Although the exact history of online poker might have escaped the average video gamer, the effects of a few days back in the summer of 2003 are still on display today. Thanks to the rise of online sites and an unexpected tournament win by amateur Chris Moneymaker, poker boomed in the early noughties. From a game that had previously been in decline, the world had been sold a dream and that dream developed into a multi-billion-dollar industry that’s still thriving today. In fact, as most gamers will know, the game is now almost as popular as a social endeavor as a competitive one. As per 2017’s market data, the free-play poker market was worth $156 million, according to Statista, and the leading social media poker games attract upwards of 57 million monthly users. It’s easy to see how the poker boom is still resonating across the world.
Naturally, when Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event back in 2003, few could have predicted what would happen next. Even for those in the know, developments in the online poker sector have been as surprising and intriguing as the rise of social poker. Today, when you scroll through the average online poker site, games have evolved in line with changing expectations. Back in the early noughties, standard cash games and tournaments were the norm. From 2010 onwards, as more casual players anted up, developers started to innovate. In line with practice tables for those that want to play without the financial pressure, fast-fold poker has become common. At sites like 888poker, customers have access to SNAP cash games and tournaments that move players from table-to-table each time they fold. Backed by the slogan “no more waiting,” the games are designed to provide maximum entertainment for novices.
Poker Crosses the Gaming Divide
The result of these innovations has been two-fold. First, it’s helped online poker reach new demographics, like casual players who want a low-key experience, instead of those who are gunning for the big bucks or a WSOP title. Second, is that the line between poker and video games has been blurred, allowing video gamers to stay on the poker bandwagon, able to find a game anytime they want, without having to wait for the traditional “Friday night” physical poker games our fathers played. For console owners, PlayStation and Xbox are the obvious platforms for those hungry for a game, but with the addition of social media platforms and mobile apps, gamers have more options than ever.
Prominence Poker (PC, PlayStation and Xbox)
Taking things back to the days before the Moneymaker boom when the only games in town were in smoky backrooms, Prominence Poker is as much of an experience as a strategic showdown. Developed by Pipeworks and published by 5050 Games, Prominence Poker sees you square-off against four factions as you play your way to the main boss, The Mayor. For those that have seen the cult movie Rounders, this game has clearly taken inspiration from the idea of playing in private games against unique individuals. However, what’s interesting about this offering is the characterization. As you progress, you acquire new skills in the same way you would a traditional adventure game like Ash of Gods: Redemption where each move you make has a lasting effect. When you combine this with poker’s inherent drama, you’ve got a product that’s engaging in the moment and, in turn, has enough long-term appeal to keep players coming back for more.
WSOP Online and Mobile Apps
For more of a pure poker experience, the world’s leading tournament organization has created its own free-play content. Known simply as the WSOP Game, this desktop and mobile app is a chance for players to follow in the footsteps of Mr. Moneymaker and win a virtual bracelet. Although this app doesn’t have the same level of “gamification” as Prominence Poker, it’s still engaging. Because the developers have drafted in experts to create multi-tiered tournaments, you’ll get to play against an increasingly tricky set of opponents as you progress. The real upshot here is that you get to tap into the dynamics that made online poker popular in the first place. Even though fast-fold variants such as SNAP have brought a new dynamic to today’s leading platforms, classic tables are still filled with grinders. By forcing players to think more about their tactics as they get deeper into the action, the WSOP game has essentially created a hook that’s not only entertaining but also capable of turning novices into skilled players.
Texas Hold’em (Xbox)
Anyone wanting a game that strikes a balance between Prominence Poker and the WSOP Game will probably enjoy Texas Hold’em for the Xbox. From a video gaming perspective, the software allows you to play in multiple environments, compete against colorful characters and use the Xbox LIVE Vision camera to inject some realism into the mix. In tandem with this, you have the ability to play against your friends or alongside AI-powered opponents. What’s more, you can track your stats and use them to become a better player. This combination of traditional gaming features and pure poker dynamics has helped make Texas Hold’em a popular title. Of course, there are those that will say it’s not enough of a video game or enough of a poker experience.
While it’s true that nothing can truly recreate the feeling of sitting at the felt, these types of games effectively bridge the gap between two worlds. For gamers, there are now multiple ways to play, whether you want a traditional poker experience without the financial implications or if you just prefer to bet your way through a series of levels like a video game, the market has something to offer. Regardless of how you choose to play, if you go back to the beginning, you have to thank the original online poker operators and Chris Moneymaker. Without their vision and one man’s victory against extreme odds, poker probably wouldn't be half as popular (if at all) in the video gaming arena. So, next time you ante-up, regardless of what platform you choose, give a quick thought to the 90’s innovators who brought a classic game back into the mainstream.