Can Pokerstars "Power Up" Breathe New Life into Poker?
PokerStars are currently in Alpha testing of their latest poker innovation "Power Up", and at face value the game certainly seems to be a whole lot more innovative than the likes of "Beat the Clock" or "Spin and Go". Whether or not it will catch the imagination of recreational or serious poker players, however, is another question entirely.
With the limited amount of detail Pokerstars have released regarding the game it's difficult to really know or explain too much about how the game works. According to Pokerstars it is a, "combination of traditional, enjoyable No Limit Hold’em injected with powers that give players the ability to influence how hands play out and change up game play in a variety of ways with boards, cards and chips". In a nutshell it sounds a little like a combination of poker, hearthstone, and magic the gathering.
As you can see in the graphic below, there will be a number of cards which give the players certain powers which can be used to change the game such as "Upgrade" which gives the player a third hole card, or "Disintegrate", which can be used to destroy a targeted card on the board. How cards are attained and when you can use them is not explained.
What is explained is that as well as introducing a whole host of new features to a poker game is that Pokerstars have been working on "Power Up" for some time. According to a blog post by Severin Rasset, Stars Director of Poker Innovations & Operations,
"We balanced the game for six months in a sandbox environment with a group of very high volume experienced poker players and gamers to attempt to break the game in every possible way. We integrated a new engine within our software, created animations and powers, and put a lot of time and thought into how poker players will have fun with the game. Fun is one of the hardest things to measure and you can never be sure if the game will hit the right spot for players. However, having seen poker pros and focus group members asking to play again, and smiling and laughing as they're playing, I feel confident that we really have something that our players will enjoy as much as we do."
Rasset also talks about what he sees as the "common goal" of PokerStars innovations, namely that they seek to, " maintain a high level of engagement from our active players, to reactivate players that may be tired of playing poker as it is today, and to speak to potential players that haven't discovered the game yet."
As you might expect, there has been a certain degree of cynicism on the forums with many dismissing the latest innovation as another "cash grab" by Amaya to earn more rake and eviscerate the serious players, or that it is simply a rip-off of the GPI's "HoldemX". However, not all the voices are dissenting, with 2+2 poster ChicagoRy quite rightly pointing out that "Odds are that any single new variant/promotion isn't very successful, but they should keep trying, it's how you innovate and discover new games that might be popular with new crowds and/or reinvigorate existing players."
Another poster "Melontown", a former highstakes MTT grinder, explains that although he has no affilliation with Stars/Amaya now that he worked on the design and balance team for the game for six months and genuinely believed it to be "awesome". and that "The game was genuinely very interesting, and created a ton of strategic depth". He also said the game was in development before anyone had ever heard of "HoldemX" and that "with all due respect this game is 10 times better".
It is still early days for "Power Up" and many more changes are expected before any kind of real money version is released, but personally I think that something like this can only be a good thing. There is a ready-made market for a poker/esport crossover, and if Pokerstars can get the balance right then "Power Up" could provide a great platform for bringing more esport fans/players over to poker, or for generating more interest in general in poker. With the current game getting so tough to beat, will something like "Power Up" give players the opportunity to create new edges?
Of course some of the skill of poker will be compromised with any tampering of the traditional dynamic, but with the addition of new strategic elements it could end up being not only profitable, but also more "fun" for those new to the game - certainly more fun than logging into a micro-stakes table and finding a table full of highly competent regs.
Whaetever the end result, we're certainly more excited by the idea of "Power Up" than we were by "Beat the Clock" or "KO Poker"!
Check out Pokerstars teaser clip of "Power Up"