Despite the ups and downs, online poker has been going strong for over a decade, though little has changed in the way of innovation.
There have been different formats of the same games with a few cosmetic changes; however, when compared to other elements of the internet, poker has lagged behind.
While the web has been almost unrecognisably transformed by innovation in the last ten or so years, the basic design of almost every online poker table remains unchanged and can be written down on a five-point list:
1) Draw an oval.
2) Colour the oval green.
3) Add 2/5/6/8/9/10 blocks an equal distance apart around the oval.
4) Place text inside the blocks, with player names and stack sizes.
5) Include a random image or an avatar (an old lady or a man in a tuxedo, perhaps).
And voila, a poker table.
PKR was the first poker room to break the mould. The site embraced 3D graphics with animations, along with social-networking capabilities, to produce a poker game that helps attract the casual gamer.
More recently, 888 introduced a new feature to its poker room and has already produced a television commercial to promote it (though the ASA banned the commercial recently, for being too sexy). The new feature: webcam poker, which provides the ability to view and hear your opponents at the table. The feature brings fun and entertainment back into poker, enticing the casual gamer.
The basic design of a poker room today is useful for someone looking to grind countless hands. Pokerstars is the industry-leader for that reason. Everything is geared up to allow to allow for fast-decision making scalability
Casual gamers, however, want interaction. They want to chat with opponents, get to know them, engage in friendly banter. It could allow poker to be a hobby to enjoy, rather than a competition to be intimidated by. Plus, a webcam provides entertainment to any bad beat.
It is not perfect. Webcam poker can be slower than a regular online game as the extra PC resources required may cause connectivity issues or lag for some players. Right now, the feature looks more like a trendy gimmick rather than anything that can revolutionise poker.
In time, however, broadband will be available for the most remote locations and speeds will increase. The cost of webcams with the capability to produce high-definition images will also drop in price, and all laptops will soon have webcams inserted into the casing as standard.
What might be a trendy gimmick now could become the standard in the future. When online poker was being played via IRC chat in the 1990s, nobody knew that it would explode into the global spectacle that poker has become. Now, the amount of people who go to pubs to play a league format only for points, or the number of registered users for Zynga Poker, shows that poker can be played without the need for profit.
To create features that make online poker more sociable can only help to increase long-term traffic for an operator by giving those not looking to take the game seriously a more entertaining, less intimidating way to play. Webcam poker will help achieve that.