Alexandre Tomic – Interview
EEG: We see the Virtual gambling industry as a new gambling industry in full development. How fast is it growing and how are people reacting to it?
A.T.: There is a great deal of interest around the virtual gambling industry, as there is around virtual reality in general. People have been waiting for virtual reality to become a truly viable option for the last thirty years or so, and now that it’s finally starting to get there, it’s understandable that people are eager to get their hands on it and give it a try. However the high costs are undeniably still an issue, as players need expensive equipment to run VR software, so most of the people who have played in our VR casino so far have been playing in 3D and not getting the full VR experience, meaning that it’s hard to tell at the moment.
We have however taken the VR casino on the road to industry shows and conferences. We took two sets of VR software and neither was ever empty; in fact people were queueing up to try it out. We have always had an extremely positive reaction from those who have tried it – players, the media, and industry professionals alike.
EEG: What are the current games that are available until now, and what other games can we expect in the near future?
A.T.: VR is going to be huge. There is so much choice already for VR games, and it hasn’t even reached mainstream acceptance yet. On Steam alone there are already more than 500 games, allowing users to fight robots, create art and machines, play sports, take a look around shops, explore abandoned buildings, dark forests and undersea worlds, protect castles from invading tribes, go out into space, and a great deal more.
While we can’t speak for the other VR games currently in development, we are hoping to one day improve the experience inside our VR casino by creating fully immersive VR slots. At the moment the setting is VR, but the slots themselves are still 2D, and players still play sitting in front of a screen. What we would like to do is create an environment in which players are surrounded by the features of the slot, with the reels in front of them but the actual background, animated characters, and other features of the slot all around them.
EEG: How do you think Virtual Gaming will affect people that never walked into a real casino, but still have a curiosity towards it?
A.T.: I think the fact that a truly immersive casino experience is now available to play from the comfort of a user’s own home will certainly pique people’s interest and make them more curious about trying it – not to mention the fact that they would do so using VR, a technology which a lot of people have been looking forward to trying since the 80s. Obviously it can’t replace the experience of going into a casino in real life, but perhaps people who try it in VR and feel that thrill of seeing others winning and winning themselves might then be more likely to give it a go in a real casino.
EEG: Suppose I’m willing to try a virtual casino. What are the things I need in order to get in there and gamble?
A.T.: You would need a high-spec gaming PC and a pair of virtual reality goggles. SlotsMillion’s virtual casino is currently compatible with the Oculus Rift goggles and we are working on becoming compatible with the HTC Vive in the near future as well. Theoretically, players could also use Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear, but at the moment we have no plans to make our application compatible with these devices as, considering that they are low-end, it would dramatically affect the quality of the experience and we are dedicated to offering our players the best.
EEG: Do you think that one day maybe, virtual reality will completely overrun reality, and maybe move absolutely all of the players into the virtual world?
A.T.: I think it’s a possibility. Virtual reality is that immersive – it’s incredibly easy to lose track of time and will become even more so as the technology improves and any side effects such as motion sickness become less of an issue. Business especially may find a place in the VR world – within the casino we could certainly work from inside, having meetings, supporting players and schmoozing with partners, affiliates and clients. We might one day spend longer inside the VR world than the players, and ultimately what started out as a game will eventually start to look like a new, revolutionary way of doing business. Gaming certainly isn’t the only industry with business uses for VR, though; education, medicine, the military, retail and many more are already starting to use VR to improve the services they offer, both to their staff and to their customers and users.
The more technology encroaches onto our daily working lives and the higher the amount of people who work in technology-based industries, the more likely it is that we will become accustomed to spending our working hours inside the VR world. VR could really revolutionise the business side of things as well as the player experience. The possibilities are endless, and it would be a shame not to explore and exploit them in every possible way.
One day it will be almost impossible, or at least very hard, to distinguish reality from the virtual world. The only way we will be able to tell that we are in a computer generated simulation would be because we will hold on to the memories of our real lives – and we could even eventually remove this capability. But what if the game became so immersive that we couldn’t remember who we really are? In that instance it may even be difficult to tell which of our realities is the virtual world, and which is in fact the real one.
EEG: How could we satisfy the people that turn their backs at the virtual reality, saying that you can’t have a real drink on the house, or that virtual body language isn’t the same as the real one?
A.T.: Of course there are aspects of VR gambling that can’t quite live up to the real thing – it would be unreasonable to expect a game to do so. At the moment, VR isn’t meant to replace the experience of gambling in a real casino, but instead merely make it more accessible to those who perhaps aren’t able to visit real casinos often, or provide a more social and immersive experience for those who had previously been limited to playing online. As the technology improves, it will start to feel increasingly realistic and that immersive feel will be all the more present. In the future, however, we would like to use AR to add an extra layer inside the casino, and this is where users may start seeing the benefits of VR over real life, as the AR aspect would facilitate a much more personalised experience – including personalised offers and bonuses, for example – which may make players feel more valued and welcomed inside their casino.
EEG: Let’s talk about the legal aspect, do you think that strong regulations or laws could appear to restrict Virtual Gaming? And that it might keep this industry from developing?
A.T.: We were expecting when we sat down with our regulator, the MGA, to have to make a lot of changes and adjustments in accordance with their laws. However, they were very helpful, and it was great to see that they were open to the development of new technologies within the gaming industry. We have not had a lot of problems with regulations so far, and I think that’s a very good indication that the gaming industry is ready for a revolution like the one virtual reality is expected to cause.
Of course there is the fact that due to app store regulations we are unable to use the VR casino as a bridge between the worlds of social and real money gaming, as we had initially envisioned doing. The likes of Apple, Android and Oculus tend to restrict the displaying of real money gaming in their stores, which means that we are unable to use the VR casino as an acquisition tool for players and rather keep it as a retention tool for the players we already have.
EEG: What is the first thing you would improve in the Virtual Gaming industry at this point?
A.T.: Since virtual reality in the gaming world is still such a young industry, it’s quite difficult to answer at this point. Clearly there are elements of the technology that we still need to work on – side effects such as motion sickness for example – to make the experience as immersive as it has the potential to be, but that is sure to improve as the technology develops, so at the moment it’s more a case of wait and see.
EEG: Do you think hacking could interfere with this virtual gambling world? If so, how could we prevent that?
A.T.: I think it’s extremely likely that hackers could interfere with the virtual world, and the results could be terrifying. Think of the situation in the movie Surrogates with Bruce Willis, where a virus was created that was capable of destroying users’ virtual and real bodies both. The damage would not be quite that bad, of course, but the consequences could be much more severe than they currently are when hacking occurs, because the level of immersion inside the virtual world would be much higher. In this video, we can observe the confusion that occurs when a hacker tries to break into the user’s account – her reality starts to collapse and she has to start again from the beginning.
This is not something to take lightly, so we obviously need to do our best to prevent this from happening, as we do today. However no matter how many measures we take, we always have to be aware that hackers’ skills grow alongside the development of technology. It’s already crucial today to protect ourselves, but given that the stakes will be even bigger in the virtual world, we have to try even harder to outsmart the hackers. It’s the same good guy versus bad guy game of today, just on a higher level.