A recent forum thread asking “has Iron Duke closed ?” prompted a comment from TheJudge – one of the well-known members asking “is this the beginning of the end for Merge ?” and many more of us trying to remember if the site hadn’t already closed months ago.
It’s still unclear what Iron Duke’s plans are – closure or restructure (they hadn’t closed months ago BTW) – Either way we hope player funds will be safe. So far Merge have been good at dealing with these types of issues.
All this reminded me to finish an article I had started a while ago following on from “why online poker is in decline” that it is inevitable that some poker sites & skins will fall by the wayside, and it really isn’t difficult to predict which ones have an uncertain future …
Cr*ppy and / or parasitic skins on all and any of the networks
I don’t think there is any reason to suspect Merge as a whole is in trouble but there is definite consolidation of brands … that is going to be the case with all the networks, big and small. However it is going to be much more noticeable on the small and medium sized networks with a disproportionate number of small skins within their networks.
Looking back a few years there were a lot of people with either more money than sense or not enough money (or sense) launching poker skins left and right – Because they thought it was a licence to print money and didn’t expect or bother to put in the money to market their site in a unique or effective way.
When wannabe poker operators used to say I can set up a skin on xyz for $30k while technically true they should have been allowing at least $1 million in burn money just for marketing their unknown site to actually break in and be a proper player in the poker industry.
A lot of these sites were either set-up by nice enough but over optimistic pro poker players or with money from VC’s who had no idea about the business and just thought it was a one way cash machine.
So far I think most of the Merge skins have been able to pull out in an organised fashion – paying players or transferring balances to another skin higher up the food chain – lets hope Iron Duke is the same.
As I’ve said before when loads of private forum games were coming up everywhere for unknown or small skins – I resisted working with them or promoting them as it’s obvious that many would fail. In 2013 Players really should just stick with the top brands and top skins on networks – there must be still 20 or 30 successful independent & prime brands on networks to choose from and that’s a much more reliable pool of sites.
Which Sites and Skins Will Continue to Succeed ?
IMHO the independent poker rooms that have an established non network brand (PokerStars, Fulltilt & PKR) or that are part of their own brand network (Bodog & 888Poker) will continue to do well. Those and the biggest networks that truly have big brand sites and businesses driving the network growth ie. the iPoker Network.
However less established skins on other networks are going to struggle IMHO …
- Skins contributing very few players – won’t survive
- Skins relying only on stealing players via high rakeback deals – won’t survive
- Skins with no effective marketing plan or budget – won’t survive
The sites that will survive are the ones at the top of each of the skins, putting the effort to market their brand, generating the most players and using their “profit” margins to invest in marketing to new players, maintaining recreational players and not giving it away in rakeback to the top tier of winning grinders.
Also those sites and poker networks that are first and foremost a casino / betting product as the prime rev generator will be in good shape providing they are already of a good size.
Personally I would be more worried about the revolution skins – there seems to have been little news on them but IMHO there will be pull-outs on all the networks – it’s how that is handled that is important … If players get paid then really – who cares ?
But if sites just go to the wall then that is a different matter
Unreliable sites and failed sites reflect badly on the whole of the industry so it’s vital for not only the industry but the affected network that site closures are handled properly, that players get paid or funds moved to a higher skin and the network doesn’t get tarnished.
Many networks will have a central cashier – which in some cases is a good thing (Merge) and in others may not be such a good thing (Revolution). The trust of the central cashier is reliant on the trust of the network operator
NB. Intertops which is part of the Revolution network has their own separate cashier and payments have always been one of the fastest – Intertops have actually been around longer than the network so are a much more solid proposition.
IMHO it’s a numbers game – look at the traffic size of the network and then the number of skins on the network and figure it out for yourself. Generally most traffic will be coming from the bigger skins.
So if the total traffic divided by the number of skins leaves you with a number not much bigger than your home game … The that should be telling you something !
It’s not rocket science the small skins are trying to survive on a handful of players … even if they are high worth grinders they will be on a stupidly high RB deal to get them which means very low profit = not great future
The churn of recreational players (the majority) is huge and the amount of recreational occasional players required to consistently get high daily traffic is also huge.
Take for example PokerStars with at least over 45 million registered users to make 45,000 daily players or PKR with over 4 million registered users to maintain a consistent 1,000 peak daily players.
Now those are SUCCESSFUL non network sites – So figure out just how many registrations smaller skins on networks need to make their contribution to their network both viable and worthwhile.
Cast your mind back to the now much forgotten announcement that PokerListings had bought a 50% stake in the Cake Poker Network a few months before the same network got bought out by Lock Poker to become Revolution Gaming …
How many new player sign-ups were PokerListings hoping to bring to Cake … 2,000 a month
that seems like a lot (it is) but when you see that millions of total registrations are needed to gain a solid player base it becomes clear that the big skins are the ones doing most of the work and the small unknown skins are bringing very very little to the party.
Below is a rough calculation of average contributions of skins
Network / Peak Daily Players / # of skins / estimated average daily players per skin
- iPoker – 5400 peak players from 46 skins = 117.39
- 888Poker – 4100 peak players from 7 brands = 585.71
- Bodog – 2700 peak players from 3 brands = 900
- MPN – 2600 peak players from 28 skins = 92.85
- Revolution – 1600 peak players from 91 skins = 17.58
- OnGame – 1600 peak players from 22 skins = 72.72
- Merge Gaming – 1200 peak players from 69 skins = 17.39
however based on Merge current list of 24 skins = 50
- IPN – 700 peak players from 23 skins = 30.43
- Winning – 700 peak players from 10 skins = 70
- Action – 500 peak players from 7 skins = 71.42
These figures become even more worrying when you bear in mind the bulk of players on any network will come from the top handful of skins making those averages on the optimistic side for player numbers actually generated by the smaller less known skins.
Looking at the two apparently “weakest” networks Merge & Revolution with 69 & 91 skins respectively they have an average of just over 17 players per skin (however Merge now seems to have 24 skins bringing their average up to 50) – that doesn’t mean their top brands or the networks are necessarily in trouble but it does IMHO very clearly indicate that there is a hell of a lot of dead wood lying around that won’t survive.
It’s crucial to the network how well they managed those changes and well managed their finances are …
So if in the case of Revolution rumours abound on slow payments (across the network) then this could be cause for concern.
Or in the case of Merge sites or other networks it will come down to the strength of relationships between the network and the skins.
Several networks have tried segregating player pools, with tiered networks protecting the recreational players brought in by the big brands away from the big grinders pinched over with RB offers to the small unknown … The most recent has been Lock Poker segregating ALL their high stakes poker tables away from the rest of the network which suggest a very top heavy distribution of player sign-ups.
Also I tend to side with Calvin Ayre’s somewhat scathing opinions on this move –
Although his vehement dislike of the owners and partners at Lock Poker and the revolution network are well known it highlights where a strength of holding funds centrally could potentially be a weakness.
Where Should and Shouldn’t I Play ?
In conclusion it should be pretty easy to protect yourself from the biggest risks by simply playing at the biggest sites and on the bigger brands on the better networks – It’s really that simple.
Why would you want to sign-up to some new unknown kid on the block on an existing network when you can just as easily and far more securely play at one of the top names on any of the respective networks .. These are the sites we recommend
Also I would suggest some caution when considering playing at some of the smaller networks – they will have inherently less financial backing. IMHO any of the sites or networks that have been around for sometime that haven’t really got past a critical mass and haven’t built at least a reasonable player base or that seem to endlessly go into new ownership should be avoided.
And what about new sites setting up now ? To be honest they must need their heads examining – and so should you if you even think about rushing out to play and deposit at any new sites nowadays. I even removed our “best new poker rooms” page a while ago because I honestly couldn’t find any new sites that I would recommend – I just don’t think choosing new or unknown sites in 2013 makes any sense at all.