Back to the future

Back to the future

Alexandre Tomic believes the launch of Oculus Rift in the UK is the first step in virtual reality entering the mainstream

The recent launch of Oculus Rift sent shockwaves through the UK tech industry; the world’s most famous virtual reality (VR) headset was finally available to buy at select high-street stores and online. For many it was seen as a breakthrough moment; a piece of the future they could actually get their hands on – albeit for the sum of £549. For me, however, it felt like we’d gone back to the future. VR, and the devices required to access the digital kingdom it creates, are nothing new and have been around for a while now. At ALEA, for example, we have already launched the world’s first VR casino, SlotsMillion.

What Oculus Rift has, however, is the potential to take VR to the masses in a meaningful way. Sure, there are a number of devices already on the market, but they tend to be little more than cardboard boxes that slide over the front of smartphones. Oculus Rift, on the other hand, is a serious piece of kit that fully immerses users into a virtual world and allows them to absorb intricate details; the tiny minutia developers agonise over getting right.

Nonetheless, Oculus Rift does have its drawbacks. At £549, it will only be snapped up by techies and those with a solid disposable income, for the time being, and for it to work at its optimal capacity it will need to be plugged into a high-powered computer with a spec way above that found on your average desktop or Mac. These are just teething issues, of course; the same encountered during the roll-out of any piece of game-changing tech. And as Facebook, which owns Oculus Rift, develops the technology further, the price will undoubtedly tumble.

Be prepared

Now that Oculus Rift is available in the UK market, online gambling operators need to be prepared. When I spoke to Totally Gaming back in January, I was asked if the industry was ready for VR. Since then things have moved forward somewhat –  the launch of Pokémon GO at the start of summer brought augmented reality into the spotlight – but I still feel egaming operators are yet to fully understand and ready themselves for the opportunities VR and even AR present. Time is still on the industry’s side, however; Pokémon Go may have moved the needle but it isn’t the game changer some have hailed it to be.

The meteoric rise of the game is simply down to the branding, rather than the AR gameplay it offered; in 2012 Pokémon GO app developer Niantic launched a game called Ingress, which used the exact same AR platform to allow users to capture “portals” at areas of cultural significance. It was a cool game, but achieved a fraction of the 21 million users reported to be playing Pokémon GO each day in the US, at its peak. The thing is, while this type of augmented reality may have caught everyone’s attention, on its own it isn’t the right fit for our industry. AR overlaid on top of egaming just wouldn’t be effective, as egaming is already its own reality.

Crack the code

That sounds a little complex, so let me explain by way of example what I think is the key to cracking the code. VR goggles prevent users from seeing the outside world, so the virtual environment becomes their new reality. We could then add an AR layer over the top of that virtual world. Still with me? OK. This way, operators would be able to offer bonuses, advertise new games, share information and so on, all in a much more attractive way and within the environment itself. The possibilities really are endless and, as VR platforms and tech mature, they will push the limits of creativity and innovation.

The industry has to remember the route to a healthy and sustainable future is by engaging with the millennial demographic; the exact same people who will drive virtual reality into the mainstream. As operators and suppliers, we have to offer them a product that meets their expectations. No longer do games have to be life-like; they have to create their own reality which is more immersive and engaging than the real world. VR is the best way of doing this.

The arrival of Oculus Rift in the UK is a milestone for sure, but we are still three to five years away from mass adoption of VR. But in that time the egaming industry, and certainly the team here at ALEA, should invest in pushing the boundaries. When it comes to VR, anything is possible, and that’s what makes it so interesting and groundbreaking.

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