When Arthur Lyons opened The Holodec he had one goal: to create a “hidden gem” that offers something for everyone inside the ever-expanding world of virtual reality.
The Holodec is a 3,000-square-foot virtual reality and tech center that offers a variety of VR gaming and supplemental experiences. Community members can find a variety of VR stations, which allow for group VR gaming, as well as a multitude of traditional gaming systems such as the Nintendo Switch and Playstation 5 at the tech center, which also doubles as an event space.
Founded in 2017, the business is focused on providing Philadelphians with a unique experience in the VR landscape, with a focus on hosting eSports competitions, STEM learning modules and providing healthcare applications for a variety of groups.
According to Lyons, his interest in exploring the potential commercial uses for VR technology and eventually the idea for The Holodec first came about when his friend, and co-owner of The Holodec, Lonnie Smith began searching for alternatives to traditional medicine that could potentially help his aging mother, who was suffering from pain and depression. During this period of exploration, Smith began using VR to attempt to help his mother and found the technology was surprisingly effective.
“So he was trying virtual reality out on her, and he found that she was less depressed and didn’t feel the pain. So, for example, she had pain in her neck or her shoulder that she was complaining about. He would put her in a headset and have her do something exciting like shooting robots or walking along the beach and looking at the surrounding area. Before she realized, she would be moving her head or moving her arms or interacting in the world because her mind was not on the pain. So all of a sudden, when she maybe like a couple of weeks ago was not moving her neck, now she’s in virtual reality and moving her neck and not having that experience in pain,” Lyons said.
After this experience, Lyons began to create initiatives that would see him go to different nursing facilities and provide VR health applications to the elderly. After working with this age group for a period of time and finding success, Lyons began formulating a plan to find a physical location where people of all ages and demographics could come out to try the VR experience.
According to Lyons, he felt it was especially necessary to provide an open space where groups of visitors could come to experience the up-and-coming technology together. With this in mind, Lyons opened the current location that hosts The Holodec in Northern Liberties in 2019.
But soon after opening the first physical location for The Holodec, economic hardship struck Lyon’s burgeoning business in the form of the COVID pandemic’s arrival and the subsequent lockdown that ensued.
“As with a lot of people and a lot of businesses, COVID had a great impact on us. We had COVID hit just after we opened up and we had to close down, so we didn’t have any revenue stream whatsoever. Then we were able to open up again, then we had to close again. That probably has been our biggest challenge. However, we were able to take advantage of some of the economic impact loans and PPP to help survive. So that was kind of a positive out of it and we survived, so that’s positive.”
Now as the city and nation begin to rebound economically from the worst of the pandemic era, Lyons said he has only become more encouraged by the growing attention and vitality that VR technology has begun to gain.
“When we first started in 2017, if you mentioned virtual reality, even if we went to banks for loans or if we’re talking to friends and family that we want to open this, it wasn’t a widely known or widespread idea. Most recently with Facebook changing over to Meta and Meta doing a lot of marketing and being in the press, that has most recently educated our customers as well. But it was fun to see that we were kind of ahead of the curve and were actually the first and I believe still only virtual reality eSports arcade in the city.”
“So we just see the future of what this technology can do and not only in just gaming, which is why we’re focusing on the education component, the therapy components, and the medical components that will come with virtual reality in the future. So we’re just excited to kind of be in a niche right now, kind of by ourselves and kind of forging the path we believe in the Philadelphia area with virtual reality.”