Remember when our poker client used to look like this?
I do. When I first started playing poker online, my first real money hands were with Microgaming’s poker software. My PC had a small CRT monitor, ran Windows XP, and had a dial up modem. I was a student with no responsibilities, very little money, and a lot fewer grey hairs.
At that time, Microgaming’s poker software was up there with the best. It was fast, feature-rich, and stable – at a time when poker software was often flaky. Microgaming was early to market with many innovations. Some, like anonymous tables (2010) and mobile poker (early 2011) were successful and became the norm. Others, like rabbit hunting… not so much.
Fast forward to 2018 and my watch has more processing power than my old PC. The world has moved on, and although our software has been developed constantly since then, it has not held up well against the competition.
Part of the problem is that for years we’ve been developing our software multiple times. When I first joined the company, Microgaming had six different poker clients. There was a download client for Windows (C++), a client for browsers (Flash), another client for browsers with a different feature set (also Flash), a download client for Mac (AIR), a client for mobile devices (HTML5 etc) and a native client specifically for Android (Java).
Because almost every client was built in different technologies, that meant that every feature had to be developed six times. Alternatively, it was only developed for a subset of the clients, meaning that the other clients fell behind.
There were other problems too. A poker client built in C++ is hard to develop. C++ is a legacy language and new developers learn it’s more modern equivalent, C#. So we struggled to find people with the right skills.
The security environment is very different in 2018 too. At least twice a year, we pay for an independent third-party provider to perform security and penetration testing on our software. This has led to changes to our software over the years to harden our defences, most of which has been invisible to the user. Things that were considered secure 15 years ago (such as SSL) are no longer safe today, and our software has adapted accordingly. But of course, it’s significantly more time consuming to retrofit modern security practices into an old product.
Don’t get me started on regulations… just imagine developing six different poker clients for every regulated market, and how slow that might be.
Thankfully, we have recognised this problem and have been taking steps to address it. We have built a new poker client, from the ground up, in modern technologies.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve been gradually replacing or deprecating the six clients. The new code rolled out to mobile first – after all, it was built with mobile devices in mind – and last year, we replaced our browser client with the new code too. We have just two clients now – a download client for Windows and Mac, and a web client for desktop and mobile browsers.
The final piece of the puzzle is the download client.
Our current download client is full of features that nobody uses. Did you know that you can configure the bet slider to raise in three different ways, with 5 different shortcut buttons, with custom profiles for pre-flop and post-flop, separate profiles for NL and PL, and separate profiles for flop games versus Stud or Draw games? Did you know we have three types of hand history (not counting the database file that tracking software uses)?
Our new download client simplifies the experience greatly and goes back to basics. We’ve kept the stuff that people actually use – like the loyalty, bonus and achievements features – and got rid of the things that they don’t – like 5 Card Stud, the mini view table and, perhaps controversially, the chat feature.
In the technology world, this first release is known as our ‘Minimal Viable Product’ or MVP. The idea is not to predict what people will want in the future, but to release the bare minimum to market, measure performance and user sentiment and then quickly implement feedback. To that end, we’re building a feedback system into the client which players can use to tell us what they like and what they don’t, so that we can take this into account as quickly as possible.
We also showed an early, in-development version of the new client to players at our most recent MPN Poker Tour event, in Bratislava. In addition to demonstrating the software on a stand at the event, we held in-depth focus groups with experienced players to understand what they wanted from the client. As a direct result of this feedback we are already making changes, such as making casino games less prominent, adjusting the design and layout of various UI elements, and introducing a new and improved hand history replayer. Check out this video for more.
This new approach is just one of a host of ways in which we have modernised our software development process to align with best practice, eliminate waste and become more competitive. We have also significantly increased the size of our development team. Ultimately, this will lead to new features being delivered more quickly and with higher quality than ever before.
Drum Roll Please
In a nod to our history, we’re calling the new client ‘Prima’. Meaning ‘first’ in Italian, the name represents our ambition to reclaim our position at the very top of the industry.
Here’s a sneak preview of what it looks like:
The client will be launched towards the end of July. For a while you’ll be able to play on both the Prima client and the old download client, but later in the year (depending on the feedback we get) we will upgrade people to the Prima client automatically.
Screenshots are nice, but you really have to interact with the software to understand how much better it is. Because it has been built from scratch using modern tech, it’s much faster, smoother and crisper than our previous client. Playing a game of poker, no matter what device you use, is a much nicer experience. And we’ve been able to build in support for modern devices from the beginning – for example, we’re the first poker provider to offer an ‘Ultra HD’ mode, which increases the resolution of graphics to support UHD and retina displays.
There are a few surprises in store for our players when the client launches, and plenty more to come in the future. It’s an incredibly exciting and pivotal time for Microgaming poker, and I can’t wait to share more with you as the launch approaches. If you’d like to stay up to date, follow us on Twitter at @ThrillOfPoker.
Until then, ciao.
We’re releasing a new download poker client in July. It will be a lot nicer than the old one. We’re really excited about it.
Alex Scott (@AlexScott72o) is Head of Product (Network Games) at Microgaming, which operates the MPN and Indian Poker Network, and provides poker services to Adjarabet.
Any opinions contained in this blog are the personal views of the author only, and not of any other person or organisation.