When I was a background extra in a movie a couple years ago (1 – sick brag! 2 – Melissa McCarthy’s Life of the Party – look for me as a groomsman in a wedding scene!), a fellow extra was for some reason fascinated by what I do for a living and was very interested in talking about poker. He believed the next big thing in poker was going to be virtual reality poker, so boy would he be happy right now. Recently, PokerStars announced that it has embarked on a limited beta testing of PokerStars VR, a free-to-play virtual reality poker game available for Oculus Steam, HTC Vive, and Steam.
“PokerStars VR is a chance for us to take this amazing technology and bring something totally unique to poker players,” said PokerStars Director of Poker Innovation and Operations Severin Rasset in a press release issued to the poker media. “Poker is about interaction. It’s been bringing people together for well over a century. We’re really excited to invest in the next generation of the game and to give players the opportunity to meet in a brand new virtual reality dimension.”
The beta test is quite limited. Just 100 people have been invited to participate and as I was not one of them (I live in the United States, so that was probably an immediate disqualifier), so I can’t speak to how the game plays first-hand. I have, though, played a number of virtual reality poker apps on the Oculus Go, the low-budget, stand-alone version of the Oculus Rift (it’s like an all-in-one smartphone VR setup). PokerStars VR, developed by Lucky VR, looks very much like what I have seen in other apps, so possibly with more features.
Not Exactly Like Stepping Into a Casino, But It’s a Good Approximation
And if it is anything like what I have seen before, virtual reality poker is fun! If you have a good setup and can get past the non-photorealistic graphics (it’s somewhere between cartoony and realistic, from what I’ve seen in the video), it really does feel like you are playing poker in person. No, you don’t get the tactile feel of handling cards and chips, but you are there, in a first-person point of view, belly-up to the table. You can look around, look at your opponents, talk to people with your microphone, gesture, peek at your cards, and more. I’ve very much enjoyed my experiences with other apps.
As mentioned, PokerStars VR is free-to-play, and after asking PokerStars, a rep told me that there are no plans to add real-money support. Even if it was for real money, it would be geared mostly toward casual players, as you are only going to be able to play one table at a time and as it mimics real life poker, the action will be fairly slow (though faster than in real life, as the chip counting and what-not is still automated). Hard-core grinders would never want to play real-money virtual reality poker except for a change of pace.
One feature that PokerStars VR offers that I have not seen in others is the ability to watch a television program while playing. One of the perks of playing online poker is that you do it at home and can have other things going on while you play. The trouble with virtual reality in that regard is that you are fully immersed in the app behind your headset with no ability to do anything in the real world without taking yourself out of the VR world. Adding the ability to watch sports or something else while in PokerStars VR is quite nice.