Brent Bushnell and his compatriots have been playing with electricity, fire, augmented reality, and classic carnival games for years now. They did it under contract to advertising agencies, they did it for the now-defunct TV show Extreme Makeover: HomeEdition, they did it as part of a Kickstarter campaign, and they did it to entertain their friends. They’ve paid at least some of their bills with it, but haven’t exactly lit the world on fire (just Brent Bushnell’s father, Atari-founder Nolan Bushnell, who they put in an asbestos suit and flambéed.)
Their latest venture, under the company name Two Bit Circus, is the “micro amusement park”. According to a press release, it covers approximately 2800 square meters, and will include multi-person virtual reality and mixed reality games, other social games, lasers, fire, and robots.
I’m not sure how well giant Tesla coils and flaming dunk tanks are going to go over with local zoning authorities. However, part of their vision has long involved augmented reality, and the “new arcade,” heavy on immersive, virtual reality and augmented reality experiences, is in the news these days. There’s been a lot of interest in VR and AR lately, high quality equipment is expensive, so it’s likely most people will experience this technology in an arcade setting, not at home, the reasoning goes. (I heard that scenario proposed many times at CES 2017.)
Given, then, that someone, somewhere, is going to make money off of AR/VR arcades, Two Bit Circus’ funding announcement this week is not surprising. The company just closed a US $15 million round, bringing total venture investment to $21.5 million. According to a press release, the money will be enable the company to start rolling out micro-amusement parks across the United States; the first will open later this year in Los Angeles. Brent Bushnell, CEO and co-founder of Two Bit Circus, defines micro-amusement as something bigger than an arcade and smaller than an amusement park that combines features of each.
“Out-of-home entertainment hasn’t changed much since laser tag and mini-golf. The latest tech has just blown the doors open on a whole new world; changed what it means to play, and play together socially. People stress about tech pushing people apart, but we love watching it bring people together,” Bushnell said in a statement.
The amusement parks will, in addition to technology, sell food and drinks, prepared, in part, by robots. But the company (which certainly carries more than a little DNA from Nolan Bushnell’s Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theater chain) is not going to offer something so last-millennium as pizza, but rather, according to the press release, will feature “molecular gastronomy and mixology.”
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.