A balance of tech and people in revamping online poker.
Start ups sometimes come and go, but typically you can look at the individuals behind it and think there might be something special here. With signs of the online poker market continuing to grow, Gaming Eminence speaks with Heath Cram COO of start up 4Poker, as we discuss history and lessons from PokerStars, building out software and engineering teams, Bots and HUDs, and emerging technologies in Online Poker.
GE) In your 10+ years at PokerStars, if you had to break down what top five lessons you learnt from a back-end infrastructure and technological perspective that you feel will enable you to be in the best position in navigating the helm as the COO of 4Poker?
HC) It probably depends what day of the week you ask me, but I think the following five guidelines are ones that I’ve found myself to lean on.
Don’t tightly integrate your core systems. Build the platform as if you were preparing it to offer it B2B.
Hire more people who are wizards with 3rd party integration. It allows you more flexibility with middle tier and API development
Don’t hard-code everything. Take extra time to build configurability.
Care about quality and agree scope to MVP. When you build cheap/fast, you build twice. Or never again and have to retain the poor minimum.
Don’t overprocess. More squad, agile and high-level requirements; less backlog, waterfall and detailed business requirement docs.
GE) How has your approach been in building out the software and engineering team at 4Poker? And what type of experience and skill sets have you focused on and why?
HC) We were fortunate enough to have a lot of non-gaming engineers already developing a top class back-office and bringing new technologies and different skillsets to the space. This has coupled well with our acquisition of core server, poker and gaming experts.
Our approach has been to take the best elements that we know have worked previously, while at the same time avoiding those that we have learnt create legacy issues down the road. That combination helps us to avoid some huge pitfalls.
GE) In your option do you feel operators are taking the right or wrong approach in relation to Bots and HUDs?
HC) I see the two topics as posing distinctly different challenges and threats. GGPoker is the current leader in poker and they have gone with the completely transparent and available use of an integrated HUD. I assume they see this as fair, as it’s available to all.
On the flipside, we will go the other way and not permit use of HUDs at all. It speaks to our mission of returning poker as a game of skill back on a level playing field, with no advantage granted to anyone with additional resources. It’s only really a problem if you take the stance in between: not providing a HUD but also not strictly prohibiting 3rd party use through monitoring and action. Any operator doing this is taking the wrong approach in my opinion.
In terms of bots, there should just be zero tolerance and anything else is wrong. Any poker platform bringing out an offering built with bots or focusing on bot play is not treating the game or the players properly.
GE) What impact do you see emerging technology such as blockchain, cryptocurrencies and VR having in online poker from an operator and customer perspective?
HC) VR is a brief topic to address, because beyond the PokerStars product – which I think is fantastic – it doesn’t really exist or at least hasn’t taken off. I think that’s true of in all gaming, not just poker. I don’t have a strong view of when - or if it ever will - stick either, with the current kit requirements and constraints.
Crypto is not really emerging in gaming anymore: it’s ever-present. Whether via a wallet payment method, or direct integration, it is something players have come to expect as an option. There are huge crypto-only gaming sites which use blockchain with everything from funding to bet placement, settlement and withdrawal. The mix of fiat and conversion of crypto makes it a little more challenging, but not impossible and something players will increasingly come to expect operators to solve.
Other interesting innovations I’ve seen are less web3 and more blockchain technology. For example, Verification and Authentication of accounts are an interesting use-case for smart contracts. NFTs are also interesting, albeit novel, because they offer engagement with blockchain and crypto. If there’s one thing the console gaming, social and mobile gaming spaces have recognised and adapted to is that people do take great interest in non-monetary possessions and achievements.
About our contributor
Heath Cram is COO of 4Poker. He has close to two decades of online gaming experience, most notably 15 years with PokerStars and Full Tilt. Heath was a PokerStars Board Director and was also the youngest director ever appointed. He is an experienced leader of teams as large as 900 and has managed launches with PokerStars sports betting offering BetStars, the Full Tilt Poker relaunch, and through sports data giant Sportradar. He has a Post Graduate award (with Distinction) in Business Administration. Visit 4poker.com