A SHIFT in gaming: Greensboro’s only virtual reality arcade
On July 1 two business partners opened the arcade of the future in Greensboro. Shift is a virtual reality arcade, complete with safely padded booths and equipped with HTC Vive virtual reality gaming systems and it is the only one of its kind in the area.
Cruz Cockman and Chet Lakhani are the two visionaries who own the arcade on Spring Garden Street. Both Cockman and Lakhani are not new business owners, in fact, Cockman owns a store also on Spring Garden called the Little Akihabara Anime Shop. The anime shop sells a variety of things such as wall art and anime shows’ merchandise. Cockman said he had one of Shift’s virtual reality machines hooked up in Little Akihabara for about a year.
“It was due to a great response that we had, and we decided to do [Shift],” Cockman said. “It prompted us to want to do more, being able to offer multiplayer and for the ability of people to have these experiences together has been huge.”
Lakhani owned Glass City Smoke Shop right across the street from Little Akihabara, and that is how he and Cockman became friends. Lakhani said both Cockman and himself love being on Spring Garden Street because “it is the only street in Greensboro with a plethora of local businesses rather than chains.”
Cockman said he originally bought a virtual reality system for himself to play with. But then he said he realized it was easy and intuitive to use and this experience could have something there for everyone. He said that VR is not just on just for entertainment purposes anymore. Every industry is starting to use them for some business application, he said.
Cockman said even Hollywood is starting to use VR techniques such as in the new movies Spider-man and Dunkirk.
“We are seeing it spill over from all other entertainment aspects,” Cockman said.
Cockman said virtual reality is something that everyone can do and enjoy, and the target age of enjoyment ranges from 7 years old to 70 years old. One thing Cockman mentioned was how accessible VR is for everyone even those who are disabled. Cockman said he had a customer who was confined to a wheelchair come in and thoroughly enjoy the VR system set up at Little Akihabara. There are over 70 different games with something from every kind of genre and experiences to choose from at Shift.
While the shooters are popular with the gamer crowd, Cockman said, there are also different types of other games such as horror, puzzles and escape-room-type games. If you consider yourself more of an explorer rather than a gamer, Cockman said, there are programs or “experiences” that Shift has that takes you anywhere in the world.
“Google Earth VR, for example, lets you visit any city you wanted virtually as you want,” Cockman said. “There are also underwater experiences.”
With how VR works, Cockman said, there is a shock value that some people experience. He and Lakhani agreed that they see more of a “wow” factor rather than a shock factor. The two claim they have not had a single person that has left unhappy or unimpressed. They said when people come in they make sure to give the experience the customer wants and with VR it can be done.
“There is nothing like this in our area currently,” Cockman said. “There are other places that are along the same concept, and they are becoming quite popular in other countries. We are the first in the area, though.”
Cockman said Shift has put in the research to do what they can do to set the standard.
“No place has put nearly as much into safety as we have with our booth structures that we built,” Cockman said. “Virtual Reality, especially the system that we have is incredibly immersive, you literally forget while you’re playing it that you’re in a room doing it. A person wearing the headset can’t see anything, and if someone were in the booth with them, they would likely get punched, kicked or ran into. There is a lot that comes with that immersiveness. All of our booths are padded for protection.”
Shift sells time slots by the half hour or hour, and there are many different pricing options. Lakhani and Cockman stress that most of their bookings are made through their online portal, which is cheaper than paying the walk-in price of $30 for 30 minutes or $50 for an hour.
Cockman and Lakhani, (both friends of Austin Kindley, YES! Weekly’s art director and fans of our publication), wanted to give readers of YES! a special treat for being such loyal readers. They would like to invite readers to benefit from one of their very exclusive deals. By using the promo code YES!20, you can get a one-hour booking for only $20.
In the future, and more specifically when school starts back up again, Shift will offer reduced membership rates as well as studio art packages. He said with VR capabilities artists can create more complex and imaginative digital art. Both Lakhani and Cockman hope to collaborate with University of North Carolina Greensboro’s art department so students can get more involved with the arcade and experiment with the studio art packages Shift will offer. They will also offer corporate packages for team building exercises as well.
“Right now we are trying to get exposure and to build our client base,” Lakhani said. “We run a lot of our promotions on Facebook, which is a good platform to follow us on. We always post coupons on there.”
Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. She is from Mooresville, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in film studies from Appalachian State University in 2017.