Is 2017 the year of Virtual Reality gaming?


vr 2017
irtual Reality has moved from the realms of Science Fiction to the future of household and casino gaming. Will VR finally be fully integrated into the gambling industry in 2017? Is VR a safe bet for operators to gain more interest from Millennials? Industry experts from across the vertical share their views

The Panel Rose Chen
Overseas Marketing Director, Beijing Leke VR Technology Co. Limited Darion Lowenstein
CMO, Gamblit Gaming Robert Toth
Key Account Manager, Media Stream Christopher Reid
Casino Manager, Red Queen Casino Alexandre Tomic
CEO, ALEA What are the biggest challenges of creating VR technology for consumer gaming? Rose Chen: We have found that the biggest challenge of creating VR technology for consumer gaming is maintaining the customer’s passion for VR games.

Alexandre Tomic: For us, it is most probably the fact that so few players have VR goggles. The number of people playing in VR inside our casino is starting to grow now, but the casino has already been live for more than a year, which shows how slow the initial adoption has been. This is mainly because of the price of the VR equipment.

Robert Toth: Indeed, one of the main barriers consumers face when it comes to VR technology is that to use and engage with it properly you need physical hardware. With any VR technology, this comes to the consumer at a financial cost to gain a full virtual reality experience. The typical price that a user must pay for a VR headset including a supporting gaming PC can exceed £1,000. Less than one percent of the world’s computers at present have the graphical capabilities needed for VR. VR technology is very bandwidth-intensive as well. VR is still not a technology that is accessible to everyone; however, this is likely to change in the future as technologies continue to develop. There have been several studies on the impact virtual reality has on the human brain. The long-term effects of VR are still unknown but there is clear evidence of changes in the way people think and behave after intensive use of VR. We work towards creating games that do not alter a user’s senses so they don’t lose touch of reality. There is still a lot more development needed to provide a full Virtual Reality experience, and we try to be at the forefront when relating this directly to online gambling and Virtual Sports.

Another challenge is the time it takes to build and create virtual spaces and games. Right now we have a team of 12 people working full time on our first VR game which is expected in 2017.

It is a time-consuming activity and the process still has lots of room for improvement. We’re still also two to three years away from making real money on VR, but believe this is going to change as VR gaming becomes more accessible to people.

Darion Lowenstein: We haven’t created new hardware so coming from the game creation side, you want to make an experience that not only immediately transports the player into another world, but is also easy to understand and play quickly. As a casino supplier, if we produce anything too difficult or anything that causes motion sickness, we’re toast.

Christopher Reid: In my opinion, one of the greatest initial challenges is whether consumers will adapt to this new technology. Research group Super Data estimated that PlayStation VR sales would reach 2.6 million units sold by the end of 2016. However, the firm has updated that figure, so that it is substantially downward from their first hopes. The company is expecting PlayStation VR sales to be less than 750,000 for the year. Similarly, the initial sales of the Sony VR have not been as high as initially predicted. Projections for other leading headsets, including HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Gear VR and The Google Daydream are all down on the initial forecast sales figures published. If consumers struggle to adapt to new VR products, it will be harder for the gambling operators to develop the product as a valid commercial vehicle for acquiring and retaining players.

How long do you predict it will be before VR technology is available for the consumer to use at home?

The first VR casinos are already operating online but there is still a huge margin for both improvement and opportunityRobert Toth
RT: Technology continues to move at a more dynamic pace with breakthroughs and developments happening on almost a daily basis. We believe that within the next 12 months, an affordable virtual reality technology will be available for everyday consumers who want to play from home.

DL: However, the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Sony Playstation VR have all launched great VR kits for home that are easy to use and have a growing library of software available today. The PS VR is the cheapest option, while the HTC Vive I think gives users the best experience as it’s “Room scale” VR, meaning you can move around in the virtual world and your body is tracked.

RC: Right now, there are already some consumers using the VR glasses at home, matching the mobile or the computer to play games. We estimate that in the next three years, VR technology will be used in every family.

CR: With the introduction of VR devices from the likes of Sony and Google to the consumer market, widespread adoption of VR technology at home is indeed already underway. As alluded to in my answer to the first question, sales haven’t been as high as initially predicted. However, with more investment into the VR technology with new games and movies being released for the consumer market place I feel that these figures will organically raise over time. Therefore, I don’t believe it would be long before this technology has a more common place in people’s homes, within the next five years.

Will VR technology be integrated into casino or online gambling during 2017?

RC: Now VR technology already linked up with games, medical science, education and social activities. In 2017, it’s really possible that VR technology will be integrated into casino or online gambling. 

RT: The first VR casinos are already operating online but there is still a huge margin for both improvement and opportunity. We expect more operators to step into this fantastic world of VR within 2017. As the technologies improve, smaller operators will also see VR as a viable growth opportunity.

AT: VR technology has already been integrated into online gambling via our VR casino, SlotsMillion. It is the first of its kind, available to play in demo mode or for real money, in both VR and 3D – without goggles – via a downloadable application. VR is now becoming more and more popular both inside and outside the gambling industry, and I predict that it won’t be long until it reaches mainstream use. We already know, for example, that some game providers are starting to develop VR slots, so this is a really exciting time for online gambling.

CR: Having tried Slot Million’s VR product myself, I was impressed with the immersive gaming experience that it provided. I originally thought of it as a gimmick, however with the adaptation of the VR technology taking place I don’t think that it will be to long before consumers start to cross over their experience to this product and other similar products in the online gambling market, bringing the virtual casino floor to people’s homes on a much wider scale. With the riveting experience and product niche that VR provides, I think there is an opportunity for higher player values and as a result of this more operators will see the opportunity to develop the VR product further. However, in my honest opinion, 2017 is unlikely to be the year where we see wide scale adoption of this enticing new technology from online operators, due to the cost of developing the product and its initial low adoption in the consumer marketplace.

DL: We are launching our Gamblit VRC (Virtual Reality Cube) onto casino floors throughout the USA in 2017. The response to the VRC and the gamblified game we showed at G2E 2016, The Brookhaven Experiment (a wildly successful hit VR game), was overwhelmingly positive and many casino operators saw it as a showcase/draw to bringing people to new gaming areas on the floor.

Where do you foresee VR games will be located on the casino floor?

DL: With other games of their type; new skill games; near a bar, as we Millennials love our booze; and potentially near a club entrance as it’s something fun to do before you dance the night away.

RT: Currently VR makes more sense for the home consumer who doesn’t want to leave their home but still wants to feel as if they are within a real authentic casino experience. Virtual casino operators will see this as a great opportunity to expand their offering and their virtual casino space. Within land-based casinos we foresee lounge areas being hugely popular for VR where customers can experience casino games in different environments. For example, playing roulette on a sunny virtual beach in the middle of winter sounds like a great idea.

RC: For the moment, we only know that China Mahjong used VR technology. For the casino floor we haven’t seen any yet.

CR: Slots Millions has decided to lead with VR as their main product, as it is a great USP and currently differentiates themselves from every other online operator. However, I don’t believe that this will be the main focus for most online operators who chose to adopt this technology in the future. I initially see VR being integrated as a separate area within operator’s sites, depending on how the product is received, and then prioritised accordingly within their existing product mix.

Do you foresee any problems in terms of the nature or cost of the technology in introducing VR to the casino floor?

RC: We have found that the VR glasses cause the customers’ eyes to become tired rather quickly. The VR glasses are also quite heavy, and can cause the customer’s head and neck to feel fatigued. We need to focus on reducing customers’ fatigue – but this will be expensive and will mean that the cost of the product will increase.

RT: VR is a significant investment, but we expect this technology to develop quickly and become more affordable. From a legal standpoint, the implications of the use of virtual technology within a gambling environment will need to be studied and assessed to ensure the protection of the consumer.

AT: Obviously the price of virtual reality is still very high – not only the goggles, but also the PCs capable of running the software. As virtual reality becomes more widely accepted, however, the price will come down, and in the meantime there are the lower-end devices such as Samsung Gear and Google Daydream to bridge the gap. These devices will also help people accept VR, as some people do find the current devices very bulky and heavy, which could cause them to favour mobile VR over the high-end devices. However at the moment there is a big difference between the experiences available on mobile and the really high-end devices like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. At the moment there’s just no comparison, and I think it will be difficult to reach those levels of immersivity on the lower-end devices, at least for now. Obviously the smaller and cheaper the devices are, the more quickly and easily VR will become accepted into the mainstream, but it’s also very important to maintain the immersivity and the quality of the experience in order for people to think it’s worth investing in at all, and not just a glorified game.

DL: There are always a lot of things to overcome when launching a new product line into a new space; I think concerns over line management have been the top concern we’ve heard, but at the end of the day that’s a pretty easy thing to manage. Of course getting new hardware and new gaming types through regulatory review can take a while as well.

How do you think VR will affect the quality of casino games?

RT: VR will help to deliver a bigger casino product offering, more alternatives and competition so we expect this to improve the quality of casino games in the future.

DL: I don’t think "traditional" casino games will be affected; I do think it opens the door to a whole new range of gamers looking for a fun experience on the casino floor that they can’t quite have at home. Giving players the option to spectate and in some cases bet on how their friends are doing in the VR experience, or even join them in a co-op game is something I know a lot of people would line up for – myself included!

RC: If VR technology were be used in casino games, it will be a great success for science technology. VR will bring a totally new and fresh gambling experience to customers; whether you are a fan of gambling or not, everyone will be attracted to the VR experience.

CR: The quality of new game releases into the marketplace is currently soaring very high. Every slot provider is striving to improve their graphics and introducing unique features within their new releases, in order to differentiate themselves from the competition. With the introduction of VR technology, I can only see that the quality of the games that will be produced increasing in line with the opportunity that this technology provides for an entrancing gaming experience. With these newly optimised graphics, social gaming booming and the strengthening of computing supremacy, casinos are finally signalling a readiness and willingness to move the whole experience into a Virtual space that feels the same as our beloved land based casinos.

AT: At the moment, our VR casino consists of 2D slots inserted inside a virtual environment. Players can have the experience of being in a real casino from the comfort of their own home, which is very immersive and extremely exciting, but the slots themselves are still 2D. The idea in the future, however, will be to have truly VR slots, where the player can experience the game from inside, with the symbols and scenery surrounding them. As we mentioned earlier, this is already starting to happen – at ICE last year NetEnt displayed a VR demo of their slot Jack and the Beanstalk, and we expect that at ICE 2017, several providers will be getting in on the game and showcasing non-final versions of VR slots demos. We are going to see VR slots being developed by game suppliers at the end of Q1 or beginning of Q2 next year, and at least two or three providers will roll out at least one VR slot each next year. We will also be starting to see some VR table games as well as slots. 2017 is going to be a very interesting year for VR, and we’re looking forward to seeing what happens.

Do you think that VR games are likely to attract more Millennials to the casino floor? Is this the ultimate goal of the integrating VR into the gambling industry?

RT: Absolutely. People who grow up with video games will be the players who join these VR casinos first and will accept this technology better than someone who has never played a video game. It looks like the natural progression for these people to enter virtual casinos. The gambling industry must continually look for ways to expand their target customer base and virtual reality is one of the most innovative and exciting methods to do this.

AT: Millennials are certainly known for being early adopters of new technology, and with the concept of virtual reality having been part of the public consciousness for the past thirty years in movies, the focus on VR is is even greater now that it’s finally becoming real. Millennials are the ones most likely to spend the necessary money to experience VR, and we are sure that they will be the ones to define the terms upon which VR enters the mainstream. When the mobile platform became widely used, it caused a new generation of consumers to enter the gambling industry; people who perhaps would not have traditionally played via desktop or visited a land-based casino. This process will be magnified with VR, simply because it can offer a gaming experience so immersive it is unlike any other channel.

DL: I think they will be a draw for gamers, and nearly everyone today enjoys gaming, thanks to the ease of getting games on your phone. Every time we’ve shown the VRC and The Brookhaven Experiment, we’ve seen a huge range of people wanting to play and enjoy the experience; not just Millennial males, which is the stereotype. We’ve seen everyone from casino executives who are grandpas to a soccer-mom of four not only play, but also want to “take another shot at killing those monsters”. I think VR will ultimately bring more people into these new gaming areas as they look for new forms of entertainment.

CR: I am certainly interested in seeing new technologies which are being introduced to cater to my generation, however I am skeptical that this is the silver bullet that operators are searching for to get the Millennial generation flocking to the casino floor. However, I do think that this will be part of the product mix that casinos will offer, as there will undoubtedly be a market for operators to capitalise on. However, now the technical standpoint has accomplished a level, which is certainly marketable and user-worthy, virtual reality within the casino world is something that is not just a possibility, but a product of the future. In spite of the undefined and seemingly ambiguous future of VR casinos, I for one hope this isn’t just an overnight novelty, but something that completely transcends the casino playground for all to rejoice in!

RC: VR is fresh to most people, even in the gaming, medical science, and home design industries. If VR technology is integrated into the gambling industry, it will become a shining star for gamers all over the world. For young people especially, it may be a very attractive – or even irresistible – experience. For now, we are focusing on VR games (not necessarily associated with gambling) because we want to follow the development of VR market step-by-step. Once we have made progress in this area, we can carefully consider new directions for the development of VR technology.
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