The game is certainly the same, but online poker has always been a rather poor approximation of the live poker experience. That is, until now.
In September 2018, online poker giant PokerStars began beta testing a new free-to-play virtual reality poker game in an attempt to change all that.
PokerStars VR is an immersive virtual reality experience that brings together elements of both live and online poker like never before.
Once players put on a VR headset on and log in, they are transported to a gaming environment like nothing else available online.
There’s a choice of rather exotic places to play, including Macau in 2050, The Macau Suite, the wild-west themed Showdown Saloon, a yacht in a Monte Carlo marina, and something called The Void.
A virtual reality version of online poker
It’s still a traditional poker game being played in these rooms, but it’s unlike anything else found online.
PokerStars calls it a virtual reality version of its online poker software. The big difference being that PokerStars VR players can handle the cards and chips almost like they would playing live poker in the real world.
Plus, even though its all online, and players are getting in on the action from wherever they are in the real world, they can interact with each other’s virtual persona like no other online poker room has allowed before.
That means everything from real-time chat to starting a food fight at the table. Players can even stream TV shows and sporting events on screens inside the virtual world. Plus, there’s the ability to interact with various other aspects of the game and environment.
PokerStars VR beta testing
A closed beta version including a free-to-play multiplayer no-limit hold’em game is being previewed on various gaming platforms, including Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Steam. Intensive testing by a group of 100 volunteer players recruited by PokerStars is ongoing. The hope is to launch a full commercial version of the game by the end of the year. Whether or not that will include PA online poker remains to be seen.
The game was developed with the help of a company called Lucky VR.
The software features intuitive game controls and the ability to play hands-free using voice command controls.
It’s also integrated with various video streaming and social media outlets, allowing players to broadcast play and interact with the real world outside the game.
PokerStars VR allows players to dress up their avatars any way they like, socialize with others, and enjoy the environment together, just like they do inside a real-life PA poker room.
PokerStars VR takes the social interaction side of the online game to a new level. However, players must take the poker action seriously as well. The game gives players the ability to study the stats and watch an opponent’s reactions as if they’re in the same room, truly bringing the live and online poker experiences together.
Barriers to entry for PokerStars VR
Of course, even when PokerStars VR becomes available to the general public there are a few barriers to entry.
VR is emerging technology, and at this point, it’s still somewhat costly.
To play PokerStars VR, players will need a VR headset. A Rift or Vive headset runs somewhere in the neighborhood of $500. Players also need a gaming computer capable of supporting the software.
It might be a small market to start out. However, PokerStars believes there is an existing market for PokerStars VR. Plus, it will only grow alongside VR’s popularity.
PokerStars’ Director of Poker Innovation and Operations Séverin Rasset told Online Poker Report the future of PokerStars PR looks bright:
“It’s something we wanted to explore and it’s something we believe is going to be a mainstream medium in the future. It’s a great portal for us to engage with customers and it’s a brilliant medium to play around with.
“Figuring out what works and what doesn’t for poker in a new medium like VR takes time to get right. At this early stage, we’re able to constantly innovate the product and run experiments while the market is still nascent. Engaging with VR users early on, developing great VR software and building a brand within the space will be invaluable once VR becomes mainstream.”
Rasset has described the technology as “amazing” and “totally unique.”
Plus, he said poker has been bringing people together for decades. Now, PokerStars VR represents the next generation of that, all inside a new virtual reality dimension.
More authentic and fun online poker
Those who have played say seeing and interacting with other players provides a more authentic poker experience.
Plus, most say the ability to handle cards and chips makes the game infinitely more fun than clicking buttons online.
PokerStars is the name behind the world’s most popular online poker sites. The global site launched in 2001. PokerStars NJ began operating in the fenced-in New Jersey market in 2016. The Stars Group inked a deal with Mount Airy Casino Resort in 2018 to launch Pennsylvania online poker. The plan is to launch a PokerStars PA online poker site by the end of 2018 or early 2019.