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Is virtual reality the next step in the evolution of online casinos?

By Special Guest
Macram Telhami
August 05, 2019

With the widespread introduction of live casino games, the online casino industry has been able to provide a gaming experience more immersive than previously possible. Tech developments have also allowed the production of slots that have escapist qualities akin to a movie, with elaborate video introductions and narratives taking place in fully realized worlds. However, it is difficult to imagine how online casinos can take this immersion to the next level without exploring the potential for virtual reality gaming.

Thus far, the sustained rise of online casinos has largely been driven by the idea that they are very different from their physical counterparts, in terms of choice and convenience. The focus has shifted in recent years, with many online casinos now making a concerted effort to adopt the strengths of their land-based contemporaries. Physical casinos inevitably provide a greater sense of community, with players able to see and engage with fellow gamers. Some casinos have sought to emulate this camaraderie by introducing chatroom functions. While a welcome feature, there is no real substitute for face-to-face communication.

The development of live casino games has resolved this issue in some ways. Evolution Gaming has been the pioneering developer in this field, with a significant proportion of online casinos providing, among others, Evolution's live blackjack and roulette games. Many casinos only offer live titles produced by Evolution, although certain sites do host live games developed by Playtech. While Evolution's name is synonymous with live casino games, it is noteworthy that Playtech, a heavyweight company renowned for its slots, has deemed it worthwhile to move into the live gaming market.

If VR casino gaming is to achieve similar popularity and prevalence, it will need the biggest game developers to become key players. Two of the most popular slot developers, Microgaming and NetEnt, have both tested the waters of VR casino gaming already. Microgaming produced Virtual Reality Roulette, a version of the wheel-based game that is standard in every regard other than the robot dealer. NetEnt launched a prototype VR slot in 2017, but VR games with real-money stakes have not yet become widely available at online casino providers.

If VR casino gaming is to take off, they will need to be seamlessly integrated on existing platforms in the same manner as live casino games. Rather than standalone games, it could be that VR opens up the possibility to enter an entire virtual casino. Many online casinos seek to recreate the environments of Las Vegas and Monte Carlo in their design and gameplay, but a VR casino could allow players to step into these worlds without actually having to travel.

Casino gameplay is a natural fit for VR. While the complexity of console games may struggle to translate to VR, the simple mechanics of card games, roulette and slots can ensure that gameplay doesn't feel clunky. Hypothetically, players would be able to navigate the VR casino as they would in a physical venue. Players could sit down at their desired tables and, most crucially, interact spontaneously with the avatars of fellow players.

In the wider gaming industry, virtual reality has failed to grow as many people may have anticipated. Classic consoles still take clear precedence over VR headsets, with headsets more of a luxury rather than an essential piece of equipment for keen gamers. With simplistic gameplay and a keen desire to develop its social side, the online casino industry could provide the ideal platform to popularize VR tech.

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