Very limited for now
PokerStars is testing the use of webcams at its virtual poker tables. First reported by Poker Industry PRO, “video chat” is currently only available on a limited basis in some “dot com” and “dot eu” markets and solely in Stars’ Home Games offering. It is also only integrated into the online poker leader’s browser interface; the feature is expected to roll out to the desktop and mobile apps early next year.
“Listening to player feedback, we’ve been working on the innovation and improvement of our Home Games, to give our community a more connected, enriched and exciting experience,” a spokesperson of PokerStars told Poker Industry PRO. “The new Home Games offering is now in beta testing on our web-based lobby. Player feedback has, and will continue to form, a key part of its evolution.”
See your poker buddies
Aside from that, no other information has been made public. As I live in the United States and don’t have access to PokerStars, I have not been able to test the new video chat feature, but it doesn’t take a leap of imagination to envision how it would work. It is video chat – we have all been using it to some extent for years in our everyday lives, particularly during the pandemic. It is also a feature that almost certainly can be muted or turned off completely.
As mentioned, it is currently only being tested in the Home Games product, which is a good idea. Private home games are the perfect situations to use video chat, as friends and family would likely love to see and talk to each other. Even in games that are more serious, the players using PokerStars’ Home Games are likely friendly competitors and may enjoy the contact.
It remains to be seen if PokerStars will ever consider rolling the feature out to tables beyond Home Games, but I would guess the chances of that are less than 50-50 and even then, it would probably only be at video chat-specific tables, not all the tables.
Not a new concept
This sort of thing has been tried before, but never really gained popularity. There was one online poker room many years ago – its name escapes me – that was founded as a video chat room, but it never took off (to be fair, it is hard to launch a successful online poker rooms, so it might have had nothing to do with the gimmick). 888poker has used it, and GGPoker introduced “SnapCam” last year, which isn’t video chat per se, but rather gives players the ability to make 15-second videos during games to send to tablemates.
But again, even though webcams have never really caught on in online poker, PokerStars’ trial is just for Home Games, where people are most likely to want to use them. In public games, players may have privacy concerns or just enjoy internet poker because of the anonymity. They can also lead to abusive chat and visual displays and some players might simply cover their cameras, giving them an advantage. Of course, the main benefits to players are that video chat would make poker more social and enjoyable, as well as bring it a bit closer to live poker.
For the online poker rooms, video chat can actually serve as a type of security measure. It can make it more difficult for players to have some else present assisting them or give clues as to whether or not someone is using some sort of software assistance.