Live Programming Returns to The Xbox 360 With Full House PokerS

I wasn't very interested in the Xbox 360's 1 Vs. 100 until it was almost dead.

The online console game used real players signed in to the Xbox 360's Live network to replicate a television game show on a video game console. But the first time I saw it, it seemed just like any other trivia game.

It became something else entirely once I realized that everyone in the game - from the 101 contestants to the throngs of audience - were all controlled by real people around the country. It was, as Microsoft described it, live video game programming, a sort of synthesis of television show and video game.

But then it died. The victim of not a lack of interest by gamers, but seemingly a lack of money from advertisers.

The notion of video game as live programming didn't die with it, though.

Last week, Microsoft released Full House Poker. The first time I saw it, it seemed just like any other poker game.

But this past weekend it took it first steps toward trying to become Microsoft's next bit of live video game programming. Starting this week every Tuesday and Saturday, Xbox Live will play host to Texas Heat, a live Texas Hold Em' poker tournament played through Full House Poker and Xbox Live.

While the game doesn't support the ability for gamers to watch the tournament unfold, unless they're in it, Sean O'Connor, lead producer of Xbox Live games, likens it to a 30 minute game show. A game show that could in theory support 20,000 players at a time.

"1 Vs. 100 was based off a tv show, so it already had that TV show feeling," he said. "With ours we have an announcer who comes on, tells you about different things happening in the tournament. We tried to make it feel like a TV show.

"It's more about camera angles and call outs."

While playing the tournament, gamers will hear when friends in the tournament do something spectacular, good or bad, O'Connor said. So if a friend plays a particularly bad hand, or bluffs his way to a big win, you'll hear about it.

The team decided not to include any spectator mode, to thwart any potential cheating that might spur. But despite the lack of a live audience, the game's roots seem to be very much in the realm of television programming.

"It's a little bit like 1 Vs. 100, but it's not a replacement," he said. "We're trying to combine a television show experience with social gaming and video game experiences and put it into a bite size chunk."

The key way they're doing that is through the Full House Poker Texas Heat Spring Schedule. The nights will have different themes that reward extra experience points in different ways. For instance Ladies Night will give double experience to everyone playing with a female avatar, while Boys Night Out will double experience for those with a male avatar. Other themes include costume night, hyperblind night, beginners night, pro night, fame pays night and a straight-forward double XP night.

Every new season of Texas Heat will be a free download add-on, which allows the team to come up with new themes and ways to play. O'Connor said there are no plans to charge extra for those seasons.

While the same developers didn't work on 1 Vs. 100 and Full House Poker, O'Connor said that Microsoft learned a lot from running the two seasons of 1 Vs. 100.

This time around, Full House Poker makes all of its money off of game sales, so it won't be dependent of advertising to survive. It also won't give away big, real-world prizes. Instead, players will be rewarded with experience and in-game prizes.

So far the game appears to be doing quite well. O'Connor said that as of Friday there were more than 36,000 players listed on the leaderboard and that the top 42 players have already maxed out their avatars at level 50. The top bankroll was $21 million, he said.

"I am a little surprised at that," he said. "Some people have really been playing a lot. I didn't expect people to get that high that fast."

While the Texas Heat portion of the game can in theory support up to 20,000 people at a time, you'll only really be playing with 30. That's because those 30 are all that fit at the tables around you.

O'Connor said they found that making the number of people you end up playing against in a tournament much more than 30 doesn't really work, because it doesn't feel as personal.

While Microsoft haven't announced any future plans for live programming on the Xbox 360, O'Connor said it's something they're always looking at.

"We are always trying to expand on that and to look at new ways to do things," he said. "This is the next evolution of live programming, we can look at this and learn some lessons. There is something to be said for scheduled events. But it really depends on the game and if it's the right thing to do for the game."

Here's the full rundown of the first season of Texas Heat. All tournament play takes place three times a day. From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. East Coast, 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. West Coast and 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. UK.

Saturday, March 19
Beginners Night
Tuesday, March 22
Beginners Night
Saturday, March 26
Hyperblind Night
Tuesday, March 29
Beginners Night
Saturday, April 2
Boys Night Out
Tuesday, April 5
Fame Pays Night
Saturday, April 9
Ladies Night
Tuesday, April 12
Beginners Night
Saturday, April 16
Double XP Night
Tuesday, April 19
Hyperblind Night
Saturday, April 23
Costume Night
Tuesday, April 26
Beginners Night
Saturday, April 30
Fame Pays Night
Tuesday, May 3
Double XP Night
Saturday, May 7
Costume Night
Tuesday, May 10
Boys Night Out
Saturday, May 14
Pro Night
Tuesday, May 17
Double XP Night
Saturday, May 21
Costume Night
Tuesday, May 24
Pro Night