Poker product innovation: A broad and exciting challenge
It might come as a surprise to learn how long it takes to convert an idea on a whiteboard, to an actual game that people can play and enjoy. Dozens of projects don't even see the light of day and get canned for a variety of (good) reasons. The rest require lots of love and attention, and a huge amount of time to balance and test before any form of public release. Still, it is a very exciting process and there's nothing more satisfying than seeing a new product come to life and players enjoying it. Today, with the limited Alpha release of PokerStars Power Up, it is a good time to share more insights about our goals in product innovation.
In my last blog post, I wrote about the latest product updates and changes that all share the common goal of creating a more level playing field and a friendlier environment for new and inexperienced players. Poker is a great game but it can also be quite unforgiving when new players find themselves pitting their wits against online veterans. This was the latest milestone in our plan to expand the appeal of poker, and while we recognise we still have a long way to go, we believe we have created a solid foundation to build upon. At the same time, we have also been putting significant resource toward poker innovation. The common goal of these innovations is continue to maintain a high level of engagement from our active players, to reactivate players that may be tired of playing poker as it is today, and to speak to potential players that haven't discovered the game yet.
So, what has happened in the last 18 months? We can divide the new products that we have delivered into two broad categories:
Product evolution: Beat The Clock, KO Poker, Spin & Go Limited edition. For our experienced players, these might just sound like variants of poker. However it is quite important to recognize that these games attract and speak to an audience that might not have been convinced to play the game before.
Potential game changers: These projects challenge some of the assumptions around poker and provide a completely new experience for both existing and new players. We want to maintain engagement with our current players and reactivate our lapsed player base, by identifying and tapping into our player's current interests as well as predicting future trends and develop product to suit.
The latter category is obviously more ambitious and game changers often take longer to deliver than we forecast. It requires a concerted team effort to dive into the unknown, to keep the faith and to deliver a project that will be right for our players.
Today, the latest of our innovations, PokerStars Power Up entered Alpha testing. It's a combination of traditional enjoyable No Limit Hold'em injected with powers that give players the ability to influence how hands play out and change up game play in a variety of ways with boards, cards and chips. This project introduces a lot of new features to poker that we have built from scratch and it's taken a lot of time and effort to get to this stage in the game's life. We balanced the game for six months in a sandbox environment with a group of very high volume experienced poker players and gamers to attempt to break the game in every possible way. We integrated a new engine within our software, created animations and powers, and put a lot of time and thought into how poker players will have fun with the game.
Fun is one of the hardest things to measure and you can never be sure if the game will hit the right spot for players. However, having seen poker pros and focus group members asking to play again, and smiling and laughing as they're playing, I feel confident that we really have something that our players will enjoy as much as we do.
Power Up is currently in closed Alpha, meaning that we still have a lot of adjustments to make and many more features to add. For these reasons it's only available to a limited number of people and real money games are still a long way off. We'll periodically expand the pool of players, while tweaking and adding features, while constantly taking feedback from the participants.
I am extremely proud of the teams that have worked so hard to deliver this game to Alpha and now our players will decide if they like Power Up as much as we do.
More projects are in development with one common objective - to bring sustainable growth to PokerStars through exciting new products that people will discover and re-engage with. And this will mean that more people will continue to enjoy the great game of poker.
Severin Rasset is Director of Poker Innovation and Operations for PokerStars.