Virtual reality has become almost a mainstream technology in recent years, with products such as Google Cardboard, and the more sophisticated devices like Oculus, Samsung Gear VR or PlayStation VR all hitting the market recently.
Despite this, VR is not a new concept. In 1957 Morton Heilig filed a patent for a machine that he named the Sensorama, a device that combined several existing technologies to allow users to feel like they were immersed in a 3D world.
It combined techniques such as stereo sound, smells, vibration and wind, similar to what you’d find in a “4D Cinema” now.
Three years later, Heilig filed another patent for a “head-mounted display” that delivered 3D images, similar to what we would recognize as a VR headset today. Despite this patent, the products were never built due to limitations in technology at the time
First Virtual Reality Equipment for Gaming
Back in 1991, Sega planned to launch its Sega VR headset, which would have been an accessory for its Genesis console. However, it didn’t make it to market, because the company was worried that people may injure themselves whilst immersed in the virtual reality gameplay.
Sega’s rival Nintendo did release a sort of VR console just a few years later with the 1995 launch of the Virtual Boy. The console was a huge failure due to health concerns, premature release, and a lack of true portability (the console had a stand rather than being strapped to the player’s head).
Modern VR Headsets
2012 saw a startup called Oculus create a Kickstarter campaign to raise over $2 million to bring modern virtual reality to the general public The Oculus Rift would use head tracking so that gamers would be able to immerse themselves in their games in a way that hadn’t been possible before. This then saw many other companies follow suit, with HTC, Google, Apple, Sony, and Samsung releasing numerous models of VR equipment.
VR in iGaming
Like all other advancements in technology, virtual reality has quickly been picked up by the iGaming industry with companies like PokerStars launching a virtual reality offering in September 2018. PokerStars VR brings a whole new level of realism to online poker, allowing players to read body language, just like in real life.
In addition to this, players are able to play hands-free by using voice commands as well as streaming their play on social media and broadcasting platforms such as Twitch.
But there are some limitations to VR offerings because only a limited number of VR devices are currently supported.
This contrasts significantly against the way technology has previously been used by iGaming companies to tap into new, significantly sized markets through widely accessible platforms (such as the internet, and more recently mobile devices, both of which are mainstream technologies). Instead, VR is a niche area for the sector at the moment but is nonetheless an exciting development that opens up many new possibilities for online casinos.
VR has come a long way since it was first conceived in the 1950s, but it still has a bit further to go. Will VR become as popular as computers and mobile devices have become for the iGaming industry? It is currently difficult to see how that could be possible, VR requires special hardware and needs the player to be fully immersed in the game, whilst mobile devices, in particular, have allowed players to drop in and out of games whenever and wherever it is convenient.
It’s unlikely you’ll see someone on the train, wearing a VR headset engaged in VR poker or casino game any time soon. But you’ll definitely find someone playing them on their phone if you look hard enough. In defense of VR though, it creates a new level of gaming for dedicated, experienced players who are looking to take their gaming to a new level. This is true of iGaming and the wider computer gaming sector.