After a challenging year for location-based virtual reality startups due to COVID-19, Sandbox VR, a location-based VR startup, is making a comeback with a plan to expand its operations further across the globe.
Sandbox VR aims to be an immersive social experience through a combination of full-body motion capture and VR technologies. It allows players to step into another world and go anywhere with their friends.
The San Francisco and Hong Kong-headquartered company announced it has raised $37 million in a Series B led by Andreessen Horowitz through its Growth Fund, which serves new companies at an inflection point, along with Alibaba and Craft.
The latest funding, which brings its total raised to approximately $119 million, comes on the heels of three new locations launched in July in Austin, Las Vegas and Shanghai.
Sandbox VR will use the proceeds to open 10 new retail locations across the globe, including Paramus, London and Toronto in 2022, as well as two corporate and two franchise locations.
It will scale its internal studio to increase content cadence and develop a software development kit (SDK) to open up the Sandbox platform for third-party development, CEO and co-founder Steve Zhao told TechCrunch. He also said that the company plans to build a wireless technology to remove the VR hardware backpack that weighs down the players.
Sandbox VR uses hardware like head-mounted VR headsets, backpack computers, motion capture sensors and haptic vests for players.
“With more stores on the way, we’ll be ramping up our internal studios as well as developing our SDK (software development kit) to open up publishing soon,” Zhao said.
Sandbox VR develops its own games and technology, unlike other competitors that operate with licensed games, Zhao noted. The company offers five VR games: Curse of Davy Jones, Amber Sky 2088, Star Trek Discovery: Away Mission, Deadwood Mansion and Unbound Fighting League (UFL).
The pandemic broke out right before closing the company’s planned Series B funding in early 2020, Zhao said. About 80% of its employees had to leave the company, which was forced to file bankruptcy during the COVID crisis, he added. Sandbox VR has emerged from COVID stronger than ever. Its revenue is now up 20x compared to the beginning of this year (after reopening the global offices in April of this year).
“The grit and determination exemplified by Steve and his team at the height of the pandemic was more than admirable — it’s led them to become what we believe to be the strongest, most technologically advanced location-based VR offering available today,” said Andrew Chen, a16z general partner and Sandbox VR board member.
The company has 35 employees globally as of October, Zhao said. Sandbox VR currently operates 12 retail locations in the U.S., Canada and Asia.
The global location-based virtual reality market is projected to reach $26.3 billion by 2028, exhibiting a CAGR of 32.9% from 2021 to 2028, based on a report by Verified Market Research.
Sandbox VR started with an idea of how it can create the most immersive experience possible, like things people see in science fiction. The VR is just a component, he said, adding that the company doesn’t want to limit its business in the VR sector.
With a mission to expand human interaction by using technology, Sandbox VR has an ambition to enter the metaverse industry down the road, which could take about 3-5 years more to get there, according to Zhao.
“As we continue to innovate in the VR industry, we’ll move towards the virtualization of our physical spaces. One day, it’ll be like stepping into a portal where players can embody their persistent virtual avatars,” Zhao said.