Multiplayer virtual reality experiences are the new secret to team development

Virtual reality (VR), once a technology seen as too gimmicky to be used in many industries, has long since been embraced as more than just an entertainment showcase.

The ability for users to experience and interact with an imagined space free of consequence makes it ideal for training exercises in engineering and medicine, and connecting with other users takes collaboration in design to the next level.

But companies in Silicon Valley are discovering a new benefit to VR: its potential for team development. Many are sending new corporate teams to Sandbox VR, a virtual reality gaming experience that is uniquely multiplayer, as a team-building exercise.

In December 2018, the VR experience from Hong Kong opened its first Canadian branch in Richmond, after setting up facilities fully equipped to handle its multiplayer capabilities.

Most VR experiences in Vancouver are arcades, amounting to one person donning a headset to play a game while others watch from the sidelines. Otherwise, they separate players into different rooms for co-operative play, with only a digital link connecting them.

At Sandbox VR, as many as six people get to experience virtual reality in the same physical room. The players wear a combination of headsets and motion-tracking equipment, as well as vests with haptic feedback, to fully be able to feel their actions.

That physicality is important for a shared experience and serves to further strengthen the team-building aspect of players’ experiences. For example, if one player takes too much damage during a mission and goes down, other players can revive the person by rushing nearby and touching his or her shoulder.

In another case, players have to solve a puzzle by passing an object to each other while being careful with their footing. The action isn’t just seen through a headset; it’s felt.

“The experience itself is immersive, and just outright fun,” said Ian Chang, who runs the Richmond branch of Sandbox VR. Its system automatically scales the different missions that groups can choose based on the number of guests, to keep them feeling personal.

Even more important for a team-building exercise is the feeling of contribution. In activities such as team sports and escape rooms, players might feel as if they didn’t contribute to their team’s accomplishments and be less likely to bond with their teammates. Sandbox VR kept that in mind when designing its VR experiences, wanting to leave no person left out of the action.

“The experiences promote thinking out of the box and on the fly,” said Chang. “No one person can ‘carry’ the rest of the team. Missions incorporate teamwork, requiring communication as a key part of the group’s success.”

All of Sandbox VR’s experiences are developed by an in-house team of more than 100 engineers using the flexible Unity engine. They take in as much feedback as they can in order to create missions that are as rewarding as they are entertaining.

“We try to explore different ideas with each experience we release, catering to a wider audience every time we launch something new.”

For action enthusiasts, that might mean playing through a haunted house filled with shooting and adrenaline, while others might prefer a treasure-hunting mission with more puzzle solving and teamwork required.

Regardless of which experience a group of players might choose, the most important aspect for the team at Sandbox VR is that each mission be both accessible and rewarding. These missions aren’t aimed at gamers or tech enthusiasts; they’re beneficial for everyone.

“We’ve had guests ranging from age six all the way to 83,” said Chang. “Our experiences are designed around all kinds of people and meant to be enjoyed as a group.”