By Rob Smith
As the number of virtual reality devices on the market continues to grow, seemingly daily, and the amount of quality of content being put out ever increases, we are grappling with the age old dilemma of when is the right time to enter this market.
We are awash with analysts’ predictions about when the VR market will reach critical mass; one is just as likely to see a 2 year prediction as a 10 year prediction, but despite the variance there are not many completely dissenting voices. The considered mass of opinion is that VR will become a mainstream method of content consumption, breaking out from its core gaming audience, it is only a matter of when. The Christmas sales season, given the most recent releases of Daydream and PSVR, could provide an important clue and we may well see some revisions to the analysts’ predictions come early January.
So, if VR is going to become mainstream, when is the right time to start building VR content for our customer base?
Innovation is really about meeting customer needs, even needs they might not know they have, and so there is probably an argument to say that VR is still in the invention stage. Timing is crucial in innovation success, to use the oft quoted phrase - being too early can be as bad as being wrong. Do our customers have an unmet need in this space? Do they have a need for immersive gambling content?
There are of course a bunch of current barriers to mass adoption. Much of the high end hardware is not without a degree of user pain, a lot of cables, peripherals and cost!. Do we need the (hopefully) inevitable improvements that will come with the 2nd or 3rd generation kit to really deliver for the mass market? Vive have already started offering a cable free solution, so it looks like those improvements are on the way.
Although comparatively slick to use, the current lower end kit offers a much less compelling experience – fun once or twice but not likely to become a part of life. Daydream might start to change that, although the couple of times I’ve used it so far didn’t exactly blow me away. It is good, no question, but how much it will drive mainstream and sustained adoption of VR remains to be seen. N.B - Google Cardboard has just been described as actually unhelpful by Phil Chen (Founder of VR at HTC) – which I think is harsh but certainly understandable.
The early VR content can also be considered a bit of a barrier to adoption and although the industry is learning fast there is still no particular consensus on what makes a great VR experience. Other than gaming, there have been a lot of (marketing agency driven??) vanity projects rather than content driving serious value or meeting real needs. Like the hardware this too is changing fast however. Google Earth has just been released for Vive and seems to be establishing a new quality benchmark?
Despite the limitations, it is still relatively early days (even if VR development did sort of begin in the 1950’s). The potential remains as hugely exciting as it did a few years ago, and it definitely feels as if the industry is getting closer to realizing at least a good deal of that potential.
The potential for VR is just as exciting in the gambling industry, even if the early experiments still need a little work. One can imagine walking down a virtual Las Vegas strip, walking through the doors of a casino and up to a craps table, utterly immersed in the unique Las Vegas atmosphere. One can imagine sitting at a virtual poker table, perhaps playing with Winston Churchill, Al Capone and Queen Victoria.
The only thing missing might be the smell of Churchill’s ever present cigar or the taste of a vintage Pol Roger. Watching sport in VR also has huge potential – imagine standing on the goal line as Messi is about to take a free kick, or being in the saddle of a horse galloping towards Becher’s Brook at Aintree. Not only really exciting to watch but potentially commercially enormous too – how many VR season tickets could Manchester United sell in China, to fans who will never have the opportunity to experience Old Trafford in the flesh?
Given this potential, surely we should start to build such experiences now? But to achieve what? Delivering awesome experiences to customers is of course paramount, but if there are not many ‘VR ready’ customers now, then not many customers will be seeing those awesome experiences and so the short term ROI will be pretty limited.
- although fun, ‘because we can’ is probably not a great reason to start building.
- to experiment, to learn, to test with early adopting customers to ensure we can be ready for when VR becomes big. A great reason, but I wonder if we are farsighted enough?
- to build some VR ‘dev’ skills – such skills are few and far between today, so seems like a sensible reason, but, playing devil’s advocate, I imagine we could partner with those with the skills when the audience is there?
- perhaps to build the perception that we are one of the most innovative gambling operators? We know there is a premium associated with innovation by customers, employees and investors, so that could also be a good reason for starting to experiment. Unfortunately however there is not a whole lot of loyalty in the gambling industry, customers tend to flit to the best offer of the day so I’m not sure any customer advantage would necessarily endure
- To be a part of developing the VR market/industry. There is the usual cycle here – the more and better content that is produced, the more and faster consumers will adopt it. Are we altruistic enough to play this part, or would we prefer to wait until others have developed the market and jump into take advantage of their early effort?
I’m sure I’m not commercial enough, but every ounce of me wants to dive in, start building, start learning, start contributing – start building those awesome experiences for our customers!!