I continued my experience as a Westworld customer, waving the controllers to choose a hat and gun, then testing out my shooting skills on a small range. I felt mildly annoyed by the inability to walk around and explore the buildings in the distance, and that feeling got worse as the narrative kicked in. The scenery "glitched" and I ended up in a lab where technicians frantically scrambled to figure out what was going wrong with the sim. I was told to sit down -- in an actual physical chair -- and then I was rolled around the laboratory floor, passively watching as executives argued and malfunctioning androids attacked their makers. It was essentially an infodump that the company hoped would interest me in the series.
Amazon did something similar for The Man in the High Castle, minus the exterior role-playing elements. I was show protagonist Juliana Crain, searching for a filmstrip hidden in an office. I was a bit too tall for the room and looking down revealed some comically large breasts, while the gameplay mostly consisted of clicking on various items, with text hints appearing if I took a tad too long making my way through the office.
A lot of VR experiences encourage exploration and discovery, but neither of these programs had the luxury of letting the user wander due to the need to push their particular TV shows in under five minutes. They didn't even do a very good job conveying what their source material was about. A friend of mine who also tried the Man in the High Castle experience said that it was a good thing he had seen the pilot, because he otherwise had no idea what was going on. The same is true of Westworld: I know that it's ostensibly a story about theme park androids run amok, but that's only because I'm familiar with the source novel and original film. The confusion and frustration I experienced during the VR demo actually made me a bit wary of the show: I still haven't seen a single episode.
These experiences are "convention exclusive," meaning they'll never see release outside of the handful of attendees who arrive at the booth early enough or are willing to wait a few hours in line for a turn. They don't even have a good ripple effect: You can't really share the experience on social media, and your friends won't watch a TV show or movie just because you saw a cool VR demo. So most of these demos tend to be short and unsatisfying, because there's no point in spending a lot of resources on something that can only reach a couple thousand people at most.
This results in a sort of knock-on effect, as the experiences stop being worth the time and money attendees put into them. A single-day badge is $50, and many of the booths had lines advertising two or three hour waits. With hundreds of guests, dozens of panels and cosplay to check out, I'd be pretty pissed if I wasted a good chunk of my day on a mediocre VR demo.
At first glance, Starbreeze Studios' John Wick experience would seem to be more of the same: It's also a tie-in for an upcoming film and a limited number of stations meant a long wait. You even start out by watching a short trailer. But it quickly breaks off into a fully-realized simulation, forcing you to defend yourself from waves and waves of attackers on a roof. I was far from a passive observer of an ad at this point: I had to actually turn to aim my guns and duck behind walls to avoid being shot.
It didn't matter whether or not I was familiar with John Wick, because it cut to the meat of what people like about the series: The intense action sequences. Granted, it's a lot easier to convey the story of an assassin who everyone wants to kill than say, an alternate history where the Nazis won World War II. But, the best games and VR experiences play to their source materials' strengths, and John Wick did that beautifully.