On October 6, 1927, at the Warner Bros flagship theatre on Broadway, in New York City. The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson, premiered. Seventeen minutes and 25 seconds into the film, Jolson uttered the immortal words: “Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.”
The audience applauded and, as the on-screen dialogue continued, became ‘hysterical’. By the end of the 89 minute film, one journalist described the crowd as a ‘milling, battling, mob’. It was – of course – the first film with sound. It was the end of the silent movie era. Sound would change everything.
Nearly 90 years later, a new revolution is about to start. Virtual reality is about to become a reality.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
Do you remember The Lawnmower Man? The 1992 science fiction film, starring a pre-James Bond Pierce Brosnan as a scientist using virtual reality to unlock and expand the mind.
The film’s special effects were cutting edge at the time but look dated today. In the movie, VR headsets and gloves transported players to digital realms. When the film was released, the virtual world concept was still new. The phrase ‘virtual reality’ had been coined by pioneering VR hardware developer Jaron Lanier only five years earlier, in 1987.
At the time, interest in virtual reality was huge. It soon waned, however, when the yawning gap between expectation and technological limitations became apparent. That was more than 20 years ago. Today, the gap has gone. The virtual game is finally on.
Analysts now predict that – in less than five years – there will be more than 100 million active virtual reality users worldwide. There are several key hardware developers in the game and the content is coming. Casinos and sports books are both on the frontline – keen to continue a tradition of innovation in the online space.
In November, 2015, Samsung released the Gear VR. The headset was produced in conjunction with developers Oculus Rift. At under $100, it’s the first affordable virtual reality experience that comes with a genuine wow factor. There is also some decent content to back it up.
In 2016, all the major VR hardware developers are expected to release commercial headsets. Reality is about to get virtual. Here are some of the key players.
In March 2014, social network Facebook bought virtual reality start-up Oculus VR for $400 million, plus a further 23.1 million Facebook shares. Zuckerberg clearly believes the future is virtual. He admits to a ‘long-term strategic bet on the future for social networking’.
Zuckerberg said in a Facebook status update: “At this point, we feel we’re in a position where we can start focusing on what platforms will come next to enable even more useful, entertaining, and personal experiences.
“With Oculus, it’s that they’re the clear leader in something that has the potential to be the next important, or one of the next most important, computing platforms,” he said.
At the time of the acquisition, Oculus headsets were available only to developers and no one was prepared to say when exactly the headset would be a consumer product. In the end, it took slightly more than a year before the Samsung Gear VR hit the high street
Sony’s entry into the world of virtual reality is due for release in 2016. Project Morpheus is powered by the PS4 and promises to deliver a ‘deeper experience’, with 3D audio, high end graphics, and the mighty Sony at the controls.
Also shipping in the first quarter of 2016 is Microsoft’s HoloLens. The product is already available to developers at a cost of $3,000. The company created quite a stir when it released this viral video earlier this year.
The Hololens is slightly different to the usual VR experience. Instead of total immersion, virtual objects are integrated into the real world environment. The headset lens is transparent but the experience is very similar and a total immersion headset can’t be far behind.
Vive is HTC’s entry into the virtual reality world. The company has teamed up with game developers Valve. Could a virtual reality version of Half-Life be on the horizon? Again, the consumer release is scheduled for some time in 2016.
Also worth an honourable mention is Google Cardboard. This Heath Robinson style viewer has been around for a few months. Made of cardboard and costing less than $20, the headset gives viewers a taste of the future and keeps Google in the VR game.
CONTENT IS KING
Multi-billionaire Bill Gates opted for content when he developed Windows OS. He didn’t build the engine, he just provided the fuel. No one knows exactly what the ‘absolute killer’ VR app will be. Hardware developers are working hand in virtual glove with content creators, to ensure that there are compelling reasons to buy the hardware.
Two online businesses that monetized their online business models from day one are both adult entertainment and gambling. From Internet day one, both sectors delivered online content that consumers were happy to pay for. The result was revenue for innovation and development.
The two industries have constantly strived to find better ways to deliver better content in an ever-increasingly competitive marketplace. From online cash transactions and bandwidth growth, to dealing with regulation and international law. Not surprisingly, both the adult entertainment and gambling businesses are taking virtual reality very seriously.
As interesting as the future of adult entertainment will be in a virtual world, we are here to look at the key players in the VR gambling game.
There are a handful of businesses vying for the virtual reality casino dollar. Toronto-based start-up Lucky VR is one of them. CEO and founder Jeff Lande is (not surprisingly) optimistic about the virtual future.
“2016 will be the kick-off year for VR but it’s the Atari or ‘version #1’ of what’s to come. I think we’ll get a great initial user base and – in the next few years, as both hardware and software improve and costs come down – we’ll eventually get to mass adoption.
“Online casinos will thrive on the VR platform. You get all the convenience of an online casino, combined with the thrill of playing in a live venue. VR, as a baseline, can recreate all the current casino games, environments and interactions. Where it really shines is with the delivery of new experiences, or extremely exclusive ones, that aren’t possible in a live venue for your average player.
“Early on, you will see – as with any new platform – people porting in what worked well on the previous gaming platforms. However, within a couple of years, VR will find it’s own way to deliver value to online gamblers,” he said.
Lande has been working with his team for more than two years. The RiftSino casino (developed for the Oculus Rift) was showcased at the 2014 EiG and was one of the five finalists in the annual Start-Up LaunchPad. A year later, the award was won by another virtual reality start-up: CasinoVR – one of Lucky VR’s competitors.
Online casinos have changed little since the late 1990s. Game selection is usually made on a drop down menu and you generally play one game at a time. There have been a handful of 3D casinos but none of them have hit the jackpot.
The PKR poker website is probably the only avatar based 3D gambling environment that has gained any significant traction. The business was set up by Jez San who hailed from a video gaming background.
What is it that will make online casinos work in the virtual environment? How different will the experience be for the end user? Jeff Lande is convinced the experience will speak for itself.
“Virtual reality experiences live in a space closer to your memory and incites emotional reactions not found with any other technology. Winning a jackpot in VR, or a night of playing cards in VR, is a much more memorable experience that really stays with you. It’s something that will really drive this revolution.
“LuckyVR is creating a best in class VR casino to be launched next year. We’ve been focusing on VR casino development exclusively for 2 years now and can’t wait to launch our product. We’ll be focusing on social to start and looking for potential real money partnerships down the road.”
Another fascinating new player in the VR game is NextVR. In November, 2015, Comcast and Time Warner invested $30.5 million in the business. Next VR streams live virtual content. Now you can choose your seat at the World Cup Final and enjoy the game from the touchline. Online sports books will be lining up for a piece of this action.
The technology is both new and tantalizing. A live high definition feed to a high resolution head set, with surround sound, is a seductive offering that is on the horizon. You can be anywhere. If they put a VR camera on the moon, we can all look back at earth and enjoy the virtual view.
Writer William Gibson, who wrote virtual reality science fiction classic Neuromancer, famously said that “the future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” In 2016, we could all get a taste of things to come. Watch this virtual space.