PokerStars Introduces Virtual Reality to Online Offering

PokerStars VR

On Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, PokerStars announced the release of PokerStars VR, the company’s foray into the world of virtual reality. It’s now available for free download to users in all global markets served by the online poker leader. PokerStars VR requires the use of an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headset.

About the Game

PokerStars VR attempts to replicate the action at a live poker table but in a virtual world. Users have to peek at their hole cards, handle and stack their chips, and perform all the other actions that are needed to play live poker. They can interact with their opponents in a number of ways, such as observing them to spot tells and chatting with them. The possibilities for interactions between the participants extends even to fist-bumps, high-fives and the ability to engage in food fights. Severin Rasset, PokerStars’ Director of Poker Innovation and Operations, said in a press release:

“When we showcased the product it was amazing to see people really enjoy and become engrossed in the game. We wanted to venture into the world of virtual reality because we believe it is an exciting avenue of technology to explore and something that our players would appreciate. I highly recommend that everyone tries out the game as it can only truly be understood and enjoyed by experiencing it.”

Currently, PokerStars VR only supports play money games. It’s possible that, based on user feedback, real money tables will be added in future. It’s also likely that, should this experiment prove a success, the software will be ported to additional devices. For now, owners of Oculus Rift and HTC Vive units can download PokerStars VR on Steam, the Oculus store and the Viveport store.

Background Information

PokerStars partnered with virtual reality development house Lucky VR to bring PokerStars VR to fruition. The new VR application was previewed to a limited number of participants at the EPT Barcelona festival in August. Then in mid-September, PokerStars announced that it was going through a closed beta period where a group of more than 150 testers was playing it. Finally, PokerStars VR was released to the public at large on Nov. 8.

Representatives of PokerStars have indicated that there are no immediate plans to commercialize PokerStars VR or derive any income from it. PokerStars undoubtedly wishes to iron out any issues that remain before pushing forward with real money, profit-generating virtual reality endeavors.

More About the Immersive Environment

The developers paid great attention to detail while setting up the environments within the PokerStars VR world. Players can select from a menu of locations, each of which has its own fleshed-out theme and ambiance. The arenas available to play in are called:

– Macau 2050
– Macau Suite
– Monte-Carlo Yacht
– The Showdown Saloon
– The Void

Beyond the large-scale elements that comprise the playing environment, programmers have ensured that there are a number of items for users to interact with as well. These “props” include cigars, virtual food and beverages, card protectors and pet animals. Thus, even when there’s a break in the action on the tables, players will still have something to entertain themselves with.

Twitch Support Built Right In

One of the exciting aspects of PokerStars VR is that it comes with integrated support for Twitch streaming. It appears that the largest online poker room in the world is attempting to leverage its already strong presence on Twitch to boost the appeal and reach of PokerStars VR. Indeed, several of the organization’s sponsored Twitch streamers have signaled their intention to incorporate PokerStars VR within their mix of streaming content. This includes Jeff Gross, who said that it “blew” his mind when he tried it in Barcelona, and Jamie Staples, who commented:

“It’s not going to appeal to the grinders that typically are playing six to eight tables, but it’s going to appeal to pretty much everyone else. It’s a broader way of playing poker, it’s a richer experience. I think everyone from who’ve never played before to who enjoy playing for play money with their friends, will love it.”

Also expressing their excitement over the game is Live Boeree and Chris Buckley, with the latter tweeting that he got to play PokerStars VR this morning ahead of its the release, and was now considering buying a VR headset.

Other efforts to promote the new game include an article about it on the PokerStars Poker School, and a social contest where entrants can win free VR headsets by coming up with winning names for various aspects of the virtual reality poker experience.

About the Virtual Reality Landscape

The current generation of virtual reality hardware is leaps and bounds superior to previous laughable attempts, like the Nintendo Virtual Boy and Sega VR systems from the ’90s, which were lambasted for their poor resolution and low refresh rates. Users of these early products often reported headaches and motion sickness.

The Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and other present-day units, like the Samsung Gear and Sony PlayStation VR, possess the processing power to deliver faithful virtual reproductions of the intended settings without afflicting the wearer with the issues that have traditionally plagued the technology. They’re therefore becoming increasingly popular with consumers.

In June, market intelligence firm IDC estimated that fewer than 10 million virtual reality units would ship by the end of 2018. This is small potatoes compared to the number of traditional video game consoles sold annually, which tends to fluctuate between 30 million and 60 million. However, IDC forecasts that VR headsets will surpass the 60 million mark by 2022, and chipmaker Nvidia has made a similar prediction that 50 million units will have been sold by 2021.

By getting in on the VR action now, perhaps before it’s really possible to earn any income from it, PokerStars is positioning itself to become a big force in the field. Once adoption rates start to approach those for today’s mature technologies, the company will then be able to monetize its VR efforts.