It’s clear that Power Up Poker is a huge deal to PokerStars.
The upcoming poker variant, which is basically an all-new game that uses poker hand rankings, is looking to shake up the industry and give poker players some entirely new strategies to master.
It’s something that has been attempted before but never really caught on as poker players always seem to migrate back to the classic game.
Power Up Poker may be the most compelling offering in the poker/video game category yet, however, and PokerStars Director of Poker Innovation and Operation
Severin Rassét took some time at PSC Barcelona to tell us how the game came to exist.
PokerListings: Who is the target group of Power Up?
Severin Rassét: Short term it’s mostly about re-activating existing players – to bring those players back to the tables who dropped because of lack of interest or other reasons.
Long term we’ll try to improve and evolve the game and get some experience and then we can think about tapping into other fields like the gaming industry but we’ll be humble and take it one step at a time.
PL: The graphics of the game are impressively crisp. How did you achieve that almost industrial look?
SR: We’re using a new graphic engine that’s been in use for other video games, so it’s not one that we created ourselves. We integrated that into our own engine.
It’s a different way of working because before we needed to code almost everything that we wanted to do in animation.
Now we can build the graphics and drop them into the engine, which allows us to work much faster.
PL: Poker players often play other games, too. It looks like you’re trying to implement elements from these other games into poker to make it more appealing.
SR: Yes. We want to stress the unique aspects of poker -- the gambling aspect and the competitive aspect -- something that no other game has to offer.
Then we’re taking that and improving the environment, giving the game a universe and in the long run, we’re hoping that this will attract new players to the game.
PL: Why did you go the futuristic way regarding the graphics? You could for example have gone fantasy, too.
SR: It had to do with feedback from players and our own decision process. Obviously, the Lord of the Rings world is great, but it’s been emulated by thousands of games.
We wanted a poker universe that is positive and futuristic, because we’re taking poker into the future.
If you go down the fantasy road, you have to follow a thousand rules that already exist. Going into the future made it easier for us to create our own world.
PL: What’s the point of the avatars? They have individual backstories, but they don’t have anything to do with the game, or do they?
SR: For now -- and this is just a starting point -- you might think they’re just there. But we want to reinforce avatars because we believe it will make a difference for you and how you play depending on which avatar you pick.
It’ll show some part of your own personality and that’ll be different from one person to the other.
PL: But the avatars won’t ever have any influence on the game themselves, like characters in fantasy games do, for example in games like Baldur’s Gate?
SR: I don’t want to completely rule this out but we’ve made the decision that your choice of an avatar cannot give you an unfair advantage or an edge over other players. It can’t even be perceived as if there was that advantage.
There’s money involved in this game so we have to keep the balance.
PL: Will there always be three players at the table?
SR: We’ve tried different numbers. It seems that with four or five players the game starts to slow down a little bit. We’ve also tested heads-up but that gets very stressful as you’re under constant attack by your opponent.
For now, three players is where we want to be.
PL: How do you keep the game from slowing down by stallers?
SR: For once the blinds go up after a number of hands, not after time. The number of hands per level is one way for us to control the length of the game.
We’re aiming for ten minutes per game, give or take one minute. We do have several ways to control the game length. For example, we can change the energy costs for the special powers, the amount of energy that’s replenished, the level structure.
We’re quite confident that we have a lot of control and that we can achieve our goal regarding the maximum length of the game.
PL: Poker has been around for a long time but it’s so complex that it hasn’t been figured out. It’s a bit like chess in this regard. Why would you take such a complex game and make it even more complex?
RS: Poker is a simple game with a lot of depth. It’s not a complex game in the sense that the rules are complex. You can learn the rules in minutes.
Power Up is a little less simple, but you’ll still be able to learn the rules and get a handle on the game within half an hour.
PL: It seems that poker operators today think they have to come up with something new all the time. Is there a feeling of panic because eSports is growing so quickly?
SR: eSports are very interesting. I see it more as an opportunity than a threat. There are many parallels but the gambling part is unique in poker.
Also, the beauty of this market is that it is big enough for all of us. The video game industry has a turnover now of about 100 billion dollars. That means we can continue to grow and take advantage of the development.
PL: There are a lot of smart players out there who’ll figure out the optimal way to apply those special powers and find an edge. What can you do about that?
SR: We’re going to change the rules on a regular basis. We will force the players to reconsider the game all the time because some things that used to be important might not be relevant anymore tomorrow.
Just like with LOL or Dota where they regularly change what they call the metagame, we’ll do similar things, for example by introducing new powers and removing others and enabling new combinations.
It’ll be a constantly changing challenge.
PL: Will the game be available for real money play?
SR: Yes. We’re planning to keep the buy-ins relatively low, but we could for example push them as high as Spin & Go's. But we’re really going to decide this as we go along.
PL: Thank you, Severin Rassét.