Under Cover, where you help your colleague escape from an underground military bunker.
- Operation Ultra, where your mission is the save the world from an impending threat.
Q. Currently, Breakout has physical locations in multiple cities. Do you have expansion plans? What cities are next on your list?
Hareesh: We currently have our facilities operational in Bangalore and Indore. We want to expand to about 20 cities in the next two years and build one of the most substantial experiential companies in the country.
Pune, Hyderabad, and Chennai are our initial target cities.
Q. Do you feel that VR gaming can capture the Indian gaming market someday? What challenges may companies on this mission face on their way?
Hareesh: There is potential for VR gaming to capture the market here in India. However, given the exponential growth of online gaming in recent years, it would not be an easy feat.
One of the main challenges organizations would face here is building VR experiences that fall under the purchasing power of Indian consumers. Also, accessibility of these experiences in a remote format would be necessary to capture the broader market.
As I see it, companies need to be innovative in curating their VR experiences, keeping the Indian audience specifically in mind. If you manage to get to the right intersection of cost and quality, all left is marketing, and it should be good to go.