Virtual Reality Casino Games: Reality or Gimmick?
With Virtual reality (VR) gaming becoming more popular than ever before, it should come as no surprise that the iGaming industry is jumping on board the bandwagon and is developing virtual reality casino games. In fact, VR gambling has already started. SlotsMillion.com has launched its VR casino and other VR iGaming projects are in the works.
With thousands of casino sites in operation, there’s stiff competition out there. Attracting players and retaining them isn’t as simple as offering a generous welcome package. Internet casinos need to make their offerings available across multiple platforms and also need to employ the latest tech that will appeal to existing and – more importantly - new audiences.
Online casinos are always looking for ways to improve their customers’ gaming enjoyment on their sites. Over the past two decades, casinos have evolved by implementing and growing with the latest technology to provide players with the most realistic experience. From games featuring high-definition 3D graphics, to live casino games hosted by human dealers broadcasted in real time from HD gambling studios, to mobile casinos, the iGaming industry has worked hard to provide players with a gaming environment that is not only secure and convenient, but the next best thing to land-based gambling.
However, in order to evolve to meet the demand of ever-shifting demographics. Appealing to a younger generation requires implementing technology that provides a fully interactive and far more immersive experience than what a traditional gaming floor dotted with cookie-cutter slot machines can offer. Virtual reality casinos could provide the next-gen experience that Millennials interested in gambling want. These young gamblers are the future and with VR tech, the iGaming industry may finally implement immersive gameplay that – for these players - could be better than the real thing.
What is virtual reality?
Also known as immersive multimedia or computer-simulated reality, virtual reality is a type of computer technology that replicates a real or imagined environment. It simulates a user’s physical presence in that environment in a way that enables the user to interact with it. Usually via a VR headset and/or other equipment, VR technology artificially creates a sensory experience, which may involve sight, hearing, touch and smell.
While VR can be used for multiple applications, presently it has been predominantly used for entertainment purposes to enhance an imaginary reality for gaming, 3D movies, etc. It is also used as an enhanced training tool for real life environments by creating simulations of reality, enabling people in training to practice before engaging in the real life situation (ex. flight simulations for pilots and military training).
It should also be noted that virtual reality and augmented reality (AR), while sometime used together, are not the same technologies. Essentially, while VR offers a complete digital recreation of a real or imagined setting, augmented reality delivers 3D virtual elements as an overlay to the real world. AR layers computer-generated enhancements overtop an existing reality for the purpose of making it more meaningful through the ability to interact with it, such as pop out 3D photos or text message on mobile devices.
VR headsets & the Oculus Rift
Usually, a VR experience is typically achieved via wearable technology. More specifically, it often requires wearable tech such as a VR head-mounted display, headset or helmet like the Oculus Rift, Razer OSVR, HTC Vive, Sony PlayStation VR, Samsung Gear VR, etc. These special soundproof and lightproof devices are equipped with multiple LED screens and a sound system. They are designed to prevent exterior sound and light from penetrating the helmet so that the users experience will not be disturbed by their actual physical environment.
The technology of these helmets has advanced in leaps and bounds since the first VR helmet was sold by SEGA, 20 years back. Today, one of the most popular and highly anticipated headsets is the Oculus Rift. Manufactured by Oculus VR, the headset has achieved significant popularity in video game culture.
VR gear like the Oculus Rift are looking to change the way we play games.
The Rift has been designed with a wide field of view. Each eye has a 1080x1200 resolution and the display has a 90 Hz refresh rate. Headphones are integrated into the helmet, proving a 3D audio effect. A USB stationary IR sensor that is typically set up on the user’s desk, enables the helmet to have rotational and positional tracking, which allows the user to use the device while they are sitting, standing or walking around in the same room.
Scheduled to be released on March 28 2016, the Oculus Rift goggles won’t only be used for video gaming and virtual reality games online, but will also offer one of the best VR casino experience at online casinos, such as SlotsMillion.com
Virtual reality gaming & gambling
VR casinos are expected to be the next big thing in online gambling. In the future, the average player could be enjoying slots, table games, and poker in a real-life setting. This would take the online gaming experience, which has already been improved by mobile tech (which gives players with smartphones the ability to access their favorite casino games on-the-go), to a whole new interactive level.
That said, Oculus rift casino games and virtual reality casinos have become more than a concept. SlotsMillion.com has already launched a virtual reality casino, and big-name industry software developers including Microgaming and NetEnt are testing new technology as well.
SlotsMillion VR Casino
Although not the first brand to have attempted a VR casino, SlotsMillion is the first one to have successfully launched one. The online casino, known for its massive online slots offering, developed a VR experience that immerses players in a dynamic casino environment that is meant to look and feel like the real thing.
Players have the opportunity to view the casino in VR with the Oculus Rift goggles or in regular 3D via their PC, with no goggles required. The immersive casino lobby has been designed as a slots casino, complete with slot machines, music, lounge couches and bar disks.
The casino is “located” on the 80th floor of a skyscraper that overlooks a futuristic cityscape. Players can lean against the lobby window and look down and experience vertigo as if they were actually standing in a skyscraper at that height. The casino features more than 40 of SlotsMillion’s most popular 3D slot games that players can enjoy for fun or for real money. Wearing their goggles, players interact with the environment via a controller and their hands.
One interesting point to note about the construction of the SlotsMillion virtual reality gambling environment is that during the several months that it took to build a premium experience for players, the casino worked closely with Maltese gaming regulators to ensure that the best set of practices would be implemented for this entirely new iGaming medium.
Initially, SlotsMillion reportedly wanted the balances of players to be visible in its multiplayer tournament games features, but the regulators maintained that a player’s wins, losses and overall cash balances should remain private. However, the regulators did maintain that clocks should be visible on the walls so that players wouldn’t become so engrossed in the experience that they would lose track of time.
This is surprising because one of the most commonly known practices of land-based casinos is to eliminate all concept of time (ex. no clocks and windows to the outside world) so that customers will be inclined to play for longer.
For more details on SlotsMillion VR Casino you can read VegasMaster's interview with the company CEO Alexandre Tomic.
Microgaming VR Games
As a pioneer in the iGaming industry and one of its most innovative companies, it should come as no surprise that UK-based Microgaming has also been dabbling in the world of VR. The amazing software developer was the first to create authentic online casino software more than 20 years ago, the first to create mobile casino software in 2004, and the first to develop casino software for a smartwatch in 2014. It has also designed other VR apps and augmented reality betting apps to work with Google Glass, and has now developed an award-winning VR roulette experience.
Developed to be used in conjunction with the Oculus Rift D Kit 2 and the Leap Motion 3D Controller, the VR game, which is still in its prototype phase, transports players into space where they can engage in roulette at a table where a robot acts as a croupier.
While the VR headset immerses the player in the world, the controller locates the player’s hand movements to project them into the 3D world. The result is that when the player sits at the table, they can see their own hands reach out in front of them when they place their bets.
Microgaming’s VR Roulette prototype was most recently demoed in its CRYO lab at ICE Totally Gaming 2016.
Another pioneer and innovator in the field, with 20 years of experience, Sweden-based NetEnt has also been teasing audiences with its upcoming innovative tech. While it has been exploring virtual reality technology, it has also been uniquely evolving its 3D sound.
The company believes that one of the primary aspects which truly enhance a player’s gaming experience is the sound. This is why it intends to implement the 3D sound technology it has developed into its future VR slots and casino games.
At ICE 2016, NetEnt gave visitors the chance to experience a unique VR demonstration that enabled them to enter “Jack’s 3D World”, which is based on the software company’s popular “Jack and the Beanstalk” online/mobile slot.
NetEnt has since posted a video of Jacks World in VR on its official YouTube channel, which enables anyone in possession of Google Cardboard to enjoy the VR experience and get a taste of what its slots gaming might be like in the future.
On a side note, if you’ve never heard of Google Cardboard, which is often simply referred to as “cardboard”, it is a VR and AR platform developed by Google that is used with a head mount for a smartphone. The viewer is actually folded out of cardboard. The platform has been designed as a low-cost system for the purpose of generating interest and encouraging the development of VR and AR applications.
Lucky VR games development
One of the software development companies pioneering virtual reality gaming & gambling is Canada-based Lucky VR. Unlike other online casino software developers in the industry, Lucky VR specifically develops immersive virtual reality experiences, specializing in casino gaming content. The company takes traditional casino games including slots, blackjack, poker, etc., and transforms them into engaging VR applications for the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear headsets.
Over the past year, Lucky VR’s team of specialists (a mix of video game industry veterans, film/VFX experts, and fantasy sports gaming entrepreneurs), have extensively tested several different approaches to VR gaming development to determine what works best for the new medium. Due to the fact that immersive multimedia engages players on such a deep and all-encompassing level, the experience has to be well designed to have the perfect effect on the player. A poorly designed experience could produce the wrong effect, such as giving a player motions sickness, which would be very negative for the brand. Hence, the goal of Lucky VR is to create an experience that leaves a lasting positive impression.
So far, according to the company’s founder Jeff Lande, Lucky VR has prototyped Samsung Gear and Oculus Rift casino games as well as prototyped a complete VR casino environment. Its first real money implementation was released last summer for SlotsMillion.com.
Lande believes that as the market for VR grows and more consumers adopt the tech, VR will become less of the marketing gimmick it is now and actually turn into a product that generates revenue.
For an extended look on the future of VR tech and software you can read VegasMaster's interview with Lucky VR founder Jeff Lande.
Virtual Reality Games in the Future
It certainly seems that virtual reality is the future of video gaming and other educational and training applications, etc. But what does the future specifically hold for virtual reality casino games?
Some people like Lande are optimistic that VR is the future of iGaming and will become the dominant platform, while others aren’t quite sure that virtual reality games online will ever really take off, especially since no one knows what a VR casino customer-base would look like or how big it would be. At the moment, VR is primarily being used in the iGaming industry as a marketing tool and its potential success is based only on predictions. Some firms like Goldman Sachs already predicted that the virtual world will generate more annual revenue then our TVs within 10 years.
Bloomberg report of some of the things that may slow down the VR spread.
One of the major drawbacks of VR is the cost of the technology. For starters, the headsets aren’t exactly cheap. Once it hits store shelves, the Oculus Rift will carry a price tag of US$599. On the other hand, while other headsets like cardboard, Samsung Gear VR and Razer OSVR are less costly, the other issue is that in order to use these wearable devices, users will require high-tech computer gear to be able to run the software, such as a gaming PC. Buying one of these machines can cost up to $1,500 or higher.
In fact, even SlotsMillion has predicted that they expect most of their customers will experience their new casino in its 3D version rather than the full VR experience with the Oculus Rift goggles.
Will virtual reality casino games become more than just a novelty?
At this point, it’s hard to tell. The industry is still quite young and is in the stage where the concept of this style of gaming is fascinating to the masses. However, while most people would probably jump at the chance to demo the experience for free, would these same people want to invest hundreds of dollars for the full experience, even if it means that they can enjoy VR gambling at any time from their home?
Although that’s a question that can only be answered in time, as we’ve seen with plenty of other tech, such as mobile, a lot can happen between now and five years.
Therefore, there is quite a bit of potential that the immersive casino experience could be more than a trend, especially as wearable tech improves and if it eventually drops in price. The number of gamers is constantly on the rise and gaming is evolving in a whole new way to appeal to a younger generation, which could make mainstream virtually reality games in the future a real possibility.
Nonetheless, despite the uncertain future of virtual reality casinos, one thing is for certain: playing at VR casinos would be a fun and unique experience!