It’s just another day: you wake up, wash your face, brush your teeth, and then get on your phone to go through your social media notifications, scowling in disgust as you notice that one of your friends has sent you yet another game invite to play one of those poker games on Facebook. Why can’t they just take a hint? There’s nothing that could ever get you to play that game, right? If you’re not into poker, you’re just not into poker.
After all, for all its variations, the game is pretty much the same: you play cards and hope to bluff your way to a win, and make some virtual money off of other players online. That’s all there is to it, and it’s not a very compelling game unless that’s what you’re really into.
These past few years, however, we’ve seen some developers take poker and turn it into something completely different, adding in elements of different genres and giving players more reasons to start playing the game. Real-money gambling has helped paved the way for sure, with tournaments on Betfair drawing thousands of players with games that give away €5 million in prizes every month. But the biggest draw new poker games are relying on aren’t quite so much the chance to earn real money, but the chance to play poker as part of a bigger game.
We’ve had several games that tried to breathe new life into poker, from Poker Night at the Inventory, which relies on the appearance of well-loved characters from different franchises such as “Penny Arcade's clever, cunning Tycho, Team Fortress 2's hulking Heavy, Homestar Runner's self-proclaimed "awesome icon" Strong Bad and the hyperkinetic "rabbity-thing" from Sam & Max”, to Stacked with Daniel Negreanu, where players don’t just play with the pros, but get tips from professional poker player Daniel Negreanu himself. But these games offer very little apart from the old experience of playing poker against computers.
The more successful poker adaptations are more of crossovers. Ever wanted to play poker against a community in an MMORPG? The game exists, and it’s PokerRPG, CasinoRPG’s lesser-known cousin, where you can design your own pad, invest in poker stocks, and play against thousands of others for virtual cash. Want to play a more RPG-based game? Sword & Poker 2 puts you in a “magical world based on cards” where you have to defeat enemies and earn money from playing card battles. It even lets you play the same poker-based game against other people using the same iPhone or iPad. And if you’re looking for something with even heavier RPG elements, there’s Poker Knight, the world’s first RPPG (Role-Playing Poker Game), a game that puts players in the shoes of a young poker aficionado who is trapped in a different dimension and must use his skills to find a way to return home.
Of course, none of these games have yet to make it to Facebook, and the pervasive reputation of poker as a game only gamblers would like makes it difficult for these games to gain traction. As mobile continues to make game development more accessible though, we’re sure to see more games trying to inject poker with elements from different genres as well.