During my participation in the 2018 EPT Barcelona, I had the opportunity to preview and test PokerStars VR, the latest release from the world’s largest online poker site. I loved it and gave the awesome, great product in my review very good grades. As with any new product launch, especially something so unique and groundbreaking, it’s natural to have a few questions.
After the special media preview I had the opportunity to meet with the leading developers of the product for a question and answer session. Here are some questions I’ve posed to Severin Rasset, the company’s Director of Poker Innovation and Operations, and to James O’Reilly, Innovation Poker Manager, about PokerStars VR. I hope you find your answers as interesting as me.
How long has this product been under development and how many members of your team have worked on it?
Our development partners at Lucky VR have been working on the product for several years. PokerStars has been involved as an exclusive partner in the project since August 2017.
The six-person team at Lucky is supported daily by two members of the PokerStars poker innovation team, who can leverage all the resources of the PokerStars business when needed.
Do you primarily hope that your existing player base will switch to this new product, or that new players will become familiar with PokerStars through this new product?
Our current population is the existing user base, which already uses VR technology. This population group may be significantly different from our current target group for geographical and other reasons. VR requires a variety of hardware that offers a unique level of immersion and developers need to adapt over time. The reasons for the use of VR by the players will differ in the same way as there are other reasons for the nomadic use of a mobile phone today than for a laptop or a normal PC. We believe we’ve created a new space to play that offers different motivations, evokes different emotions and creates a brand new poker experience.
Tell us more about the beta test group. What type of demographics and what backgrounds did you seek to get an accurate representation of your target audience?
The beta test group consists of early adopters from the general VR and existing poker VR community. They come from all over the world and have a wide range of backgrounds. We have doctors, professional poker players, racers and bartenders just to name a few. Our primary consideration was to have a dedicated group that was passionate about poker or VR, or both, to enable them to challenge our design and design decisions and become the foundation of our community.
The purchase of VR devices costs a nice penny. Do you think that this is a high entry barrier for potential new players? Why or why not?
That is a very legitimate concern today. But our world is moving at an unbelievable pace and what is expensive today and designed for early adopters could become a mass-market product in the future. While we want to provide the best possible experience today, we also have the time to grow that market and learn how to best entertain our players.
For example, both Oculus and HTC work on a disconnected HMD, eliminating the need for a high-end PC to support our VR experience.
When I tried the game, I enjoyed drinking a beer and a cigar (though I’ve never tried one of them before). What other types of “real” poker features for the home are available to players?
We offer a wide range of in-game props and avatars, from lucky ducks, animated donkeys, fireworks and trophies to card protectors, hats, watches, rings, badges and patches. Everything is designed to encourage interaction in the game and give players the opportunity to personalize their experience. Our plan is to further expand this assortment to support real-world events and the introduction of new environments.
A fun element in real home games is to keep playing with the same people as your friends are and will be. When I tried the product, I obviously coincidentally sat with some beta-testers. How will it work if you can select or reserve a table specifically for your friends?
Players can create a private table and then share a password with their friends for a real home game.
Is it technically possible to actually play this type of game for real money (especially given the geographic restrictions or permission to do so) and will this ever be something that PokerStars is pursuing?
Real money is currently not on our roadmap. We focus on supporting the development of the current game and listening to the wishes of our players.
Finally, tell us what inspired you and your team to develop this unique and innovative product.
VR is a potential future that could never be as colorful or life-changing for millions of people as it was a mobile phone. No one knows if it will take time, but if so, we do not want to miss this move for PokerStars. There is something unique about using these devices, there is something unique about playing poker, and the combination of the two creates an immersion that people should feel and enjoy.