CasinoVR, a free online casino, has today announced the general availability of its Gear VR app. Now cross-compatible with Oculus Rift dev kits, the social casino is making its inaugural launch into mobile VR with the help of SideloadVR, an app that allows you to download and share Gear VR content without going through the Oculus Store.
The beta Gear VR version released today offers some slightly modified visuals from our initial preview of the DK2 version—an effort co-CEO Hamza Siddiqui says was designed to help cut down on processing costs to mobile GPUs. While the full-bodied avatars of the PC version are removed in favor of what Siddiqui calls “head blobs,” or floating heads for Gear VR, the user experience (UX) and table interactions between the two versions are practically identical.
I found the user interface to be intuitive, something I noticed during the first time I played in the DK2. Looking at a stack of chips calculates the total, and a quick glance at the community cards in the middle of the table brings them up front and center for you to personally see. Casual players, who are often scared away from table games because of the pace of the things, will easily be able to slide into the grove with all the little extra helping hands that currently only VR can provide.
While I’d consider myself a hobby player at best, there may be a few anticipatory gripes with the new cross-compatible space—things that more experienced real world casino players may have to get used to if they want to make the jump to virtual poker. Of course, playing live Texas Hold’em with someone halfway across the world for free in a plush virtual casino for the first time can only garner so much criticism from me.
That said, when I play live poker I try to pay attention to body language so I can guess when another player is bluffing. In terms of a virtual casino, you would logically want to see as much body tracking as possible—a reason that some players hide their eye movement with sunglasses when they play IRL. Reading someone could be more difficult for anyone up against a Gear VR player simply because they lack the same spacial articulation due to the ‘head tracking only’ nature of the headset. These are however early days, in fact, the earliest days of consumer VR, so people probably won’t be legally betting their kids college funds in cash casinos for a while.
Chris Madsen, Road to VR’s Social VR Liaison and friendly neighborhood poker whiz, joined me for an evening with the CasinoVR mobile beta. Madsen explains his take on revealing ‘tells’ in VR:
“I had to rely on voice and gameplay to get a feel for intent. We need facial tracking and eye tracking to really be able to potentially reveal physical tells,” said Madsen. “Unlike other online poker games though, the fact that you can have social presence allows for more natural talk which can impact gameplay like I was doing ‘Oh really, Scott?…hmmmmm…very interesting move there! Do you have an ace up your sleeve?’ That [sort of social] aspect is certainly more like a real life game.”
So would I put real money at risk in a VR poker game right now? Probably not. But CasinoVR is adamant about going casual and cashless for some time yet, as Siddiqui reconfirmed the company’s commitment to the possibility of a freemium model, where a certain amount of free chips are always in play, but extra chips and in-game perks can be purchased with real world cash. And while some hardened gamblers may initially poo poo the idea of a money-less casino, the stakes are probably just right for the time being.
You can expect new players streaming in for the weekly tournament on Saturday at 1 PM CET (click here for local time), with more info at CasinoVR’s website. The app is slated to arrive on the official Gear VR store once beta testing is done on SideloadVR.