In 1994, the first online casino was launched. While “InterCasino” and other pioneering platforms had a basic design and functionality, they paved the way for the modern-day iGaming industry. Nowadays, it’s possible to place sports bets and access a wide catalogue of games—from slots to jackpot and live table games—on sites such as this NZ casino provider, Wildz, and several others. Developers have taken a step further by optimising games for virtual reality. In what follows, we explore the concept of virtual reality, its uses in the iGaming industry and the developers that have embraced this technology.
What is virtual reality and how has it revolutionised digital entertainment?
As its name suggests, virtual reality (VR) is a digitally simulated environment featuring realistic scenery, objects and sounds to provide users with an authentic experience. Such environments become visible and accessible through special equipment such as a VR headset or helmet. Thanks to virtual reality, it is possible to immerse ourselves in video games by moving around and interacting with virtual features or items in the simulated world. Yet, nowadays, technology has been embraced by other industries. In the health sector, for example, VR is used to teach surgeons to perform complex procedures. In real estate, the technology can provide potential homebuyers with immersive home tours before visiting the place in person. Most recently, in 2021, EASA approved the first VR-based flight simulation training device in order to allow pilots to practise risky manoeuvres in a virtual, controlled environment.
However, while VR may seem like an extremely futuristic tool, its origins date back to the 1960s. Many consider the Sensorama machine one of the first-ever VR devices. Built by American filmmaker Morton Heilig in 1962, Sensorama was a mechanical device with a built-in seat that played 3D movies, generating smells and vibrations to make the experience as vivid as possible. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the world saw the first commercial releases of VR headsets. Video game and entertainment company Sega released its VR headset for the Mega Drive home console in 1991. In the same year, Virtuality, a company specialised in VR gaming machines, launched the first mass-produced VR entertainment system with a price tag of up to $73,000 per unit.
From there, technological and software development brought significant innovations in both VR devices and interface design. By 2016, at least 230 companies were working on VR products, including tech giants Google, Microsoft, Sony, Samsung, Facebook and Apple.
Virtual reality and the iGaming industry
The iGaming industry is known for adapting rapidly to technological innovations. In recent years, the number of online casinos and sportsbooks has risen significantly, becoming a multi-billion market that is projected to continue growing. Thanks to technology, gambling activities have become much more accessible as it’s possible to play roulette or place a football bet anytime, anywhere and from any smart device. It’s no wonder that gambling operators are embracing virtual reality.
Through VR, players can fully immerse themselves in the casino environment without leaving the safety and comfort of their homes. In such an environment, they can freely communicate with the dealer, communicate with other players and move around the casino space.
Which are the software developers for VR iGaming?
NetEnt, formerly known as Net Entertainment, has been one of the leading providers of gaming solutions to numerous iGaming operators with 200 games in their catalogue. In 2015, the company received the Best Digital Industry Supplier of the Year accolade at the Global Gaming Awards. Just a year later, it earned three more nods for its endeavours at the eGR B2B Awards. In 2017, NetEnt announced its plans for launching the first real-money VR slot by optimising one of its most popular titles, Gonzo’s Quest. The 5-reel, 3-row video slow is inspired by the legend of the city of El Dorado and follows the Conquistador, Gonzalo, on an epic quest.
In a statement, former NetEnt CEO Per Eriksson commented, “We firmly believe that VR has a given place in the future of online gaming, based on our research and the trends that we monitor. We remain focused on delivering the ultimate entertainment experience by taking this first step towards developing our first real-money VR slot. This is a milestone for NetEnt and the gaming industry.” NetEnt has gone on to optimise other games for VR, including Starburst and Jack and the Beanstalk. Microgaming is another iGaming developer that has relied on technology to provide innovative gaming solutions. Active since 1994, the company is known for developing the first casino software and the first mobile software. To date, they have released over 800 games.
In 2015, the company shared its plans for a roulette VR table game that won the Digital Gaming Innovation at the Global Gaming Awards that same year. Nowadays, there are numerous VR roulette options available. The experience allows players to create a unique avatar, challenge other players to duels, practise different strategies and earn points to place bets. The popularity of virtual reality has resulted in developers that specialise in VR games exclusively. Lucky VR, for example, is a modern developer building VR games with an emphasis on socialisation. Its PokerStars VR combines real-world poker with an interactive and visually-rich casino environment. Players are able to challenge their friends at private tables or face players from across the world.
The team behind Lucky VR finds themselves, “building an evolving world in VR that brings social gamers together. From design to development, our team aims to up the ante, bringing you a cutting-edge virtual gaming destination taking your experience to the next level.”
Virtual technology is transforming the iGaming industry. Renowned game developers with years of experience in the field such as NetEnt and Microgaming, as well as newcomer Lucky VR, are creating engaging slots, roulette and poker table games. Such games provide a more exciting experience for players who can access a virtual environment that simulates an actual, land-based casino. As the iGaming industry continues to grow and adapt to the evolution of technology, we can expect developers to continue releasing more games with VR elements.