Poker is one of the few things to have been present for almost the entirety of video game history. In fact, if we take the game’s first appearance on the Atari 2600 in 1978 (in Bob Whitehead’s Casino) as the start of a franchise, the game, with its recent port to virtual reality, would be the third longest-running series to date – behind Oregon Trail (1971) and Pong (1972).
Obviously, it’s a bit of a cheat to call poker a franchise given that it existed outside video gaming for much of its history – it is a 200-year-old card game, after all. But the game, along with several other casino favorites like blackjack and solitaire, has the unique quality of being compatible with a huge range of modern devices – from mobile phones to the PS4.
The game’s popularity with video game developers owes a great deal to the abiding nature of its rules and its innately competitive gameplay, which transfers well to multiplayer experiences. However, in the modern era, its poker’s strength as a social and mobile experience that’s ensuring its survival into the next generation of gaming.
Improved graphics, loading times, and a shift away from using physical media like Blu-ray discs and cassette tapes to play games are some of the more obvious changes that have taken place in gaming over the past decade. The rise of mobile gaming is arguably the most significant though, at least as far as poker is concerned.
Everybody has a smartphone. There are 2.1bn smartphone users in the world today, according to Statista, for almost 7bn people on earth. The same study indicates that ownership could approach 3bn by 2020. In addition, the transition from laptops to smartphones as the go-to device for the average person’s computing needs may have already happened.
What those figures mean is that anybody who wants to reach consumers, from marketers and games developers to gambling websites, needs to shift their focus to mobile. Again, poker has survived because it made the leap early on.
The development of so-called iGaming websites is behind much of the growth of poker on mobile. Sites like mFortune, a mobile casino offering roulette, bingo, and poker, attracts new players with lucrative welcome bonuses and other promotions. To use the former as an example, mFortune allows players to keep anything they win on a free bet, even if they haven’t made a deposit.
Ironically, poker and casino games that don’t use real money for deposits or entry fees – ‘social casinos’ as they’re known – make the most money overall, through advertising. It’s testament to the popularity of poker as a video game concept and social experience that it succeeds even when separated from its hard gambling roots.
A social poker game recently made the jump to the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear, in what could be regarded as the beginning of a revolution in casino. It’s not so much the actual playing of poker that’s important but what the development means for socializing, spectating, and player immersion in a VR environment.
To cut right to the point, VR devices could be used to host events like the World Series of Poker, with both real-life competitors and spectators together in a digital arena. The same could apply to eSports tournaments or more conventional sporting events like the NBA Finals. It’s the endgame of ‘travelling without moving’; a concept that has been central to VR since its inception.
From the perspective of competitive poker, VR bridges two very distinct parts of the game – online and offline play. Despite having much the same rules, online games dispense with the psychological aspects of the game. This means that there’s no ‘reading’ of opponents or exploiting opponents on ‘tilt’, a poker phrase for players having a bad day. With VR avatars, the possibility exists for bringing the more ‘physical’ aspects of online play back into the game.
So, there you have it: an abridged history of poker as a video game from 1978 to 2016.