Of all the games that we’ve created in the Blindfold Game series last year, the one I didn’t expect to be so popular was Blindfold Blackjack.
We built the game at the suggestion of one of the visually impaired people I met at Perkins School for the Blind. She had just been to Las Vegas for a convention and she loved playing Blackjack. Her colleague read the cards for her, and she played for hours. When we met back in Boston a few weeks later, she asked if I could build a Blackjack game.
After the game was mentioned on a few websites that feature audio games for the blind, I started receiving suggestions for creating more casino games. There was already a pretty good slot machine game, and I was thinking about doing a better version, when one of the gamers suggested a building a poker game.
The challenge in creating a good poker game is that you need people to play against, or you need the computer to be a savvy poker player. I considered the first option, but at that point, I didn’t know if enough people would get the app in order to play. If there aren’t enough people who have already downloaded the game, then, when you start a new game, there won’t be anyone to play with you.
The second option was a technical challenge. Building a computer emulation of a good poker player is a very complex task; there are dozens of research papers on the best way to bet and play a hand. Since I’m not a poker player, I figured it would require months of study and analysis to create a good computer player.
I determined a video poker game would give some of the aspects of poker, but eliminate much of the complexity. In video poker, you get 5 cards, and you reject up to 5 cards in the hopes that the replacement cards would improve your hand. The game took several weeks before it was ready for testing, and employed the same gestures that worked in Blindfold Blackjack.
Like Blindfold Blackjack, we made the app appropriate for both sighted and visually impaired gamers. The screen looks like a video poker machine, and you tap the screen to insert a coin. Five cards are displayed and spoken, and you review the cards by swiping left and right. If you find a card you want to reject, you tap that card. When you are ready to get your replacement cards, you swipe down on the screen. Side note – we’ve since found out that the sighted people rarely play our apps, so the images and graphics are irrelevant.
Almost every gamer who played Blindfold Blackjack also played Blindfold Video Poker. That’s when the floodgates opened. I started getting requests for roulette, craps, Texas Hold’em, and dozens of other casino games.
We learned from this game the extent of customization that gamers demanded. Changing the speaker’s voice speed, gender and pitch was a common request, along with an ability to reduce sound effects and spoken instructions as the gamer becomes more proficient in using the game.
Gamers also wanted to have a choice of the sound made when they win: coins falling into a metal tray, or speaking the dollar amount of their winnings; a choice of sounds that indicate that they won, and those sounds had to be related to how was won; a choice of what denomination chip to use for betting ($1 or $5), and the money must be spoken in the local currency (dollars, pounds, euros, rupees, etc.); an ability to turn on or off the announcement of how many chips they still had; a choice of the sound when rejected cards are replaced: a spinning video poker reel, or a card flap, and so on.
Just like with Blindfold Blackjack, Blindfold Video poker gives the gamer a few chips each day to play, so they don’t have to make any in-app purchases. If they like the game, they can purchase more chips. Unlike most Las Vegas style gambling apps, we created an in-app purchase for unlimited chips, and found that the majority of gamers selected that option.
We still may do a real poker game, but not until we have many more gamers enjoying our Blindfold Gamers.