Monday, November 08, 2004


"Hamlet," Emmy Guillaume tells me, slinkily lounging near the table as the cards are dealt, "we are usually all dressed up... but this is a friendly afternoon game." 

Then again, "dressed up" is a relative phrase, when you're already playing poker with what looks to be a mob henchman, a Russ Meyer starlet, a university professor, and a grizzled hobo in a trucker cap.

Texas Hold 'Em poker made its debut in Second Life a couple months or so ago, the brainchild of Archaegeo Platini and his team.  Since many Second Life casinos already run various kinds of single-player, poker-style card game machines, that wasn't first the challenge he faced.  His goal was to create poker in a multiplayer format, where players couldn't see each other's cards, even if they were to sneakily adjust their camera view, to try and steal a peak.

In Texas Hold 'Em, several cards are dealt face up on (or in this case, hovering above) the table, and players take turns betting, based on the best hand they can create from those and the cards that each of them hold in their hands.  Platini's elegant solution is to turn "dealing" into a matter of moving around inventory items.  When you're dealt a card, in other words, it appears as a graphic texture in your inventory; visible on your display, but only to you.  That way, only you know your hand, until all the final bets are in-- after which, the game's scripting mechanism reveals it to everyone at the table.  Meantime, it also helps keep track of what's dealt, what's bet, and by whom.  The game processes bets by voice command, with the human dealer (in this case, Archaego himself) assisting the process with payouts and Vegas patter:

Texas Hold'em:  The bet is 20 to: AngelTk Beckenbauer

Texas Hold'em:  Catfart Grayson calls.

AngelTk Beckenbauer: Raise.

Archaegeo Platini:  Five in.

Texas Hold'em: The bet is 40 to: Johnnie Fairplay

Texas Hold'em: AngelTk Beckenbauer raises the bet by 20

Texas Hold'em: Johnnie Fairplay raises the bet by 20

Archaegeo Platini: Johnnie jumps on board.

But the winner is personally paid off by the dealer; it's not by an automatic process. 

"Two reasons," Platini explains.  "One, 16K per script sucks.  Two, live dealers from our feedback means a more fun and social game."

Still, the stakes can get fairly high.   "Our record pot for a limit table is 6200 Linden Dollars, " Archaegeo tells me.  "Our record payout for a tournament table is L$11700."  (And that was over a month ago, when I first sat in on a few rounds of Hold 'Em.)

Since the betting can run into the thousands of Linden dollars, a high degree of trust is assumed-- especially since the games are conducted entirely online.   So I ask Platini about how the house builds trust.

"With the money that high," I ask him, "it could lead to questions about the veracity of the coding. How do you assure players that the house is on the up and up?"

"They trust me or they don't," says Platini.  "I have a pretty good rep.  I can even play if I want, while I deal; not even dealers can see the downcards.  When I deal, I can't see what you have down."

"And he built his trust!" The bosomy starlet named AngelTk Beckenbauer pipes up.

This is because when he's not dealing, he runs and teaches at something called Ancient Earth Univeristy, down the road from our gambling den.

quot;Folks got to know me through my teaching," he says, "trusting me there.  Then we did limit tables for over a week... So yeah, I COULD be cheating, but there is nothing really in it for me, since they aren't playing against the house."

Catfart Grayson speaks up on the other side of the table:  "My view," observes Catfart, "he can't directly make money, because most goes to other players.  So any scam would have to be pretty sophisticated and involve several people."

"My intent was a very social game too," Platini continues,  "Which is why there is no single-player slot machines or anything [like that] here." 

Still, when it comes to trust, he's already given the essential issue his attention.   "I've thought about forming a Casino Committee," he says, "and I'd go around, look over a casinos' scripts, then lock them under my name, saying they conform to Vegas rules of odds... [I]t would be a matter of folks letting me verify their scripts."

"Sort of an SL Gambling Commission," Emmy suggests.

"But if it caught on," Platini notes, frowing, "then folks could only play where the table says 'Verified by Archaegeo' or some such nonsense.  And if they look at the script, I'm the owner." 

So creating the game is just the first step; creating the sense of trust to make it successful, or the social compact to extert some kind of regulatory ethic-- that's the script that still might need working on.

Posted at 03:42 AM | Permalink


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