Bicycle Casino Was One of the Best Xbox Casino Games, Despite Its Flaws
Back in 2004, Leaping Lizard Software made a casino game for Xbox, licensed by Bicycle Playing Cards and published by Activision’s value branch. The game in question was Bicycle Casino, offering a ton of different casino games for players to enjoy offline or, for the first time on a home gaming console, online where they could play against other players on Xbox LIVE.
The game came out at the tail end of 2004. It boasted 27 casino games in total, including craps, blackjack, slots, and money wheel, as well as a ton of different poker games: 5 Card Draw, 7 Card Stud, 7 Card High-Low, Lowball, Razz, Omaha, Omaha High-Low, pai gow poker and, of course, Texas hold ’em. While the game promised 500 game variations, in reality, the total number of games included sat somewhere between 100 and 200. The game’s budget $30 price point allowed it to amass a solid player base, most of which were lured in by the promise of being able to play Texas Hold ’em online against other people.
Average Single Player But Transformative Multiplayer
Now, the single-player portion of Bicycle Casino was middling. While the game offered an impressive number of casino games to play, the visuals weren’t up to snuff, and the audio portion was also subpar. On top of that, opponent AI was all over the place. Virtual opponents would make highly illogical bets at the poker table, and they wouldn’t know when to stop in blackjack, always trying to get too close to 21 even when they had a hand of 17 or 18. Thanks to this, the game received average ratings.
That said, playing slots or craps on your own could give you about half a dozen hours of offline fun, enough to kill a few afternoons. And while poker games and blackjack featured poorly designed AI opponents, the games could’ve been fun if Leaping Lizard Software decided to build upon the game’s solid foundation with multi-table tournaments or a single-player campaign found in Bicycle Casino’s main competitor back in the day, High Rollers Casino, published by Bethesda. Unlike Bicycle Casino, Bethesda’s alumni featured a full 3D casino open for exploration as well as a multitude of single-player game modes to keep you busy,
But Bicycle Casino had an ace in its sleeve High Rollers Casino couldn’t match: you could jump into multiplayer and try your luck against other people, all with live voice chat and emoji reactions. The online component worked well and thanks to the inclusion of Texas Hold ’em and Blackjack, Bicycle Casino servers were teeming with would-be cardsharps ready to talk trash and knock you off the table, empty-pocketed. And it was wonderful.
Playing Texas hold ’em and blackjack online, on a home console, with real-time voice chat was glorious. Each game would be chock-full of playful banter, and since the crowd here was diametrically different from loud-mouthed teens in Halo 2 multiplayer servers, the general atmosphere was lighthearted and chill. People would be reserved at the start, but after a while, everyone would relax, and the party could start.
Bets were made, and virtual money was gained and lost, but virtual socializing was at the heart of most games. Playing online poker from the comfort of your couch after a long day at work was a super fun way to blow some steam. For a while, Bicycle Casino’s poker and blackjack servers were full of players.
Yeah, yours and other players’ avatars weren’t animated, and the game lacked any kind of soundtrack to elevate the atmosphere between games, but the sheer fun of playing casino games against other people on a home console was enough to keep the servers full. Bicycle Casino’s moment under the spotlight, however, ended sooner than expected.
Bicycle Casino Multiplayer Was Awesome, But the Lack of Certain Features Probably Killed the Game’s Long-term Popularity
Bicycle Casino’s popularity fell off a cliff sooner rather than later. Less than a year after its release, servers were no longer chock-full of players testing their luck in Texas hold ’em and blackjack, the majority of the player base moved on. The sudden drop in popularity of Bicycle Casino stems from two issues.
The first reason Bicycle Casino’s servers turned into a ghost town was the lack of meaningful progression. The game didn’t keep a record of personal multiplayer achievements, meaning online casino-goers couldn’t look at their career stats, or bask at the number of wins at the poker table. Further, there were no multiplayer leaderboards; players couldn’t even unlock new avatars, vanity items such as clothing, or new emojis.
Multiplayer game modes were also quite limited. There was no support for multi-table tourneys or in-game events, similar to what we can find in sites like spinfever.io for example. In a nutshell, Bicycle Casino lacked any means to create long-term engagement, offline or online.
But the game could’ve strived and stayed popular despite the lack of progression and game modes if only it offered ways to spend real money in multiplayer. If players were able to spend some cash to spice up their online matches, playing poker online against other people would be much more interesting, especially on a long-term basis.
The irony of it all is that Microsoft had launched its Xbox Live Points program for Xbox gamers, where you could buy MS points and spend them on games and in-game transactions, one year after the launch of Bicycle Casino. If the game came out a year later it could’ve been the first title to offer both multiplayer and real-world gambling on a home console by supporting in-game transactions. If that were the case, we’re certain Bicycle Casino servers would stay full years after its launch. But despite its flaws and the absence of real-money gambling, the sheer novelty and entertainment value of its multiplayer component have made Bicycle Casino one of the best casino games on the OG Xbox.