Online gambling has undergone many developments and technological advances over the last several years. It used to be that one would need to have a PC from which to access the different online gambling sites and the graphical representation of games was both crude and subject to lag. Players would occasionally get, ‘Booted,’ and not able to see the results of a wager until they were logged back in. Further, connectivity issues on both ends occasionally prevented players from logging in at all, at times.
With Internet connectivity being better than ever, and still improving, those problems are long in the past. Furthermore, one doesn’t even need a PC or laptop to gamble online as offering a mobile casino app is almost an expectation for an online casino at this point. Online casinos that have no such offerings are behind the 8-Ball while software companies such as Microgaming stand out at the forefront of taking advantage of technological developments.
Furthermore, offering Live Dealer Table Games has become something of a standard rather than a specialty limited to only a handful of casinos. The reason why is because live dealer companies have come into existence that sell their services to various Internet casinos. In other words, one live dealer table (or set of tables) can be made available for play at multiple online casinos.
The newest development that has come into play and is expected to hit the market within the next few years is that of Virtual Reality gaming. As with Microgaming, certain online casinos, such as SlotsMillion are on the forefront of developing a platform for online gaming.
As it stands, Microgaming developed a live representation of a Roulette game that is fully immersive with more than just visuals. Paired with a virtual reality headset and gloves, this game can offer a full-on visual, audio and semi-tactile experience unique to the industry.
It is for this reason that Microgaming took down the 2015 Digital Innovation of the Year award for their VR Roulette product. You can visit their site for a video of the product in action.
What’s fascinating is that this is merely a crude version of what is expected to be the final product. The croupier is essentially nothing more than a robotic outline and, while graphically impressive, the roulette layout doesn’t quite yet fully resemble a physical table. The game plays background music while the player is playing and the VR gloves give the player the ability to use his/her hands in order to place bets on the layout.
It is easy to imagine that this sort of technology will be incorporated into other table games. There will likely be a VR Craps game upon which a player can simulate the activity of placing bets (and see a virtual representation of same) and then the player can do a physical motion of rolling dice which will equally be graphically represented. On games such as Baccarat or Blackjack, the player might be able to simulate the act of turning up the cards, flipping them over at the end of a hand or tossing them in for a fold.
In terms of the audio presentation, the music may become optional and replaceable with background noise (including music) that would occur organically in a casino. Players might be able to hear laughter or the chatter of other players in the background. Furthermore, in the virtual universe, the player might eventually be able to look around and see an actual background more representative of a live casino including other people walking around and playing other games.
Of course, Microgaming has plenty of time to develop this as they do not expect the VR gaming industry to really take off for somewhere between three to five years. The virtual reality headsets and gloves that would be required components are more likely to be mass marketed, perfected and lower in price by that time.
The expectation is that there will be no requirement for specialized hardware, just that the player will need to have hardware compatible for the software that will be downloaded in order to play the VR games. There is also some notion that it will be possible to play the VR games directly from the site, but due to the back and forth transmission from casino to player that will need to take place, those products might be more limited in nature than the download version.
These products are going to be necessary in order to attract the up-and-coming market of Millennial gamblers, who all but absolutely require an immersive and interactive atmosphere in order to hold their interest.
It is not expected that VR gaming will take the place of the other forms of online gaming, at least not right away. For one thing, electronic representations of table games as they currently exist are cheaper to deliver than even Live Gaming, and as a result, generally have lower minimums. It is also expected that the mobile products will remain popular over the next several years as the VR products do not offer any ease of use for gambling on the go. Among other things, you’d have to physically carry the hardware components around with you everywhere!
While Microgaming has produced a product that is expected to hit the market within that three-five year span, there are a few Internet Casinos that already have a VR product in place. One of these is SlotsMillion and a demo of the product is available on their site here.
The SlotsMillion product is pretty basic in terms of graphical representation, but in terms of immersion, it is somewhat unique. For one thing, other players can be seen walking around the VR casino, though they have no access to knowing what your bankroll or other personal info is. The player can also look around, and sensing this, the graphical representation turns accordingly.
Music plays in the background and rather than clicking a mouse on a fixed picture, a player can look up and down at a slot machine as though it were really there. The playing screen is located, relative to the player’s visual field, roughly where it would be if the player were standing and the slot title and picture can be viewed on the screen above that. The player can make a motion to select the machine that the player wants to play.
Many of the slot games available on the product are either substantially similar or identical to those that would be found in a physical casino. At this time, the visual representation is somewhat cartoonish, but one would expect that to improve over the next several years to resemble something more akin to a, ‘Real,’ casino.
Eventually, there will be a platform that combines slot, table, keno and video poker games into a representation of an entire casino, and given the headway they have already made, that product may well come from Microgaming. Players will be able to see representations of each other, perhaps even based on video of them, sitting at other tables or machines.
The live casino product may even emerge with the virtual reality product by way of sophisticated cameras and motion sensing. The player will have the illusion that they are actually sitting at the table with other players, and with microphones attached to either the headset or from the computer itself, may even be able to communicate with one another on games in which collusion is not a concern.
Players will have the ability to, ‘Stand up,’ and perhaps move from one table to another or move from one machine to another by turning their heads and pointing.
The goal of online gaming has always been to, as closely as possible, resemble the live casino atmosphere. It is for that reason that the largest operators have always at least made an attempt to acquire slot titles that can be found in casinos and why they also offer as many table games as possible. Live Dealer gaming was introduced not only because some players have more confidence in it than the electronic representation of table games, but also to bring the representation of the game one step closer to the real-life experience.
With virtual reality technology, in a few years, it will become possible for the VR product and the live casino product to be virtually indistinguishable from one another. Granted, there won’t be any cocktail waitresses bringing around drinks, unless you have a significant other who’s cool with playing dressup, but the visual/audio input will eventually reach a point where it is identical in most meaningful ways.
This could actually be a positive for live casino players, especially if online gambling is fully legalized and regulated across the U.S., because it also brings the online casino environment closer to meaningful competition for brick-and-mortar casinos. The result is that the casinos, if they want to attract gamblers, might have to offer better rules on table games and improved payouts on slot machines and video poker.
That could be wishful thinking, of course, but I think when the live casinos see how the online market is affecting their bottom line, it could happen.
One would certainly think that comps would need to improve somewhat. Other than the free drinks, what might be the motivation for some players to go and have essentially the same experience that they can enjoy at home? Granted, there are many visitors who do not visit Las Vegas (or casinos in other jurisdictions) primarily for the gambling, but there are many who do.
Either way, it will be interesting to see how the online casino environment develops given the technological improvements that we are seeing in the realm of virtual reality. It may well be as close as the online casinos will ever get to the real deal.