Fort Worth resident Micah Conn opened Neon Noir, the first local virtual-reality arcade of its kind, last May. It is just as cool — and slightly creepy — as it sounds. Sometimes life is uncomfortably close to an episode of Black Mirror.
“When I embarked on opening up my own business, I really wanted to do something with technology that other people were not attempting,” Conn says. “We are still probably two to three years away from a business like mine being more mainstream.”
He says his business' target customers are 35-year-old males with disposable income because they spend more per person on gaming than any other age demographic. Who knew?
“Born in the '80s, these kids grew up at the tail end of classic arcades, saw the birth of the home entertainment consoles' prevalence, and in their adolescence were exposed to the PC in school and at home,” Conn says.
But even 50- and 60-year-old players are branching out and trying VR at Neon Noir.
“Imagine seeing your mean old grandpa giggling like a toddler when he reaches out and touches a virtual balloon for the first time,” Conn says. “It’s pretty fun to watch. Those guys grew up [in the] Atomic Age and during the space race, so VR is the closest thing they have to being Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon.”
The arcade is set up in a repurposed office building and comprises four dimly lit gaming rooms, each with a different color of neon floor lighting. Players can rent the room, equipped with couches and all the needed technology, for $25 per hour or $100 for five hours. For parties, you can even rent out all four rooms for $100 per hour, and it’s BYOB. Set up a house account for additional deals and discounts.
Neon Noir is not just for expert gamers. Conn offers crash courses for beginners and requires all players, regardless of experience level, to complete a tutorial before they begin play.
“As a rule, everyone who comes here has to do the Steam VR tutorial first,” he says. “Regardless of their prior experience, it serves to familiarize the player with the controllers and basic interfaces. It only takes five minutes, and it will save you at least 15 minutes of being frustrated down the line.”
Before you explore the more than 65,000 VR games on the market, Conn encourages testing the waters by trying a starter game, The Lab, made by Valve.
"The Lab is a great game because it eases you into the locomotion controls, teleporting and how to interact with objects while offering a nice variety of experiences that are simple to comprehend but have lots of depth once you understand the game's mechanics,” Conn says.
Even children catch on pretty quickly. Conn says the best players can be any age and are people who come in ready to try something new and take their time to master skills before moving on to learning new ones.
“There was one 25-year-old who brought his 50-year-old dad,” says Conn. “Dad was cleaning up in paintball, and within minutes, the entire other team was ducking for cover and running scared. Dad was a natural.”
Neon Noir, 463 S. Jennings Ave., Fort Worth