VR gaming has come a very long way in the last few years, even if it’s done so surprisingly quietly. Two or three years ago, many were still fretting about what was wrong with the medium: wired headsets, expensive headsets, a relative lack of great games, and a seeming inability to catch on with a large market. These issues have largely been addressed since. Headsets are more versatile and somewhat more affordable, for instance, and the anticipated games in 2021 are much more exciting than in years past. Titles like Splinter Cell VR and Hitman VR will bring popular franchises into the virtual realm, and other, original releases look awfully promising as well.
What hasn’t been solved though is VR gaming’s issue with mass-market appeal — something we discussed in a previous article about what we’d like to see in the medium. We pointed out that VR was largely for technophiles and enthusiastic gamers, and that there wasn’t much material that would draw more casual gamers (or new gamers altogether). This arguably hasn’t changed, and while some of the aforementioned franchise additions will help, it will take something bigger to bring in a significant audience all at once.
Poker may just be the answer, even if it’s not one all gamers would necessarily think of first. And there are some clear reasons why.
By some estimates, there are upwards of 100 million people already playing online poker in one form or another, all around the world. That is a massive market and one that only overlaps somewhat with what we might think of as the traditional gaming community. A VR poker game — a really good one with depth and realistic gameplay — would serve as a bridge to that market. This doesn’t mean that 100 million gamers would suddenly switch over to VR, but it’s nothing to scoff at. The right poker game, with the right publicity, would likely rope in a meaningful number of new players, who would in turn help to normalize VR gaming.
Ease of Entry
While the primary aim might be to rope in existing poker players, a game like this could also appeal quite easily to newcomers. While the game can seem a little complicated at first glance when you aren’t familiar with it, it’s actually not too difficult to pick up the basics. Already, beginners’ guides to poker online have been boiled down to simple, easily digested topics: the rules of the game, the order in which the cards are dealt, and the meaning of different terms, for instance. All of this can be taught within a game and through demos. So, in theory, if a wave of experienced poker players helped to boost the popularity of a new VR poker game, new players taking notice would also find it easy to get in on the fun.
A well-made VR poker game could also accomplish something that some have been waiting on in VR, which is to build up a sort of in-game social network. Even beyond gaming, there has been some chatter about the potential of VR to bring us new-age social networks once it becomes a more popular, mainstream technology. And while it may be a stretch to imagine a poker game producing something of that size, such a game would have clear potential to get people talking, forming groups, and generally interacting in an online, virtual community. This can be said of other games as well, but perhaps none so naturally as poker.
Leaping VR Hurdles
Finally, it is also apparent that a poker game would have the potential to leap over some of the most problematic hurdles the medium faces. Most notably, one of the common arguments against VR for years now has been about space. People bring up past devices like the Xbox Kinect and suggest that they required too much space to catch on with mass markets. By extension, there is an assumption among some that VR is simply an inconvenience in this respect. Some VR enthusiasts will argue that this has already been proven false as VR headsets and controls have improved and made in-game motion less dependent on real-world movement. But newcomers to VR might be more readily convinced that a game like poker — which requires virtually no range of motion — would work.
Consider all of these factors together, and it looks quite clear that VR would benefit from a well-made poker game. The good news is that such a game seems more like an inevitability than a pure hypothetical.