The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines VR as, “an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (such as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment.” This technology has advanced to the point that businesses across the globe are experimenting with ways to integrate it into multiple products and services, to both excite and attract interest from new and established customers.
The casino industry is one of these businesses bit by the VR bug, and a growing number of operators and manufacturers are experimenting with ways to bring VR to the wagering floors and hospitality areas of gaming resorts.
Indeed, multiple factors are driving the heightened popularity and awareness of virtual reality products to casinos. According to Michael Shorrock, IGT vice president interactive game studios, “large, public attractions such as the VOID Ghostbusters and Star Wars installations in major cities such as New York and Toronto are expanding the number of consumers that are exposed to VR.”
Virtual reality gaming is expanding its demographics and is no longer just an experience enjoyed only by the “hardcore gamers” and the early adaptors of technology. There are many practical, real-world applications of VR in various areas like gaming and entertainment, and the barriers of entry into new markets continues to become more accessible.
In the gaming and casino entertainment market, casino operators might be viewing VR as a potential method for engaging a broader demographic of patrons on their casino floors and diversifying their entertainment options, but most of the major gaming manufacturers are not highlighting this technology in their offerings just yet. However, there are two suppliers taking a plunge into VR: IGT with its The Virtual Zone concept and Topgolf with its Swing Suite. What follows is a description of these products and how the gaming market is responding to them.
Virtual reality content is one of many forms of casino entertainment that IGT offers its customers. IGT’s first commercialized VR product, The Virtual Zone, is currently deployed at The Orleans Casino in Las Vegas. The Virtual Zone gives casino patrons the opportunity to test their virtual archery skills and compete for real prizes. The attraction leverages best-in-class VR hardware from HTC and is backed by IGT’s proven tournament software, Tournament Manager.
“VR is a relatively new segment within IGT’s overall product portfolio, and an area that represents IGT’s commitment to delivering solutions that are designed to draw new patrons to our customers’ casino floors,” Shorrock said. “IGT continues to take proactive steps toward augmenting our VR offering such as partnering with leading VR hardware company HTC, launching The Virtual Zone with our valued customers at Boyd Gaming, showcasing our VR content at trade shows around the world, and developing a turnkey software developer kit (SDK) that third party content developers can leverage to create games for IGT’s platform.”
IGT’s first foray into VR casino entertainment was The Virtual Zone deployment at The Orleans Casino in Las Vegas with the SiegeVR and ArcheryVR games. The company showcased both experiences at gaming trade shows around the world, and due to favorable customer feedback, it opted to productize the experience. Both games provide an immersive, competitive experience that enables top-performing participants to receive rewards. The element of competition differentiates IGT’s Virtual Zone apart from other VR casino attractions.
“I believe it’s important that VR content transport participants to an environment that inspires a sense of wonder—a setting that they would not encounter in the real world,” Shorrock said. “IGT is not taking a traditional slot experience and adapting it for a VR environment. Instead, we want players to exit reality for a period of time and enjoy a truly memorable experience that they are likely to tell their friends about and share with their social communities.”
IGT is working with several leading VR content studios to develop and adapt exciting content for The Virtual Zone. The company also recently announced its VR SDK—which game designers can leverage to develop VR content for The Virtual Zone. HTC’s VIVE Studios was the first developer to leverage the SDK, adapting the popular Arcade Saga game into a product that is tournament-ready for casino floors.
The Orleans unveiled the Virtual Zone this past March featuring IGT’s VR games, which marked the first VR installation on a casino floor for IGT. For $30, two-person teams can compete in Siege tournaments, where the top daily team score wins $300 in slot dollars. Also, individuals can compete in the ArcheryVR tournaments for $10 each, and the daily top scorers in that event can win up to $125 in slot play. The Virtual Zone was a limited-time engagement and will be at the Orleans through June.
Since launching in 2017, Topgolf Swing Suite has become a popular destination for business and social gatherings at luxury hotels, fitness centers, casinos, sporting events and entertainment venues across the country.
Topgolf Swing Suite is an immersive social experience offering guests a comfy lounge to play and enjoy food and beverage service. With a massive screen and a selection of exciting virtual games and a Full Swing Golf Simulator, the Topgolf Swing Suite delivers a one-of-a-kind social experience that’s fun for non-golfers and golfers alike.
Topgolf Swing Suite has been making quite a few casino installations as of late, and Topgolf Swing Suite President Ron Powers agreed to answer questions about the Swing Suite and the company’s plans for the concept going forward. What follows are excerpts from his answers:
Can you provide a brief background on Topgolf and its introduction to the casino industry?
POWERS: Topgolf started by pioneering a technology to make golf more fun and engaging. Today, Topgolf is a sports entertainment brand with 41 venues entertaining more than 13 million guests annually, in-venue entertainment, mobile gaming, immersive simulators, competitive tours, pop-up social experiences, exclusive digital content and the world’s largest digital golf audience. The Topgolf experience is built on four things everyone loves—play, delicious food and drinks, music and community.
We first got involved in the casino industry in 2016 when we opened our flagship, four-level Topgolf venue at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Guests can hit golf balls into giant targets in the outfield, getting instant feedback on their scores, while enjoying food and drinks and placing bets in the mobile Sports Book with an amazing view of The Strip. There are HDTVs everywhere, including one in every golf bay, the Toyota Yard concert venue, a Callaway fitting studio, as well as the billboard-size “HD Spectacular” positioned at the end of the outfield, which allows guests to watch live television while playing. The powerful entertainment combination has attracted visitors from all over the world.
We launched the Topgolf Swing Suite brand in 2017, combining a simulated Topgolf experience with the luxurious atmospheres of hospitality and entertainment venues across the country. With a massive screen and a selection of exciting virtual games, Topgolf Swing Suite delivers a one-of-a-kind simulation that’s fun for non-golfers and golfers alike.
The very first Topgolf Swing Suite opened at the Four Seasons Hotel in Houston. The MGM Grand Detroit opened the casino industry’s first Topgolf Swing Suite in the fall of 2017.
What makes Topgolf Swing Suite appealing to casino operators?
POWERS: Topgolf Swing Suite offers several advantages to casino operators, including increased food and beverage revenue, a new attraction to drive corporate event bookings and private parties and the appeal of a global brand that’s proven to attract and engage a high-earning Millennial fan base, who might not traditionally think of casinos as entertainment spaces.
Topgolf Swing Suite also has a huge appeal among celebrities. We have hosted several NBA and NFL players and even had requests for in-home Topgolf Swing Suite installations.
Each Topgolf location seems to offer a unique experience designed specifically for the targeted demographic. What is the process behind establishing design components?
POWERS: Topgolf is committed to the guest experience and bringing those four pillars—play, food and drink, music and community—to the forefront of everything we build. So, whether it’s a venue in Atlantic City or Riverside, Iowa, our focus is creating a fun and memorable experience for everyone.
The same goes for any Topgolf Swing Suite. When we’re working with casinos, we know we want to create an environment that brings in new guests who want to have a fun, new experience, while enjoying tasty food and beverages. Our Topgolf Swing Suite game technology is designed to be enjoyable for both non-golfers and golfers of all skill levels and group sizes. Millennials, in particular, are attracted to the interactive experience, combined with the lounge atmosphere, where they can hang out, eat and drink with friends. Even current casino guests are driven to the Topgolf Swing Suite space to take a break from gambling without ever leaving the facility. As a result, with Topgolf Swing Suite, casinos are seeing new patrons, return visits, increased time on property and additive business, even beyond Topgolf Swing Suite revenue.
What are some of the latest Topgolf Swing Suite developments?
POWERS: We’re so excited that the world’s largest Topgolf Swing Suite is coming to the Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City this summer. Casino guests will be able to experience the giant 11 bay, 26,000-square-foot Topgolf Swing Suite, paired with expansive ocean views and superior hospitality amenities.
Additionally, there are several Topgolf Swing Suite venues in development at casinos across the country, including Foxwoods Resort and Casino, Riverside Resort and Casino, MGM Springfield and more.
We’re also looking forward to launching new non-golf simulator games in the near future.
What new technologies are being incorporated into the game?
POWERS: Topgolf Swing Suite uses industry leading Full Swing golf simulators with patented Dual Tracking Technology, which is trusted by pros like Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed—it also just received an award from Golf Digest as a Best-of-Category in the golf simulator division.
The world’s largest Topgolf Swing Suite at the Ocean Resort Casino will also feature Full Swing’s Virtual Green, which can replicate any putt in golf, bridging the gap between simulation and traditional golf even closer.
Topgolf Swing Suite has been making news in the U.S. with new destinations becoming widespread, how about globally?
POWERS: Topgolf is a global brand with sports entertainment venues in the works across Canada, Mexico, Australia and Dubai. As far as Topgolf Swing Suite goes, we’re in talks with multiple partners regarding our global strategy.