PokerStars has released several new games this year.
Though most have been available for a limited time, the company continues the trend with the November release of Fusion, which is a combination of Texas Hold ’em and Omaha.
In Fusion, players are dealt two hole cards before the flop, just like Texas Hold ’em. The twist comes after the flop is dealt.
The remaining players are then dealt a third hole card face down, adding to the opportunity to make bigger hands. Players are then dealt another card face down after the turn card, finalizing the transition from Texas to Omaha.
Just as in Omaha, players must use exactly two of their hole cards to make a hand.
“We want to give our players games that they have never played before and bring a unique offering to the table,” said Severin Rasset, director of poker innovation and operations at PokerStars. “Fusion mixes two well-loved formats together, giving an exciting twist to the game.”
Beyond Fusion, PokerStars has released other games in recent months, which include Unfold, Split Hold ’em and Showtime Hold ’em.
Rasset spoke with U.S. Poker about how PokerStars develops and releases new games.
Adding new games — some only temporarily — is part of the plan, according to Rasset. PokerStars recognizes the efforts as a way to engage more with players and keep them coming back to the tables.
“Our long-term vision is to provide an environment that our players look forward to being in when they open our client,” Rasset said.
“We want them to be constantly surprised by fresh content like temporary games and brand-new variants, promotions, seasonal initiatives and exciting animations. Producing this flow of new games takes us there,” Rasset said.
“We’re challenging our players to rethink their strategy, adjust their play and discover new facets of the game that they love. I believe this is the way to create true engagement into the future.”
The winners and losers
When it comes to games like Unfold — which only lasted a few weeks or so before being removed — PokerStars utilizes metrics to quickly determine if the game is a winner or whether the team should head back to the drawing board.
Rasset says his team usually works with a timeframe of about six weeks and has learned this is enough time to gauge feedback through player engagement with the latest variant.
The process also helps in designing other offerings.
“By measuring aspects of variants against each other, we can determine which games players are likely to come back to and why, which then influences the design of the future variants we build,” he said.
“We’re always learning and looking to the next new idea. Not every game will work, but if we aren’t trying, then we aren’t innovating.”
Inside the process
What goes into the process of designing a new game?
During the first phase, Rasset and his team gather information and tap internal expertise.
The team tries to design games that will be easy for a majority of PokerStars players without a steep learning curve.
“We complement this with game design experience, which allows us to filter ideas and make sure we also pick games we see as a fit for our portfolio,” he said.
“Most of our players are coming from a No Limit Hold ’em background. We want to make sure that the games will be familiar to them.”
In the second phase, the innovation team transforms these ideas into a raw prototype and begins some test play. Some prototypes work, but most don’t go any further.
PokerStars employees also have different levels of knowledge about the game, Rasset says, so he likes to involve them in the testing phase.
“Combined with our players, they can provide feedback very quickly, which is incredibly valuable and something we’re looking to build on in the future,” he said.
The last phase is to transform the prototype into a higher-standard product for a real-money release and make sure the game meets local gaming regulations.
The rake question
While some players may be more interested in traditional games, others may be up for something new.
Rasset says the company’s approach isn’t so much about bringing in more rake as it’s about players coming back to the site.
“We want the game to grow globally, and we are making investments to help make that happen,” he said.
“We hope these innovations will interest inactive players, keep existing players excited and engaged and perhaps attract some new players to the game. But obviously, as the biggest brand in poker, we stand to benefit financially if our investments are successful in nurturing growth of the game.”
Rasset continued, “Rake is always one of the criteria we look to balance. It’s a crucial part of making sure that our variants are enjoyable, encourage skill and have the right balance of winning players.”
Rasset says PokerStars hopes to foster “an environment full of engaging content and new variants” to keeping players on the virtual felt.
“We hope that this will translate into additional activity at the tables, so we can continue to develop new games together, and shape the game of poker well into the future,” he said.
A little teaser
Beyond game variants, PokerStars also has tinkered with the game environment as well, releasing a virtual reality game the same week as Fusion.
Rasset says the company has never released as many new games and features as it has in 2018. He encourages players to give the games a shot and let the company know what they think.
Rasset promises more to come. “At this time, I will just have to leave you with this teaser: there is no intention to stop.”