The once immensely popular internet pastime has never regained quite the same popularity it enjoyed in the golden heydays of the early 00s, but online poker still makes for a multi-billion dollar industry with players from all over the world. The industry has persisted against great adversity – most notably legal issues in many countries including the US. Now, the emerging field of virtual reality gaming is providing something of a revival to an otherwise dwindling industry. Why is VR technology breathing life into online poker, and what overall effects will it have upon the igaming industry?
VR is more popular than ever
It has only been around two years since VR headsets hit the market. Affordable, immersive and comfortable – these consoles are finally at a stage where they’re sufficiently good to be successful. From Samsung Gear VR to HTC Vive, everyone wants the virtual reality gaming experience right now. Initial interest in these products may decline over time, but VR is here to stay – and not just for the purpose of gaming. Virtual reality technology looks to transform professional training, architectural design, pain therapy, holiday planning and much more. The possibilities of realistic VR simulations are multifold and exciting. All kinds of businesses are currently considering ways to make compatible their service, shopping or marketing to virtual reality. Igaming companies are amongst those businesses keen to VR-optimise their products – which brings us back to online poker.
VR poker combines the best of both worlds
Playing online poker in a virtual world combines everything great about playing in a real casino (the atmospheric setting and social aspect) with the conveniences of playing online (being able to play at any time, and with the comfort of being behind a screen). In VR poker, one can create their own character, choose between fun poker settings (from a Wild West salon to a cinematically shady bar) while also interacting with other players from all over the world. The VR technology even allows for the game to pick up on other player’s real life movements which, coupled together with voice chat, makes spotting tells all the more easy. Both the options of real money gambling or virtual betting are allowed, meaning anyone can play according to their budget.
Which online poker rooms are doing it?
We’ve identified the clear appeal of VR poker – but which of the most famous and profitable online poker sites are currently working on developing VR card rooms? So far – most poker sites have been fairly quiet on the topic, perhaps as to ensure that any VR poker room launched is a complete surprise to both online poker players and competitors. There is a rumour that PokerStars, by far the biggest online poker room, is currently developing a full virtual reality poker experience – but this too is not confirmed. As of now, Slotsmillions, GetLucky and Casino VR currently offer VR poker on Oculus and Vive.
How popular are they?
It’s a little too early to tell how VR poker is faring – but initial reviews from gamers and bloggers have been mostly positive. While many VR headsets come with an online poker demo and plenty of advertisements for the VR card room experience, it will probably take for one of the larger online poker sites to release their own VR room before significant numbers of players start streaming in. At that point we will have a clearer picture of the extent if its popularity.
What else could contribute toward VR poker’s success?
There are two other important factors to consider when discussing the potential success of VR poker. First and foremost – states such as California and New York are in the process of re-introducing legalized online poker into the US. Advocates argue this will be a good source of revenue, boost business and help the US move with the times. Online poker has not been lawful in the US for over a decade (except in New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware) so legalizing poker sites once again will no doubt give a boost to the industry. The legalization might include relaxing regulation on igaming advertisements in the US, further helping to grow online poker’s player base.
Secondly, recent advancements with artificial intelligence has produced a poker-playing machine which, when met with a human opponent, will win in the overwhelming majority of cases. This has helped prove a point that poker players have been arguing for years – poker is a game of skill more so than it is a game of chance. In shifting the definition from poker from a luck game to a skill game, the card game might lose some of its taboo from being regarded as a gambling activity. If VR rooms offer a fun place for amateur players to hone their poker skills in a realistic setting for free, then they may come to be regarded as ‘training grounds’ for real life tournaments. This could attract a lot of people who may otherwise not have bothered giving poker a go.
What does this mean for real life casinos and traditional online poker?
If VR poker becomes as successful as many people predict, then the number of poker players attending real casinos or online card rooms might fall. Both casinos and online poker rooms can, however, use this increasing interest in VR technology to their advantage. For casinos, that could include creating VR replicas of their own card rooms which could prove especially popular for the most prestigious and iconic casinos around the world. Imagine being able to play in Monte Carlo without leaving your home! We’ve already discussed how online poker sites can optimise their industry for VR – however this is no easy task. Those poker sites serious about joining the growing world of VR to not get left behind need to hire VR specialists, market effectively and offer something unique through virtual reality.
Online poker is at a low point, but the industry can survive if it remains as innovative as it has been in the past. Today, that will involve the industry reinventing itself for the new platforms through which to game. Fortunately, VR technology offers it an opportunity to do just that!