Interview: Steve Zhao, founder and CEO, Sandbox VR  | Global Franchise
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Saturday 26th November, 2022

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Interview: Steve Zhao, founder and CEO, Sandbox VR 

Entertainment

Interview: Steve Zhao, founder and CEO, Sandbox VR 

Virtual reality technology is extremely interesting, and one that is growing in terms of technical capabilities and revenue. As the technology solidifies, the business opportunity will grow exponentially

Virtual reality (VR) gaming is no passing fad or cottage industry. The PlayStation 5 console has the necessary hardware to play VR games, and VR gaming centers are popping up all over the world. 

As technology continues to improve, brands like Sandbox VR are waiting in the wings to take advantage of what could be a revolution in the world of gaming, to a new level of immersion. The brand has 15 locations across North America and two locations in Hong Kong, one in Shanghai, Singapore, Macau, Vancouver and Toronto.  

To learn more about this interesting sector and Sandbox VR, we spoke to its founder and CEO, Steve Zhao. 

RP: Gaming is one of the primary forms of entertainment today and it’s mostly taking place on computers and consoles. Do you envision a future in which VR will become one of those primary gaming platforms?  

SZ: I believe so. People are gravitating towards immersive experiences and VR is a conduit to that. If you look at the markets, companies like Meta are investing so much into VR, and TikTok recently has bought headset-producer Pico for almost over $500m, and VR is a pretty popular category on TikTok.  

We’ve launched 19 locations, and we have a blueprint, which is largely driven by performance marketing, essentially marketing through Google, Facebook, Instagram, and now TikTok. It’s worked so well for us because our product is so visual

You see companies like Sony continue to invest in VR. There are a lot of folks everywhere hedging on this bet because immersion is something that gamers want, and is a natural progression. I don’t think VR will replace what we have today, but I would say, amplify it.  

RP: Once you’ve established a location in the market, how do you promote the new site and get it off the ground, and draw customers in?  

SZ: We’ve launched 19 locations, and we have a blueprint, which is largely driven by performance marketing, essentially marketing through Google, Facebook, Instagram, and now TikTok.  

It’s worked so well for us because our product is so visual. You know, people not only see a picture but they also see a video of people having fun, and it just naturally creates a lot of curiosity. So, a big part of launching every location is running the performance marketing strategy.  

Once a site launches and people start playing, one of the unique things about Sandbox is that everyone gets a unique video. These are videos that are auto generated, that captures the best moment of experience in both real life in VR and is stitched together in the form of a trailer. 

We AirDrop it to your phone, and we provide a link so you can easily share it. Every customer that comes in and gets a video, they kind of become an outlet to other customers. 

RP: Is there a method, or even a need to localize Sandbox VR’s offering to different markets?  

SZ: I completely believe in the way we approach operational standard, which is, we see what is required for that country, and we make changes to it.  

And it goes all the way from operations, including how we clean up product, to our content, where certain things might need to be censored. We always take this approach that it’s a new market, we should follow the rules. Some of the best practices we have encountered in certain markets, we take those best practices into other markets, even if they’re not required, because we think that provides a better guest experience. 

RP: How do you curate and maintain the quality of your games, and do you ever get suggestions or feedback from franchisees on what works and what doesn’t?  

SZ: I’m a game designer and I’ve been doing it for a couple of decades now. One of the things we’re very lucky with is that our team came from the industry, from the likes of Ubisoft and Sony. Our head of content was a former lead designer for Assassin’s Creed.  

We start with the talent, and the people who love the craft. How we create, is we look at the macro market on certain content we think customers would like, and we also do customer surveys. We always tap into the customer, we ask them what do you like, what don’t you like? What do you like about experience? What do you want to see in the future?  

We then make informed decisions based on that. That also includes franchisees, they’re very one of the reasons we do franchising is so that we can be a more well-informed company. We always ask franchisees for their suggestions, including what they see on our content and what they want to see in the future. 

RP: Are there any impending technological breakthroughs that you are waiting for, and will boost your business? 

SZ: The big one is definitely Wi Fi 6. The Wi Fi standard is something that comes every few years, we’re currently on Wi Fi 5. There’s a lot of new technology that comes with it and I think we’re kind of at the inflection point where the Wi Fi quality is high enough to start streaming content into headsets instead of backpacks, which is a big deal. 

Once you can remove that, and it can be streamed wirelessly and it creates a much more immersive experience. You know, right now our experiences are a bit harder on children to play because of the backpack they have to wear. But once you remove that, you can create more experiences.  

What the new Wi Fi standard unlocks is online content. You can start creating synchronous worlds in our spaces. So, imagine the playing experience in one Sandbox VR location, where you can visually see another Sandbox VR location in a different country. How cool would that be? 

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