Back in a previous life I used to teach scuba diving as a hobby. That’s where I met tarix. He was a video game software engineer and I was managing a software development team at eToys. We hit it off and over the years we’ve become great friends.
tarix got into poker shortly after I did and he and I have spent countless hours playing poker together in Los Angeles and Las Vegas before he decided to move to Japan.
He eventually migrated from video games to working for PokerTracker so I thought it would be interesting to share his thoughts on what it takes to develop an essential piece of software for the poker community.
What is the most challenging aspect of developing software for the poker community?
By far the most challenging part of developing poker software is writing powerful tools that are easily used by a wide spectrum of online poker players. Our customers have a very wide range of both technical and poker skill so for each feature we consider how a novice player would use the feature as well as allowing for the advanced features and customization that more advanced players require. PokerTracker 3 was praised for the massive amount of customization it allowed, but this also scared off less technical users.
With PokerTracker 4 we’ve made sure all of our user’s need are met without the need to perform customization, but for our power users extensive customization options remain. Also, we’re getting a lot of good feedback from our customers which in turns helps us improve things for both our novice and advanced users, you could say that our users helped us design PokerTracker 4.
As one of PokerTracker’s developers, what are some hidden features or functionality in PT4 that you feel don’t get the attention they deserve?
We worked hard to make sure PokerTracker 4 is very easy to use, while retaining the ability to be a highly configurable application. PT4 was designed so most users will not need to do any customizations at all, but if you decide to get under the hood the it certainly can take a lot of time to really dig into all of the customization we allow for. This functionality isn’t really hidden from the user, but we did work to make sure it is not that daunting at first. If you really want to take advantage of all that PokerTracker offers I think the most overlooked feature is our community at large. We post tips and release announcements to both Facebook and Twitter, make regular announcements in the built in social hub called COMMUNITY, regular posts on 2+2 or any other forum with significant traffic that welcome us, and our own very active forum whose members are constantly pushing the limits of what PokerTracker 4 can do. Finally we also have the Download Warehouse where users can download custom stats, reports, replayer and deck themes, and HUD designs… many of which were community generated.
What’s the feature that you’re the most proud of as part of the development team?
For most users the HUD is the part of PokerTracker that they use the most. Thus when we were developing PokerTracker 4 we put a lot of effort into developing the new Vector HUD Engine. it is also the improvement that I’m most proud of. With the vector HUD engine we took the power of the graphics chips that are already in everyone’s computers and put them to use for poker. Users with one or two tables on a very small screen or users with many small tables on a large screen will benefit the most for this innovation, it allows the table to be scaled without the need to reposition the on table HUD groups. It also allows for some creative uses of table stacking for advanced multi tabling players, you could have your stack be one size, and still readable, while using a slightly larger size for your unstacked tables.
What is the biggest challenge in keeping the product current with the needs of the poker community?
Right now the biggest challenge is keeping up with the changes in the poker landscape as sites and networks make changes. There are always shifts in priorities that come suddenly and we have to react quickly to meet these challenges. For example the latest craze is what we call “Fast Tables”. this is fast fold poker like Zoom and we’ve been quick to release HUD support for all of the major networks as they go live. Finally, we are anticipating that online poker will start to become legalized in the US again in some form and that will most certainly present new challenges.
How has being on the development team for PT software helped your poker game?
If anyone sees me at the virtual tables I don’t think they have too much to fear because I spend more time researching new technology and looking for ways to improve the guts of PokerTracker than I do improving my poker game. We have other staff at PokerTracker whose goal is to guide the development team in the right direction, they are the keepers of the poker knowledge, but I learn and improve as a player when this information is passed on to me. The amount of collective knowledge we have is pretty astounding, I’ve gotten to meet and interact with a lot of world class poker players who have acted as our guides from both the online and live scene. An excellent example is during the WSOP I decided to learn to play PLO and so I immediately got copies of all of Jeff Hwang’s books so that I could learn the basics. Later on that week, after some ups and downs trying to apply those strategies, I had the opportunity to discuss PLO with both Jeff Hwang and Tri Nguyen. In turn those discussions, in addition to the experience of playing live, helped me understand a lot more about what PLO players need and how those needs differ from Holdem players.
How does being a poker player help you as one of the developers on an app like this?
Being familiar with modern poker is definitely a requirement of everyone on the PokerTracker team. For me it really helps to understand current poker strategy so that I can understand what the needs of our users are and what they struggle with at the tables. Although I am just one of many developers on our team, I feel it’s very important for everyone on our team to know first hand what it’s like to try and keep up with twelve tables at once and to understand what data is most important and what data can be put off a few seconds. We actually made several large changes to how we query the database for statistical information so that it was more feasible to multi-table on older hardware, we understand that not all players use the most recent technology. Without a good insight of the needs of poker players it becomes very hard to make those decisions;, understanding how to merge the limitations of technology with our customer’s needs is one thing that is really setting us apart from our competition right now.
Where does PokerTracker draw the line between ease of use and advanced features?
A huge focus for PokerTracker 4 was improving the user experience. We were very happy with the functionality of PokerTracker 3, especially the technology we had under-the-hood, but the user interface was starting to show a little age. PokerTracker 3 was designed like a car, we could use the base engine to develop the newer PokerTracker 4 model by making changes to the body and improving the engine performance . There were some initial PT3 experiments with reports and the replayer; those prototypes ended up forming the basis of the visual look of PokerTracker 4. In fact we were so happy with the results that we actually ended up adding a lot more to the final product than we had planned on. Features like NoteTracker and Independent Chip Model (ICM) analysis started off as minor additions, but ended up being major parts of the PokerTracker 4 experience… some might say NoteTracker is one of the most important parts of the new PT4 workflow. We also have plans for more tools such as automated tagging which are useful for neophyte players and professionals alike for different reasons. This and all of the other features which we plan to add over time will all work seamlessly within the players workflow, we do not release new features until the player’s needs are met and the experience is seamless.
How much work goes into a major release like PT4?
The amount of effort that went into PokerTracker 4 is pretty amazing especially when you consider all of the feedback we received from our users, our coaching partners, and our beta testers. Before we announced PokerTracker 4 we spent hours looking through the feedback we got from our users and spent a lot of time with online professionals to find out what they felt was missing or could be done better. Then we held a very open beta where anyone could participate and give their feedback. During beta we were able to tweak several of our new features and even add a few things that our beta users felt were very important.
tarix* is the pseudonym for one of the key members of the PokerTracker 4 Development team. Prior to joining PokerTracker in 2008, tarix enjoyed a very successful development career in video game industry. Although tarix is originally from the USA, he currently resides in Japan with his wife.
* The true identities of all PokerTracker 4 development team members are required to remain confidential as a condition of their employment with PokerTracker, users are welcome to interact with tarix and all other developers at pokertracker.com.