December 11, 2008 (InfoPowa News) — 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 at http://www.usercentric.com/about/news_item.php?m_id=4&s_id=4&id=198.
 
As psychologists and professionals in usability and user interface
design, the company was curious to see if additional behavioral 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.”
 
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.