Lee Davy takes a look at FIFA17’s The Journey and implores an online poker site to step up and deliver a similar experience for recreational poker players.
Poker produces moments of pure ecstasy and pulsating pangs of pain. It can be exciting. It can be boring. It can make you laugh. It can make you cry. It can turn you on. It can switch you off. It is one of the greatest games in the world, but it doesn’t possess the most important elements that all great games possess.
It doesn’t contain the internal organs of a good story.
But what if we could change that?
Games have been a part of our world ever since two cavemen rolled sheep knuckle bones against the cave wall to see who had to go out and face the Sabre Tooth Tiger.
97% of youths play one game or another. Americans log 10,000 hours of gameplay before they reach 21; the golden number Malcolm Gladwell believes you need to register to become a master.
Every great game includes magnetic ingredients that make us come back for more. Poker contains a lot of these, but it also suffers from a lack of them.
Games need a level of justifiable optimism to keep you locked onto the screen.
When I was younger, I was hooked on Tomb Raider well before people used the Internet to find solutions when a level became too difficult. I was stuck on a level for weeks. In the end, I stopped playing because I became frustrated. Had a friend not told me how to find what I was looking for I would have never played the game again.
Online poker can be like this for a recreational player. The games have gotten tougher, and the technology has become more advanced. In a classic poker tournament or cash game, the sense of achievement comes from winning money. If you win less and less then your levels of justifiable optimism, reduce until there is nothing left and you stop playing.
Running alongside justifiable optimism is the need to achieve goals. Games need these thresholds to produce a sense of achievement and happiness. If you aren’t happy, you won’t return.
Poker is a strange beast. You lose more than you win, and this applies even to the best players. When your only goal is to earn money, and you are losing, then your levels of happiness drop and you become sad, angry and frustrated.
Online poker rooms are aware of the need for goals, bonuses, and associated paraphernalia, and have created ways of unlocking various levels within the game, but it’s hardly the same as beating the end level boss in Fallout 4.
All the great games create epic experiences. Epic worlds, epic fights, epic confrontations.
What’s epic about poker?
Is competing in a 22,000 online multi-table tournament (MTT), epic?
In poker, epic experiences are limited to deep runs in tournaments, occasional wins, and rushes in cash games.
The most important element of any great game is storytelling. Mario Brothers, Tomb Raider, Quake, they are all built on the foundation of great storytelling.
Poker, especially online poker, is devoid of this vital element, and it’s something that all online poker rooms have either missed or can’t quite figure out how to implement.
The days of a teenager locking himself in his or her room to play video games solo are over. Most new video games are designed to cater for an ever increasing need for social interaction. Think of World of Warcraft (WOW), FIFA, and Grand Theft Auto. They are all games where you interact and socialise with a community while you play.
The community is at the core of live poker, but it’s missing in the online game. Players can communicate to each other via text, but it’s like using sticks and stones to light a fire instead of using a lighter.
FIFA 17’s The Journey
On September 27 the world will stop when EASports releases FIFA17. The biggest change to their latest instalment of the most popular sporting game franchise in the world is the introduction of The Journey.
In the past, football video game fans turned to titles like FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) when they wanted great action. The fans who wanted to delve into the management side of things, and who were less concerned about gameplay, focused their attention on Football Manager on the PC.
The Journey takes the two, merges them, and then takes the genre somewhere else entirely. You take control of Alex Hunter, the 17-year old son of football legend Jim Hunter.
Alex is from Clapham, London, and you manage his rise or fall through the journey of his professional career. Spurs forward Harry Kane and the most expensive teenager in the world, Man Utd’s Anthony Martial, were involved in the development of the game which took 18-months to create.
Check it out.
Poker’s The Journey
I think the idea behind FIFA17: The Journey would work perfectly for online poker.
Phil Galfond recently unveiled his plans to open an online poker room in Q1, 2017. Here is a paragraph from his manifesto.
“A poker site needs to believe in the dream of poker as a career. It shouldn’t cater to professionals over other players, but it must make every policy change with the viability of the dream in mind.”
When children play FIFA, they dream of one day becoming a professional footballer, and the game is designed to heighten those feelings.
Poker doesn’t do that.
Poker creates an experience where you deposit your money and then lose it. The alternative is to play a lottery style game, but now you have gone from playing a game like Fallout 4 to Tetris in one fell swoop.
For ease of explanation, I am going to use PokerStars as an example.
Why not create a character called Jim Galfond, son of Phil Galfond. He is 18-years old and wants to become a professional poker player. Using the universal storytelling principles, we can follow his progress as he begins playing tentatively on PokerStars all the way through to the game’s eventual climax winning a PokerStars Championship or World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) title.
The theme of the game would be transformation. The hero could be tailored to suit a wide variety of different demographics. The villain is the game itself, as well as the introduction of some key characters which you need to beat to progress through the game.
The set up can include Galfond’s progress as he learns bankroll management, staking, and backing. Scheduling, game selection and how to create allies through forums and mentor groups. PokerStars can have alliances with online training rooms and promote them through the game. And players can choose a cash game or tournament mode.
There can be an obligatory ‘All is Lost Moment’ when our young lad goes off the rails and loses his bankroll. PokerStars could work with gambling concern groups to make sure the lessons learned tie in with guides on how to gamble responsibly. As part of the journey, Team Pro will pick up the hero, and we can have cut sequences filmed by the actual stars of Pokerstars such as Daniel Negreanu, Vanessa Selbst, and Chris Moneymaker.
There can be an epiphanal moment where the hero gets his bankroll back together and travels around the world competing in tournaments/cash games as they progressively get tougher. The game can be a multi-player experience, although the bosses could be AI generated and could even be the likes of Jason Mercier, Jason Somerville, and co.
Remember the transformational theme.
The purpose would be to emerge from the other end of the game a better player, and hopefully, someone who is more likely to stick with online poker as a major hobby once the experience is over.
The story needs to be both realistic and entertaining and with this in mind the input of professional players is vital. As this is a story of a Millenial trying to become a pro poker player don’t ask Doyle Brunson and Phil Hellmuth for advice. Instead, turn to Fedor Holz or Charlie Carrel.
The storyline and characters must pull readers into a vice like grip. You can even have commentators like James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton delivering the action, and live stream sites like Twitch and YouTubeGaming can also get in on the act.
Why would this work?
It’s what people want.
There is nothing like this in poker.
The universal principles of great gameplay and storytelling are tried and tested.
Now, someone, anyone, give it your best shot.