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The Birth Of Mobile Poker - Part I

How One Small Company Took An Idea And Beat All The Big Players To Mobile Poker

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Launched in October 2010, Switch Poker was the world’s first mobile real-money poker site compatible with Apple devices such as the iPad and iPhone. It was a technologically demanding feat to get the product up and running but since then Switch Poker has continued to innovate and remains at the cutting edge of areas such as Bitcoin poker and mobile multi-tabling.

The holiday season is traditionally a time when lots of people receive new mobile devices so Card Player caught up with Conor McCarthy, one of the founders and developers of the site to find out more about the birth of mobile poker, where it’s at and what the future holds.

BM: Tell us a little bit about your background in gaming/poker and technology?

CMcC: I have a technical educational background, electing to do an electronic engineering degree and then a software development post grad. It was during my time in college that I was introduced to online poker, during the boom brought about by Chris Moneymaker’s World Series of Poker win. Like many others before me, and many after me, I started with cautious experiments at microstakes games, slowly building my bankroll and graduating to higher stakes no-limit hold’em games.

My first involvement in conducting online business-to-consumer business came shortly after when I set up my own business providing poker datamining software. It took off and gave me the both the capital and hunger to start something bigger.

During this I worked with Full Tilt Poker for a period where I both learned about the business of online poker and got to know some extremely talented software developers. There was no talk of starting an online poker site then, but I am sure that I wasn’t the only one whose mind it crossed.

BM: How did the idea for Switch Poker come about?

CMcC: In mid-2010, a year or so after my departure from Full Tilt, my business was for the most part running itself and I was left seeking something new to work on.
One day I opened my Gmail inbox to be greeted with an email from an ex-colleague of mine. It contained a link to a functioning proof of concept for an iPhone compatible poker site and a request for help in bringing it further. Having been frustrated with the lack of real money poker apps on the iPhone this was an ideal opportunity to do something about it. The timing was perfect on a number of levels.

On a personal level, I was in a place to start something new and had the time and capital to do it. There was no iPhone real money poker game available anywhere despite the iPhone commanding huge market share, having been released three years earlier. There were also rumors of an Apple tablet being launched later that year. In short I was instantly 100 percent on board with the project and the aim of bringing iPhone poker and iPad poker to the masses.

BM: How did you get the ball rolling when trying to set up Switch Poker and what were some of the difficulties you encountered?

CMcC: The next couple of months were a lot of fun. We worked many 16-hour days thrashing out the spec of the game. Would swear words be allowed in table chat? Does that sound really sound like cards being dealt? How do you handle multi-way split pots when there are four side pots on the table?

A lot of thought went into making the game easy to use on small handheld devices. We aimed for a simple and intuitive user interface. The layout of a typical poker game designed for large screens would not do. Tiny buttons designed to be clicked with a mouse pointer are no problem on a PC but might cause you to muck A-A preflop on a touch screen. Larger buttons mean much less space for other items and some workarounds were necessary, such as translucent bet sliders that appear over the table when necessary.

We wanted to have the game ready to go as soon after the iPad launched as possible and working off rumors of the spec for the upcoming iPad we created a client that what we hoped would work on the iPad. For the moment though, we had no way to know if it would work.

A brief trip to the U.S. left us in possession of a shiny new iPad. We held our breath as we loaded up our latest build of the game. Would it load at all? Much to our relief not only did it load up, it looked and worked great. It felt great being able to play poker wherever we were.

We tested it from connections on the other side of the world and it was perfectly responsive, as if you were playing somebody next door. So, we were now in possession of the only iPhone / iPad compatible HTML5 poker game. We had a launch to plan.

We racked our brains trying to come up with a name for the site. Everything we came up with sounded a bit naff. One day while I was talking to my fiancé about how we expected online players to switch from PC to mobile play she suggested Switch Poker as a name. It was perfect.

We picked a date a fortnight away and publically stated that this would be the day that iPhone/iPad users would be able to play mobile real money poker. There was no turning back now. On the day of the launch we took out a couple of ads, started a discussion on the forums and offered a few bonuses to the first players. The real money tables were scheduled to open at 6 p.m.. Neither of us knew what sort of reaction the game would get or, worst of all, if it would get no reaction at all. When 6 p.m. rolled around the reaction was better than either of us could have imagined.

There was a full blown torrent of players hitting the tables. Thousands of registrations in the first days. We no longer were concerned about empty tables and instead we worried if the servers would hold up as the CPU monitors bounced off 100 percent. The previous months load testing paid off as the game remained fast and responsive under high load. Finally after months of preparation and work we had reached the start line.

To be continued…