Betting on Virtual Reality – How Real is the Opportunity?  

Virtual reality has evolved over a long history, but it never seems to have fully delivered on its promises. The “Sensorama” machine, launched in 1956, gave the world a first glimpse of immersive experiences, but now over 60 years on, VR is still seen as a niche, emerging technology waiting to find mainstream adoption.

However, recent developments in technology suggest this might be set to change, with VR starting to find applications outside of entertainment. Could we start to see virtual reality in the sports betting and gaming industry?

What is the state of virtual reality today?

As the technology has progressed, there are now three main types of VR device:

  • Screenless viewers – Affordable devices that turn smartphones into a VR experience. E.g. Google Cardboard
  • Tethered HMDs – Devices that are connected to a desktop computer/console to run content. E.g. HTC Vive
  • Standalone Headsets – Devices not connected to a computer and independently run content. E.g. Oculus Go

As is to be expected, these devices offer quite different experiences in terms of quality and this is reflected in the use cases and types of audiences they appeal to.

To date, VR has had most success in gaming and entertainment, with the PlayStation VR being one of the bestselling devices globally.

VR Betting and Gaming

There are currently very few developers who have produced VR slots, games or casino interfaces, and they are not typically offered by the mainstream operators.

Slots Million and NetEntare the two main companies in the space.

Of the products that exist, most are crude and basic. Slots are simply 2D games repurposed as virtual videos in 3D, rather than an interactive VR experience.

One more promising VR experience was the partnership between Gamblit Gaming and Phosphor Games, which allowed players to place real money bets on their performance in popular VR game “The Brookhaven Experiment”.

In the sporting arena, more content is gradually becoming available in virtual reality format. For example in the UK, the BBC broadcast 2018 World Cup games in VR, and in the US, the NBA sells subscriptions for court side VR experiences.

Part of the problem is the limited market size of people with VR devices that are looking for sports betting and gaming content.

VR Therapy

VR is however finding a role as a supplement to help treat gambling addictions. Evidence suggests that virtual environments can offer a safe space for patients to practice exposure therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy. This research is still in its relative infancy, but early results have been promising.

Training, Learning and Development

Whilst consumer adoption is still slow, businesses are finding value in VR training programs that increase performance and confidence.

Experiential learning relies on VR’s presence: your body is tricked into believing what you are experiencing is real. It helps drive emotional engagement and can create false memories for the user.

For example, Walmart uses VR to train over 1 million employees across 5000 stores. 45 L&D modules have been developed, including practice for Black Friday. It has led to improved confidence, and a 15% increase in employee test scores.

Future of Virtual Reality

Several of the challenges that are currently limiting the uptake of VR look likely to be overcome in the next few years:

  • User experience – HMD displays are improving: by 2021 both Oculus and HTC should have headsets that deliver a 140°field of view and 4Kx4K panel resolution with 30 pixels per degree density (currently 90°and 15 pixels).
  • Hardware – As the processing power of standalone headsets increases, there will be less need for tethered devices
  • Connectivity – The 5G era offers the potential to stream VR content
  • Cost – The price point for most high-end VR devices is still currently out of reach for many consumers, but it has been steadily falling and will continue to fall
  • Content – As interest in the devices grows, and cost of developing new content also falls, the availability of new content will increase

Despite this, it may still be the case that VR finds its most attractive uses cases in Enterprise. VR is approaching a level of maturity that provides businesses with clear value, helping it to reach the early majority of adopters.

While the timeline for uptake of consumer VR remains uncertain, if popularity continues to grow we would expect to see renewed interest for use cases specific to the sports betting and gaming industry.

Are you working on virtual reality solutions that you think might have applicability to Flutter? We’d love to hear from you.

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