In his latest column for VRFocus leading exponent of the out-of-home entertainment sector, Kevin Williams, reports back from Europe’s largest gambling, online gaming and casino convention. Exclusively revealing the impact that virtual reality (VR) is having on is industry that has a serious interest in the re-emergence of this technology.
We had only just visited the London’s ExCel convention center for our report on the massive education show (BETT), but jump forward a few weeks and we find ourselves back at ExCel. Rather than one hall of the vast convention center, instead we see nearly all the North and South halls of the exhibition facility turned over to the 23rd International Casino Expo (ICE) Total Gaming expo.
For those not familiar with the gaming industry, it covers a vast number of different elements, and seeing incredible year-on-year profitability. The ICE event includes exhibitors interested in “bricks and mortar” gaming facilities, like casinos, licensed-betting offices and adult gaming arcades (land-based) – while the rest of the massive exhibition covers online betting, gaming and gambling (iGaming), sports betting, gaming machines and the services that support all of them.
The need by the gaming facility business to attract younger visitors has seen great investment in skill-based gaming (defined as ‘Skill Gaming’); while at the same time the great profits coming from online gaming services is looking to be secured with the use of new technology – both elements looking at VR as a possible opportunity.
Compared to the major interest that VR engender back in 2016, this year’s show seemed to offer a glimpse of the reality of the love affair with the hyperbole of what VR could offer, and wake-up to the reality of what can be achieved with the available hardware. It was obvious that ICE represented a show of two halves – an analogy any good sports enthusiast would recognize.
One side of the application of VR into the gaming scene we see its use as a promotional and marketing tool. One of those exhibitors that dedicated an area of their big booth to a VR component was BetConstruct, provider of online and land-based gaming solutions. The company had a “Virtual Reality Gaming” area offering two Oculus Rift (CV1) with both TOUCH and game pad enabled demonstrations. The demo offering the ability to navigate round a virtual casino.
Another company looking at promoting a VR casino experience approach was Innovecs Gaming a company known for working with leading Intellectual Properties for application in gaming, came to the London show with a HTC Vive demonstrating their interpretation of how VR could be used as a compelling gaming experience. The company’s Vice President observing that while current consumer VR hardware is not suitable for land-based application, there were opportunities for online gaming experience supporting the mobile VR installed base.
Another company that favored the HTC Vive VR platform for demonstration was International Game Technology (IGT), the influential gaming machine manufactures vast booth had a dedicated enclosure with two HTC Vive, running the game Siege VR. Attendees to the show booked for their chance to experience the castle battlements bow and arrows siege defense game, a packed booth indicating interest in the demo.
Speaking with a IGT representative confirmed the game was being used as a presentation of their intentions towards creating skill-based gaming experiences that are totally immersive, testing the water regarding the trade interest.
Siege VR was originated by Sixense to demo their then STEM VR in 2014. This ICE demonstration had been commissioned exclusively by IGT, now running on HTC Vive’s rather than converted Oculus headsets. There are no plans for this to be released as a full game however, used wholly as a promotional tool, (there is also no news of the situation with Sixense after recent announcements of further delays).
VR offered a unique tool to present a message to visitors to the myriad big presentation; exhibitor Evolution Gaming, came to ICE with a portion of their booth turned over to several Samsung Gear VR used as a promotional tool offering a 360° visualization of the company’s studios and a behind the scenes view of their land-based live dealer games and interactive online casino experiences.
Several ICE exhibition exhibitors just placed VR promotions on their booth to draw attention; Processing.com (a payment solutions specialist) had F1 racing action competitions, using CV1’s in a fast pace racing simulator promotion.
The financial muscle of the international gaming industry has shown a strong VR interest; exhibitors from this territory included Digital Graphix Hub Technologies (based in the Philippines had many examples of their mobile VR setup running demonstrations of their envisaged online VR games.
International exhibitor Global Bet presented their Virtual Sports platform, offering the opportunity for punters to experience their Virtual Sports events with a 360° presentation placing the guest in the heart of the action. Sadly, the CV1 seated presentation of their platform at ICE was not working.
A surprise appearance on the vast Novomatic electronic gaming machine giants’ booth was the inclusion of a Sony PSVR experience –a themed area on the booth branded Barcade, visitors trying their skills on old school arcade games recreated in VR, run as a competitive promotion on their booth.
Another surprise appearance at ICE was on the NSoft booth, known for software solutions for the gaming and betting sector (such as Sportsbooks), the company demonstrated the concept of using Augmented Reality (AR) to facilitate gaming with a Microsoft Hololens deployed into action representing virtual stats in the real-world.
Beyond the use of VR as a demonstration / promotional tool of aspirations; on the other half of VR’s application, it was harder to find actual business initiatives towards building a revenue stream, and opening the door on the proposed opportunity that VR represents for the casino sector. Of those showing actual products.
The World’s largest online casino operator NetEnt followed on from their mobile VR Jack and the Beanstalk cartoon slot proof of concept in 2016, to launch at this year’s ICE the “first real-money virtual reality slot game”, to be delivered through their existing NetEnt Casino Module. The new game called Gonzo’s Quest VR has the player in a vibrant virtual environment and fun characters while playing virtual slots. On the booth players used the Samsung Gear VR to play the virtual slots, but the game is agnostic of mobile VR platform. The developers at NetEnt believe that VR has a given place in the future of online gaming, and feel that WebVR technology will mature enough to offer basic support for VR game-play by 2018.
At ICE 2017 exhibitor JoinGames Malta, and VR partners Parallel66 created a VR themed area on their stand for the global reveal their first VR iGame: Kleopatra VR. They feel the game is the first fully interactive slot game experience for mobile VR. The team behind the product will launch the game as a VR app for smartphones in Q2 2017, allowing players to combine any VR Head Mounted Display (HMD) with their existing smartphone to enter a mystical Egypt-themed playing environment to move around, explore and play a unique 3D slot-game for real money.
Considering the level of interest generated from last year’s ICE event towards VR, this year saw a greater penetration of VR hardware examples, but a need to find a “hook” to hang their efforts upon. As one well respected VR developer in the iGaming scene commented during the show. For demonstrations, they were happy to use CV1’s and Samsung Gear VR’s, but to generate a revenue, the reality was that until something like a universal WebVR platform is established (through solutions possibly like Googles Daydream) then there was still a vacuum regarding generating revenue while supplying a deliverable to the paying audience.
We wait to see if NetEnt, and the industry in general, will be the first to find that magical solution to profitability in VR.