Metaverses are a hot topic in the digital space. Companies have begun creating new virtual worlds, digital real estate is selling for fortunes, and Facebook has rebranded as Meta, ready to embrace the growth of the metaverse.
So, how does poker fit into this landscape?
Online poker offers incredible convenience. Round the clock access to games, swift gameplay, and multitabling options have all helped its popularity soar.
However, in some areas, it falls short compared to brick-and-mortar poker.
For all its advantages, online poker can’t provide everything its live counterpart has to offer. Riffling chips, sharing a joke, sniffing out visual clues – are all key elements of playing poker in the flesh absent in the online form.
You can’t recreate the visceral experience of the live game in your front room.
Or can you?
The Virtual Realm of Poker
That’s where VR poker stakes its claim. The leading VR headset, the Oculus Quest 2, has several apps offering a digital taste of the live poker arena. With eye tracking, haptic feedback, and many customisable features, the aim is to bring the live experience to the comfort of your home.
PokerStars VR, the leading app, promises “A truly world-class, authentic social experience. Poker will never be the same again.”
Is this just marketing hype, or are they onto something?
Let’s took a look.
If you’ve used VR headsets before, it’s a simple matter to download the app and get into a game. A few clicks, and you’ll find yourself in a virtual casino, exploding with color and possibilities. A ghostly pair of hands, mapped onto your controllers, floats in front of you.
Look at your wrist and you’ll see a James Bond-esque watch. Tapping this opens a translucent hovering screen with a host of options, giving you access to cash games, sit n gos, and tournaments. Imagine Tom Cruise swiping screens in Minority Report, and you’re not a million miles off.
Before you dive in, you’ll want to run through the tutorial and adapt to this new virtual world.
A bearded croupier calmly guides you through the control system. You’ll quickly learn how to check your cards, make a bet, and move all-in. Some actions are unfamiliar, but many (mucking your hand, throwing out a bet, and moving all-in) are very intuitive.
The controls are simple and work well, so let’s play.
Step Into VR Poker
Pick your game of choice via your wristwatch, and you’re transported into the game.
Turning your head lets you look around at the table. You can chat to players, show frustration, and applaud a good hand. Holding and throwing your chips or cards over the line feels authentic.
This is all fun and adds a social dimension often missing from online poker.
You won’t mistake it for a real casino though.
A few virtual presses on your watch and mayhem awaits. Pull out pirate swords and swish them around, throw a piece of cake, or release a bunch of balloons after scooping a pot.
Hand out a bad beat, and you might find a small rubber duck (or one of a thousand other props) being launched at your head.
We imagine this isn’t commonplace in your local $1/$2 cash game…
These playful aspects are at the crux of whether you’ll enjoy VR poker. It mimics facets of the live game with success, but plays by its own rules.
All in all, PokerStars VR provides a fun, fantasy poker experience. Scan through social media and you’ll find a loyal, enthusiastic community that really embraces the VR poker experience.
Those who like it, love it despite its drawbacks.
If you go in expecting it to replicate live poker, you’ll likely be disappointed. You are very much playing a video game – albeit a highly immersive one.
There’s no access to real money games (for now at least) which rules out serious players.
Also, while the PokerStars app is free, the experience isn’t cheap. The Oculus Quest 2 comes in at a chunky $399 in the US & £399 in the UK (at time of publication.) Hardware costs will inevitably price out some players.
Looking forward, the technology will become cheaper which could help pave the way to mainstream adoption. There’s also a large realm of online gamers VR poker could tap in to. Converting a fraction of this fertile group would be great for the poker ecosystem.
With metaverses just round the corner, PokerStars VR could just be a glimpse of poker’s future.