Who doesn't love a little gamble? Even as kids, playing a game of chance in exchange for a stuffed animal or a little piece of chocolate got us hooked. We grew up playing in arcades, with tokens in our pockets, eyes sparkling as we jumped for joy when the machine lit up: 'You just won!' It was exciting, thrilling, exhilarating, and fun – or at least that was how 'fun' used to be.
In today's world of smart technology and artificial intelligence, the definition of leisure and gambling has been redefined with gadgets and devices that can fit into our pockets or backpacks, with a WiFi connection.
According to World Economic Forum's (WEF) white paper Creative Disruption: The impact of emerging technologies on the creative economy, we are spending more of our leisure time using screen-based devices, with smartphone users interacting with their devices an average of 85 times a day, and 46 per cent admitting they couldn't live without them. It shouldn't come as a surprise that millennials aren't merely buying the traditional casino experience.
They don't want to spend their earnings playing slot machines as much as their parents or grandparents used to. And because they grew up playing video games, with smartphones in their hands, they prefer 'a gaming experience that extends far beyond the casino' that new technological advancements such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) can offer.
The casino and gaming industry has no choice but to play its own game to remain relevant. The only question now is: are they going to refuse and fold, or will they gamble and go all in?
The virtual gamble
VR is not a new technology. It has been around for over two decades, used by military and aerospace industries to create alternative realities. But, it wasn't until Palmer Luckey's desire to improve the gaming experience that led him to eventually invent the Oculus Rift, which left his co-founders to say only one word upon experiencing it for the first time: "Wow".
"Content at the point of consumption is being dramatically altered by immersive technology," says the WEF. "According to one poll, 46 per cent of audiences associate virtual reality with novelty experiences and 60 per cent with high-end gaming, but artificial and virtual reality have the capacity to provide truly transformative experiences by promoting new and meaningful feelings, skills and understanding."
While we still have to maximise VR's full potential, some of the biggest casinos in the world are already taking risks and putting their money on the technology and new kinds of gaming experience.
Caesars Entertainment's CEO Mark Frissora saw the decline of customers first hand and called on his company to brainstorm around catering for a new generation. This led them and other casinos to introduce skill-based VR gambling games, immersing players in a virtual world, where they will face different kinds of challenges and be rewarded for their skills and not because of dumb luck.
Start-ups like Gamblit Gaming are already experimenting with creating millennial-friendly games around a more human-centric design that reflects the youthfulness of today's generation. They are focused on playing the game and not the gamble.
Virtual gambling addiction: the cause and the cure
The other side of the coin, however, is how VR's superb experience can result in people becoming even more addicted to gambling. Contrary to what we may believe, it's not all about the money.
MIT anthropologist Natasha Schull says that what most people don't realise is that gambling addicts are playing for 'the value of the zone' – the 'machine zone' she calls the immersive void where time, money, and reality become subsidiary to the compulsive draw of the game experience. So, if VR can enhance this experience, it can draw players even further into the game, trapping them into the zone.
Stéphane Bouchard, founder of the Cyberpsychology Laboratory at Université du Québec en Outaouais, is trying to address this problem by ironically using the same technology as a supplement to help cure gambling addicts. With over 18 years of experience researching potential benefits of therapeutic VR, Bouchard places patients in various scenarios in virtual casinos and then tests the 'level' (or breaking point) at which they are triggered to gamble.
The factors that trigger senses such as noise and number of slot machines available are adjusted and controlled by a therapist depending on how strong a patient's craving is. Used together with traditional cognitive behavioural treatment, VR proved to be effective in eliciting clinically relevant information that can be used by therapists to help patients' control their desire to gamble.
Initial trial studies had a success rate of around 60 per cent, and have effectively lessened the urges of participants to gamble and helped them control cravings. While it may not be a 'miracle cure', Bouchard believes that it will be an instrumental tool in helping therapists deal with addictions, and expects that health professionals will be implementing this technique in about three years.
Real, reel, to virtual
Nevertheless, gaming and gambling are just the beginning. VR offers numerous possibilities that can transform the entire customer experience in the future. VR is already starting to transform travelling, tourism, real estate, marketing, and filmmaking. Even the world of theatre, built on the art of live and actual performances, is experimenting with creating virtual reality accompaniments to let those who are new to opera to step inside the performance.
We are slowly replacing our real-life experiences with virtual ones. If VR technology will enable us to go to places we want to go and let us experience the things we want to do, what will be left for the real world to offer? Will our physical buildings soon become useless white elephants?
If our built environments no longer serve a purpose, will our architects and engineers eventually be replaced by virtual designers? Instead of building spaces used for leisure, work and other human interactions, will casinos and other 'buildings' of the future be created and stored in large data centres instead of being built from the ground?
VR vs Reality: who will win?
According to Jacquelyn Ford Morie, one of the pioneers of VR technology and founder of All These Worlds, the virtual world may offer practical and meaningful applications that can help humans in ways that reality can't, but it won't replace the real world.
"I don't think there's enough content in the world for somebody to put (a VR headset) on and never take it off. I think well-rounded individuals will probably balance their time between the physical and the virtual for very good reasons," Ford Morie says.
If all consumers get tired of the exact same experience, like millennials with the traditional gaming and casino experiences, businesses will become irrelevant. Organisations have to keep up with technology and learn to gamble with disruption, otherwise, they will lose. One thing is for sure, those who take risks and gamble to unlock the power of these technologies will thrive and succeed in the future. Want to bet?