How Facebook rebranding to Meta will impact online poker

Jon Pill
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Published: October 29, 2021 7:28 PM EDT

By normalizing VR, Facebook’s rebranding as Meta could usher in the next big sea-change for online poker.

Meta is the social giant’s attempt to become part of the “Metaverse.” That’s a newish buzzword for a massive, interconnected sea of communities online that all of us will soon enter into. Not just on flat screens on phones and desktops — we’d actually use virtual reality (VR).

If Facebook’s enormous monopoly on our collective attention turns to the Metaverse, a genuine mainstreaming of VR could follow. There is the promise of glasses-style rigs that are both less bulky and possible to use for augmented reality on the go. Useable, relatively cheap, and widely accessible VR rigs could be just what PokerStarsVR needs to gain traction.

Facebook and poker

Facebook already has a strong relationship with poker. Zynga Poker was one of its earliest and most popular integrated games. It seems likely that something along these lines is already underway in Zuckerberg’s sub-volcanic lab.

If Facebook does have a way to make VR as easily accessible as phones made games like Angry Birds, the next WSOP Online might be played out in a full-scale replica of the Amazon Room.

Something like this is unlikely to replace the old iconographic clients completely. But if VR sets become as common as laptops, it will give sites like GGPoker a reason to follow PokerStars’s VR example. And for PokerStars to push its VR client more aggressively.

That’s a lot of “ifs,” but the net result is a huge possible change in the standard of online poker. Permanently.

Facebook uses poker to rebrand

The rebranding announcement came in a video that featured a poker game as its introduction to the metaverse. Facebook felt a card game was the quintessential social activity to show off their metaverse. That bodes well for poker’s role in their business plan.

A Facebook metaverse as a whole is a problematic idea that only seems to compound the problems Facebook already has. It also seems to demonstrate that Facebook has no interest in engaging with any of its current problems. The one exception seems to be their attempt to humanize Zuckerberg himself with the occasional one-liner.

See Ethan Zuckerman’s article in The Atlantic for some of the more trenchant takes on Facebook’s metaverse project. The article is titled “Hey, Facebook, I Made a Metaverse 27 Years Ago” and subtitled “It was terrible then, and it’s terrible now.”

But as a way of pushing online poker technology forward, the metaverse may have its uses.

You can watch a highlight reel of Zuckerberg’s presentation below:

The rebrand has roots in science fiction

With the Meta rebrand, Mark Zuckerberg is doing something like rebranding himself as Protagonist. That is to say: Hiro Protagonist, the post-modernly-named hero and protagonist of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.

In the novel, Protagonist is one of the creators of the original Metaverse, a fictional shared virtual reality that is the main way characters in Snow Crash interact with what we’d now call “the internet.” Stephenson came up with the Metaverse as a response to the Matrix of William Gibson’s Sprawl novels, grounding his creation in recognizable virtual reality tech rather than the full-on immersive hallucination that Gibson uses.

Stephenson’s dream is now set to become Zuckerberg’s reality. In the process, Zuckerberg may also be set to change how online poker works.

Virtual poker

Attempts to bring the online poker experience closer to that of live poker have largely failed in the past. There are any number of reasons for this, but the availability of the necessary tech has always been one of them.

PKR attempted a 3D online poker client. Unfortunately, making high-end graphics part of the online poker scene mostly resulted in long load times and a confusing and busy interface.

PKR sort of worked as a gimmick. However, the bog-standard, iconographic style of classic poker clients has yet to be improved upon. At least as far as clarity and user-friendliness go.

Ultimately, PKR went into administration.

Shared VR then made an appearance on PokerStars (you can still use PokerStarsVR if you’ve shelled out for an Oculus or similar VR rig). This is more or less the metaverse on the scale of a single poker table. Again, it was a nice gimmick, though this time the main problem is finding enough poker players with the necessary VR rig.

Then the pandemic came along. With home games out of the question, COVID drove a rise in players setting up online events, then piling the table into a group zoom call while they play.

Beyond playing poker on Zoom

More recent apps have attempted to integrate this video call aspect with some success.

Now the video game Poker Club and others have upped the ante on graphics. However, a full VR experience is largely stymied by the fact that VR rigs are expensive. Cost makes them rare, and rarity makes them expensive to develop for.

Valve’s Half-Life: Alex is quite possibly the only AAA game ever made exclusively for VR.

We have yet to see what the Facebook-Meta rebrand will do to online poker. With or without Facebook, though, it seems the Metaverse is just around the corner. Whatever changes it brings, it seems obvious that online poker will only become more detailed, and closer to the brick-and-mortar game, without the time, hazard, and expense of travel.

Featured image source: Youtube