For those who enjoy cutting-edge gameplay, modern technology, and captivating entertainment, there are few places in the area that beat S. Frederick’s Virtual Reality Studios Oelwein. Owned and founded by Vernon May, the site has brought an exciting virtual reality experience home, providing a first brush with what many believe is the future of interactive gaming.
Originally from Texas, May arrived in Oelwein from Missouri five years ago, accepting a position at Windstream Communications. Soon, he had the opportunity to compose a telecommunications training manual relating to his professional experience, which he had developed nearly two decades ago working in the telephone industry.
Writing this book prompted May to professionally focus on training others in his field, a professional move that began with on-site sessions before moving exclusively to virtual trainings during the COVID 19 pandemic. With his current focus on preparing others to work on copper-related telecommunications and fiber-optic and fixed wireless-based systems, May said that currently 40% of his customers are from Canada.
As he became more entrenched in the community, the idea of opening what would become VR studios arose, in large part based on his observations of the entertainment opportunities available in his new hometown. His perception was, in Oelwein, “People have nothing to do, especially children,” a realization that moved him to think
What kind of a fun, family-friendly environment he can create.
By October 2021, this desire, combined with his skills and technology proficiency, led to the birth of Virtual Reality Studios Oelwein.
At VR Studios, May customers enjoy a captivating virtual gaming experience. Participants serve clients by appointment only, and use special virtual reality goggles or goggles, often in conjunction with handheld components, to step into a virtual, interactive world where one feels truly immersed. Beat Saber, a virtual reality music-inspired game in which players cut the beats of music as they fly towards it in a futuristic environment, has been identified as among the most popular games for visitors, although it is only one of the many that can be selected. About the games available, which include a roller coaster game, May said, “The variety is incredible.”
What sets VR Studios Oelwein apart from others that may offer VR options isn’t the games themselves. As May described the difference, “The hardware is available everywhere, but the additional advantage I add is that there is enough space for a full gaming experience.”
Given its central importance to May’s business, it’s no surprise that he recently gave his space a major upgrade. About these changes, May said, “I added a bunch of wall art and decorative lighting,” some examples of improvements that cost him about $8,000 but fulfilled their intended purpose—and then some examples. “These were wonderful changes,” he noted.
May defined the current capacity of his facility as a group of 10 children, while explaining that perhaps surprisingly he has so few clients in the typical age group of students in middle or high school. He also noted that his works were highly acclaimed by the community. He said, “I’ve had tremendous reactions from people, but there aren’t enough people.”
As a result, May has adopted a realistic view of his pledge. “I don’t plan on that being my primary business,” he noted, adding that, financially, he’s only hoping to break even. May said any profits made from VR studios will be used to further strengthen his organization, particularly in the form of purchasing additional VR hardware. His plan, as he puts it, is to “reinvest all profits until October 1, 2023,” at which point he does not expect to have further room for expansion.
May also indicated that his site will soon change its name to reflect a greater focus on physical gaming availability. To celebrate this transition, on Friday, October 7, VR Studios will be holding an open house, with drinks, snacks, and free play available, before the grand reopening of the site on Saturday, October 8.
At that time, the virtual reality studios will become Oelwein Fun 4 Oelwein.
Looking to the future, May may envision more changes to the store, such as offering light food at its location. It also hopes to continue to upgrade its games and hardware, even if full expansion is reached by 2023.
But it doesn’t stop there.
May said he would also consider expanding to other cities in the region, such as Independence and Fayette, although any community would need “2,000 to 3,000 people”.
Building on the atmosphere and reputation of his family-friendly establishment is also a vital concern for May. For example, he hopes to work with local schools in an effort to offer a free hour of play to any student who earns an A directly on their report card, which, he said, would be “a positive thing in all directions.”
In VR Studios itself, all visitors are expected to dress appropriately, while no profanity or alcohol is allowed. Regarding the latter, May said, “Planet Earth already has a lot of bars.”
As for the kind of misconduct that is happening elsewhere or that may have occurred in similar institutions in the past, May is determined to state that nothing of the kind will be condoned.
He concluded by emphasizing: “This will not happen in my building.”