GAN has been a player in the iGaming space for fourteen years - spanning game, development, platform development, and operational services. As a pure play B2B provider to space, GAN's team works in concert with our partners to deliver comprehensive online solutions in Europe and the States. This article is one in our Profiles Series - a closer look at a few of our team members who are driving innovative changes to our offerings and in turn creating exciting new digital worlds for our casino operator partners' end-users. Our own Dana Takrudtong and James Smurfit sat down with three of our London-based team members on their roles, histories, and visions ahead at GAN.
Ethan Dodd is a Game Support Engineer who has been at GAN for around a year. His skill and enthusiasm for innovation landed him in the lead role of one of GAN's most exciting projects ever, a Virtual Reality Simulated Gaming Casino. We sat down with him to talk about his role in bringing GAN's VR to market, along with his more general take on how he sees Virtual Reality developing in the future.
James (J): So as a general starting point when talking about the VR project, how did it feel to be one of the sole leads on such an exciting beta project and something completely new for GAN?
Ethan (E): It was a fairly exciting prospect for me, not only in terms of the working world but the developing world full stop. To be given this opportunity at such an early point in my career is very exciting, and to be given such a new technology that is vastly different to anything I've ever tried before is very exciting.
J: In your opinion what are some of the most exciting developments in VR going on today, I know you just touched on that a second ago but are there other products you didn't just mention?
E: I've been a long time Microsoft developer and I'm looking forward to seeing developments on their HoloLens. It's a different tech to the fully stopped on VR headsets like Oculus. Rather than full immersion VR HoloLens focuses on Augmented Reality (combing the virtual and real worlds together in overlay). Obviously the Oculus is interesting and is getting a majority of the attention in the market, but I think the HoloLens is going to see increasing interest in time as it gives the consumer another choice of product and engagement.
J: So we're talking more augmented reality getting attention in the gaming space as well?
E: Yeah. Look at Pokemon Go right now.
J: But in your opinion how far away do you think we are from these kind of augmented reality products getting to the stage you've just described, where the quality is better and it's more affordable?
E: I'd say within five to ten years. We're still in the early phases of developments across both consumer hardware and software, but give it a few years and there going to be a lot more available to a lot more people. Google Cardboard is interesting and available for fifteen bucks a pop to the masses, but it's doesn't have true engagement capabilities- you drop your phone into the viewer and can watch worlds in VR but there are relatively zero apps where you can participate in those world's. Also, phones on the market today aren't powerful enough to give the same rich types of experiences you can get with headsets like Oculus. But give it 5 years, phones will be vastly more powerful and you'll be able to take VR headset gear around with you as well.
Dana (D): Talk to us about VR now. Let's go back to a year ago when you were starting to develop the product that we've now launched for the Empire City Simulated Gaming site. What did you want that experience to be like for the consumer, what do you hope our partners are getting out of this experience, today as we're on the cutting edge in this space?
E: Right now we're travelling to an ancient casino, a medieval casino, but obviously there's so much more scope that I'm looking into. We're going to deliver the customers this product where they can still play the slots that they know and love, but they can play them in these crazy environments that you wouldn't expect to be there, like I'm going to go play my favorite China Shores slots game and I'm going to go do it in a medieval asian village. I think that's the sort of thing that's really interesting and fantastic, I mean everything else aside just using VR and experiencing those different areas is really interesting and then you add the extra level of having these slots in there that they can play...and they can find hidden stuff in there! I've got hidden things that they can search for, explore and find and they get extra stuff in the game for it. l I think we can just keep building on this and make it really fun, interesting and different not only from general VR games but from a casino games perspective as well.
D: Do you see GAN's future state VR being more immersive in terms of the gaming experience? For example, at recent iGaming industry trade shows we've heard developers talking about the reel images actually spinning around through the air, where you have this 360 immersion with the game itself as opposed to walking up to a static screen which is where we're at today. Now granted as you said we're already on the forefront of the technology we're in, we're in beta version one of VR...where do you see VR continuing to evolve to, somewhere between 5 years from now which we've talked about and today with that near term horizon?
E: That remains to be seen of course but the idea for the future is not just immersion within these 3D environments, which as you said is a 2D game, it's going to be immersion within the 3D environment and 3D games. That's where it should end up, in that state where you're completely immersed. Because the immersion would be like being in the real world and going up to a slot machine and playing it, and increasing that immersion to a 3D game is a next step, and is what some of the better VR games on the Oculus store are doing. Obviously it's a lot of work though, because you're taking the games you've already got and completely tearing them up and redoing them.
J: You were talking about all the different environments provided. Do you think one of the most exciting things, which I think you touched on, was that the possibilities are almost endless and you can take it in whatever direction you want to go?
E: That's exactly what I've been looking at and why people were excited with my idea of the different environments and I want to keep pushing that, while at the same time keeping it within certain limits at the moment. The more steam this gains then the more ridiculous and out of this world we can go.
J: So you weren't just the leader in developing this from a technical standpoint, but also the creative mind behind the project?
E: Everything VR effectively. I come from a background- both study and personal- of design and development. It was nice to have a lot of freedom on the project while also getting input from a lot of different places and people around the company.
J: Taking more of a bird's eye view, can you give a brief description of the end to end user experience with VR?
D: As in if im a player and I've never seen VR and don't know what to do with it, what is it like for me? If I'm a player do I have to download the client and the VR experience off the website?
E: Well you need a fairly powerful computer and an Oculus Rift headset. You can then download and play our virtual reality simulated casino from our partner Empire City Casino's website right now.
In terms of play; it's simply the most ridiculous fantasy social casino there is. You go into what seems like a normal casino. You have your different rooms and each one you enter leads to a different country; for example you can go to Egypt and play your favorite Egyptian slot game there- that's the key experience. There are these fantastic worlds where you can lose yourself and go play slots and enjoy your favorite games.
D: Will it work with any other headsets like HTC at this point?
E: Not now, but that is something we've discussed and something for the future, and we will have similar conversations for upcoming headsets. At a later date we'll look to get it onto the Oculus store but right now we're continuing to refine the product.
J: Great insights Ethan, thank you very much for your time.