During my time at EPT Barcelona 2018, I was invited to attend a pre-launch press event for a new product called PokerStars VR. As you will surely recognize from the extensive media coverage PokerStars receives today for its new product, the world’s largest online poker site is causing a sensation.
Along with other media members and invited guests who were present, a significant percentage of the company’s team professionals, including Ambassador Daniel Negreanu, were present to witness the revelation.
The process kicked off with a brief 15 minute presentation by Innovation Poker Manager James O’Reilly and Poker Innovation and Operations Director Severin Rasset about the new product, which I was later able to discuss with Q & A. Granted, as I sat and took notes during the presentation, I could not help being a bit cynical. I’ve been involved in marketing for a long time and know all the well-known buzzwords like “immersive social gaming experience”. Strictly speaking, it would be a bit irresponsible not to be skeptical. I promised myself that I would not allow corporate speaking, presentations, and the sparkling pre-launch event to influence my impressions of the product. PokerStars VR had to convince me whether it was good or not.
Then I had the opportunity to actually put on a virtual reality headset and play the game. My skepticism subsided faster than ice cubes on a hot summer’s day.
My First VR Experience
I had never tried a virtual reality product before, so my experience in Barcelona was a first. About 50 people took part in the event. When I hung up the VR headset, I noticed that a lady with a strong New York accent spoke to me. I could not remember hearing someone with a New York accent at the event, and then I immediately noticed someone talking to me at the virtual table. In the truest sense of the word, I was immersed in PokerStars VR right from the start. Despite dozens of people physically around me in the room in Barcelona, I could turn off their sounds and just watch the chatter on my VR table.
As previously mentioned, I did not have any experience with virtual reality before, so it took me a few minutes to get used to the controls, especially picking up the cards and then collecting chips for calls, raises, etc. And finally, it became second nature to get active at the table. The characters and the virtual poker setting were loaded with a number of “extras” such as beer drinking and cigar smoking. While in real life I do not get into one of those pastimes, it was really fun and cool to be at the VR table. After all, I sat with strangers and the clink of beer glasses immediately helped break the ice.
Will PokerStars VR Be Successful?
I do not think traditional marketing is the success of PokerStars VR, but I see it grows through word of mouth. In my opinion, this is the best possible growth because it’s organic. In addition, this does not seem to be a product that drives PokerStars as a substitute for live poker or home games, but as a supplement to them. I think PokerStars VR has a certain utility and practicality, especially for home game players.
I have been playing home games for the last 15 years and from a lot of very frustrating experiences I can tell you that in many cases it is impossible for logistical reasons to bring enough people together. Sometimes you can not find a babysitter, while otherwise it is difficult to get out of the house and travel. In other cases, some of the regular guests may be unavailable on business or otherwise. The existence and availability of PokerStars VR avoids all these issues and allows us to get everyone together, even though none of us will physically be in the same location.
Speaking of location, virtual reality and everything, you can choose from a variety of places to play poker, including an Old West sedan, chic Macau and even a luxurious yacht in front of other scenes.
A TRULY Immersive Social Gaming Experience
I made fun of these marketing slogans at the beginning of this article, but I had to swallow them pretty quickly. PokerStars VR is a truly impressive product. I had my headset on for about 15 minutes, but time flew by. What really “sells” this product and, in my opinion, is the real social interaction. Instead of being limited to the standard online poker chat of “gg” and “nh”, you can beat other players around the table with your fist. If there is a bad punch or someone makes a nice game, you will hear everyone else at the table and see how they react. Capturing those emotions is exactly what causes the excitement in poker, and PokerStars VR succeeds in doing just that. There is no definitive commercial release date for this product, but I assure you that the wait will be worthwhile.