Virtual reality gets a lot of attention for having spread its influence beyond gaming over the past two years. It’s also been interesting, however, to see it spread out more within the realm of gaming. Most notably (though perhaps predictably), VR has been welcomed into the world of casino entertainment.
This started with a few fairly simple casino games being adapted to the VR format, but it was more about the emergence of virtual reality gaming facilities springing up in Las Vegas. The city has made a much-publicized move toward embracing video games, as opposed to the traditional slots and table games, and part of this transition has involved the notion that in-person facilities can actually help people get the most out of virtual reality. At the MGM Grand and elsewhere then, VR arcades have begun to spring up.
The other main link between VR and casino culture to this point has been the emergence of virtual sports betting. This is effectively a new activity entirely, and actually doesn’t explicitly tie in with VR just because it involves the word “virtual.” Basically, these are realistic computer simulations of real sports that are designed for people to bet on. They’re effectively fake contests, but they’re presented in a realistic manner that makes them appealing to viewers (and bettors), and which can and almost undoubtedly will be further enhanced by VR. If people are already inclined to bet on simulations, the theory goes, they’ll be even more engaged if they can view the contests through VR, as if they’re sitting there in person.
Now however we’re seeing perhaps the most noteworthy blend of casino and VR culture to date, as Macau is following the MGM Grand’s lead with the opening of what appears to be a major VR gaming facility. It’s a 2,150-square foot facility called Zero Latency, and it’s located in Broadway Macau in the Cotai resort area. While not attached specifically to one of Macau’s existing casinos, it’s in the area of the city generally known for entertainment, and thus should attract a great deal of attention.
While this is an innovation in a sense simply because of the size of the facility and its location in one of the true gaming hotspots in the entire world, this is actually not a brand new idea for Zero Latency. In fact, this is one of 19 total venues the company has developed in nine countries around the world. But again, its size and placement could well make it the most significant in-person virtual reality gaming center we’ve seen yet on the world stage.
The point of facilities like these in general is to take the existing technology of virtual reality and expand its capabilities in gaming essentially by facilitating physical movement. This is something you can begin to understand even if you haven’t personally explored the world of VR on your own. Basically, when you strap on a virtual reality headset, you’re treated to a sensory experience that can literally trick your brain into believing – at least in part – that you’ve left your world and entered the virtual one. Sight and action exist in the virtual world as you’re able to look all around you at it, and you can control outcomes in the virtual world with your own movements. With the right experience, a smooth game design, and capable hardware it can all be incredibly convincing. Where the illusion falls short, however, is when you have to use your thumbs, and regular game controllers, to move from one place to another.
VR game developers have come up with some clever workarounds to the locomotion issue. In some cases player movement is done almost by teleportation rather than actually traversing territory. In others, there’s a sort of rail system such that you can move along a track in a way in which it makes sense that you’re not physically using your legs. However, companies like Zero Latency are striving to provide an altogether more realistic physical experience by organizing both space and technology that allows for free movement within a virtual environment.
Zero Latency gets the job done by equipping up to eight players at a time with backpacks (containing VR-compatible gaming PCs) and headsets, all within a warehouse-sized space. Players can communicate through their headsets, leading to collaborative, almost Escape Room-like experiences, and a high-tech wireless network helps to coordinate movement within the facility. Ultimately the result is that players can experience virtual reality in a way that’s entirely different than what you get with a home VR set, where you’re unable to move physically within the game. The experience is more deceptive, and thus better.
Where Zero Latency goes from here will be fascinating to see. As mentioned there are already some likely ties between casinos and VR, through virtual sports and real money VR gaming facilities. Both appear to be on the cusp of development. But Zero Latency appears to have a chance to spark a new branch of entertainment altogether, perhaps connected to casino hotspots like Macau and Las Vegas, but not explicitly tied to the casinos. It’ll be an interesting business to watch moving forward.