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READING AN ONLINE POKER OPPONENT

The Chicago-based user experience consulting firm User Centric took an interesting look at the question of online poker tells and how to read these in an article this week.

 As psychologists and professionals in usability and user interface design the company was curious to see if additional behavioural cues can be gathered from an online poker site's user interface (UI) aside from how players use the betting buttons.
 
Is the rest of the UI purely for aesthetics or can players obtain a "read" on opponents based on how they use the various features on the site's UI, they asked?
 
The conclusion was that these elements can assist players to assess online poker tells.
 
"In particular, avatars could be a valuable source of information for players," the company suggests. "For online poker companies, this might be an opportunity to enhance the features and functions of avatars during game play.
 
"In the gaming world, avatars are used as physical representations in the virtual world. Avatars provide an extra layer of entertainment for gamers and allow gamers to embellish their gaming identities. It is not uncommon for individuals to create avatars that draw on some of their real-life physical traits."
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However, gamers sometime create alter-egos or represent themselves in ways that are otherwise not possible in real life. In a recent paper by Hussain and Griffiths, 57 percent of gamers were found to have engaged in gender swapping. Over two-thirds of females engaged in gender swapping when creating avatars, it was claimed. Reasons for gender swapping included different opportunities afforded by choosing an opposite-gendered avatar. The study also noted that females believed they would encounter less online harassment when assuming a male avatar. Overall, the authors' major conclusion was that choosing an opposite-gender avatar may affect the gamer's style of play and interaction with other gamers.
 
However, User Centric points out that the motives for selecting an avatar in online poker games may be quite different from those in other online games. Do players select an avatar that suits their poker style (e.g., selecting an ATM machine because the player is a loose player) or do players select avatars to induce opponents to make incorrect assumptions about the player and their style of play that equate to positive gains, whether it be play chips or real money? From a strategic vantage point, a poker player may select a specific type of avatar to suggest a loose style of play when, in fact, the player's style of play is tight and aggressive.
 
The article discusses various avatars with graphic illustrations, and the development of emotional displays introduced by major sites like Full Tilt Poker.com. It concludes that while poker avatars may have been traditionally thought of as a fun UI element, they also introduce simulated tells and bluffs to the game, and add richness to the online poker experience in ways that can't be done in a real life environment. The authors ask whether avatars could be developed further to enhance the user experience, and opines that this is possible.
 
"There is a clear opportunity for poker game developers to provide additional avatar features and functions that will appeal to both the novice and seasoned players," the authors state. "For example, future avatar enhancements we hope to see included are:
 
* Additional emotions: Given the gamut of emotions we've experienced at the poker table, one emotion that immediately came to mind was the feeling of intense nervousness. Perhaps avatars could show signs of sweating or having a rapidly-beating heart.
 
* Stealth mode: After making a bet, players could change their avatar to Stealth mode where the avatar puts on a pair of sunglasses, a branded baseball cap, or perhaps looks like Phil Laak in a hooded sweatshirt.
 
* The stare down: While waiting for an opponent to act after a bet or raise, players can engage a stare down feature. For example, the avatar's eyes could incrementally increase in size.
 
* The headphones: We had an internal debate about this suggestion, but it still has merit. What if an avatar had headphones on to signify they were playing on multiple tables? The headphones would symbolize the sometimes frustrating experience in casinos when players are too busy listening to their music to pay attention to the game. Headphones would provide a visual cue about a player's level of distraction, and since this information is already available on poker sites, we still think it is useful information for the other players at the table. It still won't make delayed play (due to multi-tabling) okay, but at least it allows players to provide a possible reason for their delay.
 
* Chip stack organization: Provide players the option of selecting from a variety of chip stack organization. Players sometimes use their chip organization to provide cues in the casino setting. At the online poker table, players could choose to have a "messy" chip stack or a very even symmetrical chip stack. Personally, we like to stack our chips in one tall pile to intimidate our opponents!
 
"These enhancements would appeal to the competitive nature of poker players, and we believe that sites that offer these kinds of features will attract both novice and seasoned players. For the novice player, a more interactive avatar simply adds to the overall experience. While recreational poker players play to win, there's also a "fun" component to playing. For the seasoned player, any additional layer of information that can be provided in a virtual environment helps narrow the gap between online poker and poker in a casino," the article concludes.



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