The Virtual Arena: VR’s Gambling Side
Kevin Williams wanders the vast halls of the International Casino Expo to see the VR developments
The 24th International Casino Expo (ICE) Total Gaming exhibition is Europe’s largest, and one of the most influential gaming and gambling conventions. The event draws professionals from the casino, licensed betting office, adult arcade (land-based) sports betting, online gambling and online betting (iGaming) industries.
The vast attendance walking the equally vast show floor looking for the latest in technology that will drive players to the gaming sector to spend their money.
One of the technologies being banked on to draw the “Millennial” to the gaming experience is virtual reality (VR) – the younger audiences are less attracted to traditional card gaming of their parents and along with their addiction to iGaming (mobile videogame apps with a prize pay-out) there is a hope that VR will also offer a new platform for prize-pay entertainment. The application of this emerging technology into the gaming scene can be summarised in three groups.
Utilising VR as a compelling and immersive means to get the message across. The hyperbole drove many exhibitors last year to include a VR promotional demonstration on their booth – this year the number of examples was way down.
Once again Processing.com brought their F1 mono-cockpits for player to race round a virtual circuit attempting to beat a high-score for booth prizes, Oculus CV1 hooked up to offer an immersive race experience. The company feeling that the use of a VR (as well as a conventional screen) gaming experience helps promote their operations services.
Several of the VR products seen on the booths linked to the other aspects of the business could also be seen as being more for presentation purposes than practical, but were hoping to mature into real products all the same.
Building on the phenomenal success of smart-phone based gaming apps, that generate vast revenues for associated corporations, the gambling industry has started a concretive effort to create their own compelling gaming apps.
Exhibitor JOIN Games built on last year’s launch of their Kleopatra VR Egyptian-themed slot VR title (and their partner Parallel66) – and launched the new videogame Zombie Escape VR. This release incorporates a multi-level game prize pay-out element along with blasting the undead. The mobile VR platform allowing the players smartphone to drive the experience.
Innovation to draw the player into the gaming experience was evident, with exhibitor EZUGI promoting their platform with the tagline “Never Leave The Table!” The systems use a live roulette table feed, with real players able to bet live on the game’s outcome (based on their live dealer technology) – a unique and innovative approach. The company used Samsung Gear VR’s on the booth but was also one of the few exhibitors that also had their title running on a demonstration version of the new Oculus GO headset.
The software developer ZEUS PLAY exhibited at ICE their range of online and casino-based slot gaming and lottery products. The company also promoted their ZEUS PLAY VR range – a standalone VR iGaming platform that the company was promoting and will incorporate many of the videogames they have developed supporting virtual reality gambling, running on a mobile VR headset.
Another exhibitor that invested heavily into VR last year and was continuing to double down was NetEnt. Following the launch last year of their VR iGaming title Gonzo’s Quest VR, the company demonstrated this year (in an area they labelled the “Next Generation VR Slots”), an updated version of the title for Oculus VR systems – an example of the aspirations to supply the platform for the PC VR community. While still promoting the iGaming version presented on Samsung GearVR’s – that will be going live this Summer for prize players.
NetEnt’s gamble from last year that WebVR would have matured enough to offer a wide opportunity for their title had not emerged. Though 2018 seems to be a make or break for this approach to wider distribution, with several VR platform providers making noises in the direction of supporting OpenMR or WebVR standards.
VR iGaming is still the only aspect of the VR gaming scene that generates revenue from the games in the field. The PC VR community seen as an opportunity to generate revenue from through their installed base. How to grow this sector focusing many minds.
“VR Entertainment Platform”
Land based casino properties are looking to drive the Millennial age group to their facilities, ripping out the sports betting lounges of their fathers and looking to entice the new audience with eSports, nightclubs and entertainment systems. Many property owners seeing VR attractions as a strong draw.
The vast Playtech One booth incorporated an area tagged “Innovation VR” – two HTC Vive’s, deployed in their own enclosure, offering a virtual casino videogame Playtech VR Roulette, or the videogame Playtech VR Shoot. Both experiences tailored to offer fun experiences that could be placed in Casino or land-based gaming establishments.
The representatives of Playtech wanted to make it clear that these systems were demonstration a possible application, and that the company had not yet fielded such a platform into a location yet – but expected that feedback from executives at this show would help steer their plans.
Another major exhibitor at ICE 2018 was BetConstruct – along with their more conventional gaming platforms, the company also had an area on their booth dedicated to the “Virtual Reality Casino”. In that area the company showed their VR Blackjack – players sitting round a gaming table wearing Oculus Rifts and using Touch controllers to play a virtual hand of blackjack.
The company also had a land-based videogame system that offered VR iGame downloads to players smartphones to enjoy mobileVR experiences. The VR Blackjack platform is still in early stages of development, but is live to play at their site, the company feeling confident that this is the future of the business.
With less of an emphasis than in previous year’s, VR has had to play an understudy role to the big developments in the race to get their new target audience’s attention. Seen in force at ICE’18 was the appearance of Skill Gaming – the culmination of a conventional experience but incorporating the ability to accrue points and prizes that can be redeemed for actual money.
One of the larger of the casino and gaming exhibitors was IGT – previously the company had promoted on their booth their interests in VR, (developing SEIGE VR for this sector). But now the company was pushing their new “SkillCade” range – of their new concepts was Race Ace Arcade – a three screen motion-based driving cockpit videogame, offering a Mario Kart-esque cartoon racing experience with wagering.
We now wait to see if the momentum will continue to drive VR investment in the gaming and gambling industries – if the market will embrace a money-making scheme, or if this early promise fails to build on its momentum. Place your bets please!