PokerStars’ Project Leader Discusses The Power Up Universe, Skill Vs. Luck, And More

Steve Ruddock September 5, 2017 1008 Reads
Power Up

PokerStars recently wrapped up its second play-money alpha test of Power Up, a hybrid poker game that combines traditional elements of online poker with esports/trading card games like Hearthstone.

As Power Up works towards a real-money launch (expected sometime in Q4 2017), We spoke with Associate Director, Poker Product, Build & Project Management at PokerStars, Chris Straghalis, to get a better understanding of Power Up, and what insights PokerStars is hoping to gain from its latest round of public testing.

US Poker: What are you hoping to learn during the second round of testing?

Chris Straghalis: This is actually the third round of public-facing testing. The primary goal is to ensure that the bugs which surfaced during the previous rounds have been eliminated and that no new ones have arisen. In addition we made some tweaks to the structure (changes in the starting stack and blind increases) as well as the Power Up elements (reduction of starting energy to 10 from 15 and a change in the cost of Electro Magnetic Pulse from 4 to 3) and we’re keen to observe the impact of these changes in this phase of testing.

US Poker: What was the impetus for creating a complete universe for Power Up, and how does this add to the game-play experience?

CS: We have seen through communications with our own player-base, and through following trends in our core demographics, that there is a heightened expectation level for people when they engage with online entertainment. We want to produce a product that serves all players’ desires in this area. A highly polished, all-action and tremendously fun game, along with a deep and immersive universe that allows them to feel like they’ve entered something truly unique and possibly surpass their experiences and expectations with other forms of online entertainment.

Having a defined universe has also helped us when we were deciding how we want to animate powers. It is important that there is consistency in powers including what they are called how they are described and how they are presented in-game. When we’re concepting a new power animation, we consider how the defined universe would have impacted the mechanics of the display so, for example, all of our powers that let you look ahead in the deck (“precog” powers) are displayed as holograms, which is in keeping with the universe.

US Poker: Online poker players harbor fears that traditional poker variants will be solved and bots will dominate. Could you talk about how Power Up mitigates this risk?

CS: Power Up is perfect to combat efforts such as solvers, push-fold charts and other outside threats to the game of poker. By adding in additional areas of concern such as Powers and Energy Management, we create even more complexity and depth that solvers will have to take into account. These new areas are also highly configurable which will lead to an ever-changing environment.

There are many aspects of the game that we can change with immediate effect. For example, if we see that a power is being played too much, we can increase the cost of that power or decrease the cost of other powers that can serve as an effective counter play. We can make other changes such as the amount of energy players start with, how much this increases per hand or even cap energy in play. Of course, we can also introduce new powers or remove existing ones as well which, along with each of the aforementioned changes, will have an overall impact on the Power Up metagame.

With all of the environmental configuration changes, we can make alongside all of the powers we have already designed plus those that are still on the drawing board, we have a very strong pipeline of content that will go a long way toward eliminating the risk of poker being solved.

US Poker: Poker players are also concerned that the new games being developed are becoming less skillful, where does Power Up fall on the skill vs. luck axis?

CS: I would say the Power Up falls quite strongly on the skill axis, although, as with all poker, there are still luck elements involved. As previously mentioned, there are more areas of concern that a player must be aware of which to my mind increases the skill factor. Understanding each of the various powers and planning their costs in line with your existing energy balance, the cap on the number of powers you can have and how the powers interact with each other are all important and new areas of strategy. For example, now that it is possible to know cards to come (by the use of “precog” powers such as Intel, Scanner, and Engineer) players can and should play quite differently depending on what other powers they have in their hand. All of this adds a further layer of depth and it is the players who are most aware of these new skill elements who will be the first to succeed at a higher level.

Future powers will address more new resource areas to become even more about skill-testing whilst other powers might actually create a bit more luck factor to help balance things out. This flexibility of design inherent to Power Up allows us to tweak the skill-luck ratio if we see the weighting go too far in one area or the other.