Virtual reality is being tipped for huge global expansion as operators and suppliers seek to lure the tech savvy millennial market, and while Asia is seen as lagging the U.S. in introducing VR machines onto casino floors they won’t be far behind.
According to JPMorgan, the development of the VR industry is still in its early stages, but the potential global market could reach $13.5 billion by 2020. There has already been $2.5 billion spent on VR projects this year alone as companies adopt this emerging technology.
“A lot of these companies are seeing the immersive value of something new, something creative,” said John English, CEO of Webe Gaming. “It’s going to be mainstream really fast. We see a lot of new devices all the time. But this is truly taking you to a different level. You’re blocking yourself out; you’re putting yourself in a whole new world,” he said.
Brian Weiner, CEO, IllusionQuestStudio.com called VR the single biggest paradigm shift to hit humanity since television.
“The beach head of virtual reality will come in the gaming and entertainment sector. You’ve got to realize the paradigm shift hasn’t happened yet,” he said. “Imagine you put on a headset and in a heartbeat you’re in the grand casino in Monaco, but you’re not winning there so at a push of a button you’re at the Galaxy in Macau. At a push of the button you’re changing dealer and changing location,” he adds.
Carving a niche
In the gaming industry, the adoption of VR will likely follow a similar trend to that of esports and skill-based gaming, the industry experts said. It’s unlikely to ever take over the entire casino floor and may have a tough time in convincing the older generation, but it is seen as having a strong niche.
“We’re going to start by seeing lounges. If you go to Vegas right now, you’ll see there are esports lounges, like in Downtown Grand. Some casinos are even putting areas in for skill-based gaming,” said English. “Eventually there will be a spot [in Las Vegas], and probably by next year we’re going to see our first VR lounge in place.”
Asia will also be quick to adopt VR, with innovators such as Tencent likely to capitalize on non-gaming related VR applications early. According to English, VR in gaming will likely follow US trends, albeit a little slower.
“I think it’s something that will happen in the next two years. I wouldn’t doubt that we will see something like this happen in City of Dreams or Studio City this year,” he added.
However, it won’t appeal to everyone and design will play a key part in winning over a more reluctant section of the audience. Some early complaints have centered on cumbersome headgear and games that can give players motion sickness.
“Putting on a headset is a large commitment,” said Gerard Cunningham, founder of BetFair USA and VR social casino company Winistry VR. “The player experience needs to be better than a 2D phone screen, and better than the real world. Fortunately, while not easy, the VR product designer has the opportunity to create something magical.”
“The two things sound obvious, but worse than the real world includes – navigating your way around a virtual casino when all you really want to do is play the game,” he said.
Webe Gaming, along with Illusion Quest Studio’s Brian Weiner, is currently working on a project that seeks to revolutionize the slot gaming experience.
“I think there’s a lot of room to take what actually constitutes a slot machine and virtualize it,” Weiner said. “Rather than playing a slot machine, you’re part of it.”
“We’ve rethought the slot machine 100 percent. And in rethinking the slot machine we have to be very cautious not to create that nausea concept that you’re talking about.”
Although games are being developed for the land-based market, experts say the real driver for growth in this sphere is likely to come from the smartphone market.
Currently, the social and mobile casino gaming industry is worth $4 billion and accounts for 4 percent of the video gaming market globally, said Cunningham. Once this meets the VR market, which is projected to reach $120 billion by 2020, the opportunities will be massive, he said.
“There are right now 2 billion smartphone users; there will be 6 billion by 2020. Every single one of the top 10 manufacturers globally is working on mobile VR in order to capture market share,” said Cunningham.
“The Samsung Gear VR is a good example,” added Microgaming’s head of product channels Neill Whyte. “With the company pushing the device to their mobile customers; headsets are being given away free with mobile phone upgrades… Plus Google Cardboard is growing in popularity, making VR more affordable to the average consumer.”
Microgaming has been working on a VR Roulette product. The concept transports players to a futuristic roulette table set in outer space, greeted by a robot croupier and surrounded by asteroids. Players can place bets by simply looking at where they want their chips to go, and their hand gestures determine the bet size, all using motion control technology. Also players can interact with anything they see, such as pushing away asteroids.
Over 650 attendees took part in the VR Roulette experience in Microgaming’s “CRYO lab” at the recent gaming show in London.
“We didn’t want to recreate a normal 2D game of roulette, we wanted to transport players into a fantastical world, providing a never-seen-before experience.”
Gambling in virtual reality, whether at home or at an upcoming casino lounge needs to enable the customer to journey to a place they’ve never been before. Undoubtedly, there is a long road ahead for manufacturers who are looking to get this right. But if successful, the pay offs may be out of this world.