How did Virtual Sports Originate and How Will They Develop in the Future?

Written By Ian John on February 21, 2018

When you are on your favourite bookmaker site such as Betway or 10Bet and you are enjoying yourself playing the latest Virtual Sports offering, having a flutter on a particular market for a game that is entirely decided by computer, have you ever wondered what the history of Virtual Sports is? Where have they developed from and then perhaps, what are they going to develop into in the future?

It’s an interesting prospect to consider as many people believe, wrongly, that Virtual Sports simply burst into existence on sports betting sites a few years ago when somebody realised that the technology now existed for them to produce these sorts of games. While it is true that the technological developments of recent years played a key role in the provision of Virtual Sports, their development also owes a lot to other humble and somewhat surprising origins.

Let’s take a look now at where the original ideas for Virtual Sports came from because this form of sports betting actually draws its inspiration from many different sources.

The birth of Virtual Sports

  • Pen and Paper to PC

Although many believe the birth of Virtual Sports came with the development of the first Virtual Sport computer program, the truth is the origins for those games go back much further in time. In the 1960s, a form of Virtual Sports were played by enthusiasts using nothing more complicated than a pen and paper.

Local communities would gather together and play through their favourite virtual games using pen and paper but the idea first took on a technological aspect in 1961, when John Burgeson developed a very early form of fantasy baseball.

This game was coded on an IBM 1620 computer and the program itself was just 20kb long. It used simple random number generation to decide the outcome of each play and in truth, that simple process remains the bedrock of the modern Virtual Sports game.

However, there were other technological advancements in other areas of life that also sowed the seeds for the development of Virtual Sports.

  • Arcade Action

One such advancement was the popularity of horse racing games in amusement arcades across the country. These games would feature a number of different consoles where players could bet a small amount of money (usually 2p or 5p per race) on one of a small choice of runners (which usually numbered between 4 and 8).

Once the bets had been placed, the machine would whirr into action and a horse race would be simulated in the machine, with mechanical horses and jockeys moved at different speeds, speeding up and slowing down to simulate the race. At the end of the race, the first horse past the post would be declared the winner and if anybody backed that horse, they would be paid out by their console.  Then a new round of betting would begin for the next race.

You can see from how that mechanised game was set up that the actual structure for Virtual Sports was already in place when these games became popular back in the 1970s and 80s. Indeed, you can argue that modern Virtual Sports is just the digital reincarnation of these popular arcade games from that era.

  • Computer Software development

There is also no doubt that the personal computer boom of the 1980s, which heralded the foundations of the digital age, has played a key role in the development of Virtual Sports. For the first time, computers could be fit into small, portable boxes suitable for use in the home. Computers such as the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and BBC Micro Model B proved to be hugely popular and with a growing number of computer users, so the need for software for these machines grew.

As a result, many software companies sprung up offering a choice of games and other utilities for the burgeoning home computer market. It wasn’t long before sports games were common releases for the computers with the original games simulating specific roles (such as a Football Manager in the original Football Manager game on the ZX Spectrum).

Over time as computer systems grew more powerful and had more memory available, the software became more complicated and games were relased that simulated sports events, such as horse racing. These allowed you to “bet” on computerised races and you would win or lose virtual money based on the performance of the horses you backed.

  • The Internet and 21st Century

The technology for Virtual Sports has been around therefore since the early 1990s, but what was lacking was a way to bring these games to a wider audience. That changed with the development of the Internet and in particular, with the improvement in the speed of connections to the Internet, the capacity for data to be transferred increasing and the sheer number of people that signed up to the Internet.

Suddenly, companies realised that the Internet was a viable proposition for all kinds of opportunities including sports betting. It is perhaps just surprising that it took sports betting companies a number of years to finally put together their first Virtual Sports package to offer to customers at the start of the 21st Century.

Where will Virtual Sports go in the future?virtual greyhound betting

The current situation sees a number of different Virtual Sports operated by many sports betting services online. Horse Racing, Greyhounds and Football seem to be the most commonly carried Virtual Sports with many companies also offering some or all of Motor Car Racing, Speedway, Trotting, Tennis and Cycling.

So what will the future hold for these sports and will more Virtual Sports be added to the fold?

Certainly in terms of the latter, that will almost doubtless be the case. With the American market for Virtual Sports now open after the first Virtual Sports services were offered online in the United States at the tail end of 2017, you can be sure that many companies will be working on Virtual copies of the top American sports, notably Baseball, Basketball, Ice Hockey, NASCAR and American Football.

It would also be surprising if these Virtual Sports were not offered in Europe where there are many keen followers of these sports, both in terms of sports fans and also amongst betting enthusiasts.

Other sports that could well be considered for the Virtual realm could be a short-overs version of Cricket as well as sports that are traditionally not huge betting markets but which would suit Virtual Sports betting extremely well, such as 100m and 200m sprints in Athletics, or similar races in Swimming.

I’d also expect to see the current line up of Virtual Sports tweaked to be improved in many ways. I think graphically, the time will come when Virtual Sports use real-life footage from older football or tennis matches (indeed, one provider is already looking at this possibility) and I think Virtual Sports will soon be given greater context with games taking place as part of a competition or tournament (and again, there are already Virtual Sports available that already offer this).

What is true is that Virtual Sports has barely scraped the surface of what it could eventually develop into and for lovers of sports betting and Virtual Sports, that is a truly exciting prospect for the future.

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Ian John

Ian John is an expert across many realms of online gambling, both in US and international markets. Based in the UK, Ian covers sports betting, poker, and the regulated online casino and esports betting markets for a wide number of industry-focused publications.

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