Texas Hold'em: History

In the early spring of 1999 my father decided he should try to do what so many others have done -- form a WWW business, go public, wait for the stock price to go through the roof, sell out, become a millionaire and retire early. The only question was, what type of business should it be?

One of my brothers, who is somewhat of a poker expert, later on suggested a multi-player poker site, where people use real money. It wasn't a new idea. There were a few such sites already (e.g. Planet Poker), but the market was growing and it wasn't too late to grab a share, provided one had some kind of competitive advantage.

In our case that would be Java. Normally people need to download and install a bunch of client software, but we would create a site where everything runs straight from the web. This isn't a new idea either (see e.g. the Yahoo games section), but so far the existing Java alternatives had been visually unimpressive. Boring, in fact. A good-looking Java poker game with a reasonably short download time would combine the best of both worlds.

My part in all this was to build the game. I had no real prior experience of multi-player Java environments, so I accepted it for the challenge. (My brother took on the web design and administration part and my father would handle the business strategy and finances.)

There were no particular guidelines regarding the game graphics, other than that they had to be inexpensive in terms of memory, easy to understand and compact enough to fit onto a low-resolution screen.

I did my best to make each player character as distinct and unique as possible: a cool guy with sunglasses and a loud shirt, a big-bosomed blonde, an alien, a fat rich guy, a black body-builder, a robot, a little old lady, a red-headed girl with pigtails, some guy in a hat and trenchcoat, a clown.

Needless to say, this game doesn't take itself too seriously. It is supposed to be fun and budget-sized.

There had to be a text window, explaining each step of the game, plus a chat window where the players could talk to each other. In addition, I came up with the idea to have a schematic overview of the game board. Colored pie charts would represent each player's actions. But there wouldn't be enough room for all three, so I stacked them on top of each other and let them share the same space, as you can see in the picture to the right.

After a year or so, we dropped this "wheel" overview in favor of a more traditional control panel. I also made the playing window larger and changed the viewing angle from a straight down top view to something more slanted. And when the time came to start using real money, it was decided that we should change some of the characters, to give the game a more sober approach.

Hence, the clown, the alien, the robot and the girl with pigtails were replaced with slightly more normal people, inspired by real-life poker champions and poker-related movies. In parallel, we launched a second client applet with 3D-rendered graphics, created by a professional 3D artist.

These days PokerRoom is a well-established gaming site with over a million registered users. Along the way we added a poker tournament game and several casino-type games like Black Jack and slot machines. But my Texas Hold'em is now finally about to be retired, and I have moved on to cell phone software development.