A forum poster NB1961 started a thread entitled “Why is Online Poker in Decline ?” global player traffic has been steadily falling for the last few months and why is a question many of us have been asking ourselves …
Is Online Poker Actually in Decline ?
While other sites are seemingly declining, PokerStars had continued to grow, admittedly much slower than before. According to PokerScouts annual figures even PokerStars has shown a 3% year on year drop. However this doesn’t allow for the spreading segregation of the European market demanding that France, Italy and now Spain have totally separate player bases. PokerStars and its offshoot country specific sites hold by far the biggest player base with PokerStars.fr holding 6th, .il 8th & .es 11th. So I think once you factor back in traffic from the other PokerStars country specific sites then PokerStars as a brand is still growing and holding its own.
It’s clear that like it or not many of the other sites are in danger of becoming also rans. Putting a perspective on the US market as it now stands PokerStars.es is actually bigger on some metrics than the whole of the US facing Revolution Network.
It’s clear when things get tough whichever site has the highest and most solid player traffic in a given market, the leading site will succeed and grow while others either grow very slow, stagnate or in the case of many in smaller segregated markets they struggle to maintain their player base.
What Sparked the Decline in Online Poker ?
While no single factor is driving the current decline or stagnation in online poker there is without doubt one single factor that really started the decline of online poker … Missing Full Tilt player funds.
We all know the boom days of the Moneymaker era are over, the UIGEA in 2006 may have slowed online poker but didn’t stop it growing (and making PokerStars the biggest site online over Party Poker) …
DoJ seizures and Black Friday shutting down PokerStars, FullTilt, Absolute & UltimateBet had a massive negative effect but even that didn’t totally kill off online poker.
While PokerStars paid all its US players, IMHO the real show stopper has been the $350m of US and ROW player funds STILL trapped in the Full Tilt Poker fiasco.
It’s a no brainer for most recreational players (infact any players) if they’ve lost money on the 2nd biggest site why they hell would they jump through a bunch of hoops to try and put more money onto another much smaller site ?
There are a lot of Full Tilt players waiting for their poker bankroll to be paid back to them and MAYBE just MAYBE they would have re-deposited at another site if it had been resolved early – But it hasn’t.
Security and trust is a massively important part of online poker and one that seems in short supply at the moment … Nothing but negative news and uncertainty lead the very recreational majority to just cut their losses and find something else to occupy their time either on or offline.
Are people getting bored with Online Poker ?
Yes and no
I think it’s clear with the seeming popularity of Rush poker, Zoom on PokerStars and with other sites creating similar games that the vast majority of non serious players want fast poker games … Hand after hand of action rather than a more skill based strategy where patience is rewarded.
But does that mean players are bored with online poker or just needing a more exciting game ?
There is another factor that has made many poker players increasingly boring … HUD’s. Heads up Displays can turn pretty average losing players into marginal break even players, break even players into marginal winners and everyone into dull as ditch water stat freaks.
This has the negative effect of narrowing the gap between actually good and talented winning players and stat freak grinders who can utilise stats to find every players weakness. Weaknesses I might add they would never in a million years be able to spot themselves from sitting at the table and just playing.
You can guess I dont like HUD’s – You would be right.
Aside from whether you view it cheating or just reducing everyone into not much more than a bot it has definitely turned some games and stakes into a grinder only zone.
This also points at another factor that players have been just playing their accounts down having decided not to make another deposit. With the global recession dragging on everyone is feeling a bit jaded poker isn’t going to escape the malaise.
Are we all frightened we will have our money taken by government action ?
For US players yes definitely that and the simple fact that it’s now a hell of a faff to get funds onto a poker site if your in the US and even more of a lengthy not to mention costly exercise to successfully make a withdrawal.
Simply for US players most will have lost something from PokerStars (and got it back) and/or from Full Tilt (and are still waiting). The chances now of another big seizure are probably lower than before – the damage has been done, but none the less most people don’t need the risk.
For rest of the world players broadly speaking not so much. For the most part other governments even the ones seeking to legislate and regulate accept they have to do this sensibly and haven’t gone out of their way to ransom players money while crippling the poker rooms.
Are poker rooms getting dull and boring with their promotions ?
Yes and no
No doubt sites have cut down on their promotions due to the economy, the industry is maturing and everything is becoming a bit more part of the furniture with the initial moneymaker buzz dying down.
However I think many sites are spending their promotional money in the wrong place focusing too much on rakeback and contributing to the dulling of poker. New players are simply the life blood of ALL poker games, live and online. Sites really need to make more effort to attract occasional and recreational players and rakeback is frankly of zero interest to players that would never dream of sitting down at 4 cash tables and grinding with a HUD and a “perfect” ABC TAG style (against a table of similar grinders)
No the increasingly popular Rush / Zoom / Dash / Sprint etc format shows most players want loose, fast action and they are looking for more than profit … they are looking for an enjoyable experience.
Is what we do illegal, immoral and are government right to persecute online poker ?
Not sure they persecute so much as try to confiscate money they haven’t figured out how to tax yet.
Governments around the world are now trying to clarify the legal status of gaming in their countries but with little understanding of the game or that they could over tax them out of existence, which would be counter-productive.
The answer to that question may vary from country to country but on a morality issue there are plenty of things I might deem other people do to be immoral to me and vice versa.
But I think governments generally will stop persecuting things once they can tax them.
Is the standard of play now so bad that it puts off players who play for recreation ?
no – IMHO the standard has now got “too good” generally putting very recreational people off (majority) so they play less, for less and last less time against more nitty grinders who without HUD would be fish themselves
In 2005 players good and bad alike were able to enjoy the game with both rewards for losing players (the fun) and winning players (the fun AND the money).
What the popularity of Rush / Zoom / Sprint proves is that most players will sacrifice the possibility of profit by being patient over the excitement of player 4 times as many hands.
And that profit has actually become less easy to earn afaiks. With the gap between actually being good and the “I’ve got a HUD so I am less cr*p” getting narrower dumbing up a lot of players, this and the mass of Zoom games has corralled the the easy to beat fish away from the standard games and into the speed poker games.
This polarisation of the game is not going to be healthy for online poker long term. For the grinders to actually make a real profit (rather than grinder over grinder) the fresh money has to be in the game – it’s not. The fish have buggered off into Rush where conversely the skill level is equally dumbed down making it less tempting for actually skilled players less able to use their own use of table image and memory of players over time at the table.
Has poker lost it’s glam ?
Many of the live faces that were around since before the internet, added a lot of colour to the online game / televised game in the early days … Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott, Pete “The Bandit” Evans, Negreanu, Scotty Nguyen & Doyle Brunson brought alot to the game – we might be losing sight of the characters as online poker becomes more corporate, more mainstream, less “dangerous” and less … well exciting.
Now we have for the most part a bunch of computer geeks who spend a lot of time online and don’t play live so much – they were actually interesting for a season and seeing them come up against the old guard was cool to see too – but with the exception of maybe Jake Cody and a couple of other young guns who can play both online and live well and have a certain something – most are well a bit dull.
The danger is we forget that most players want a bit of a gamble, a bit of fun and to feel like with a bit of thought and effort they can make their own luck … They don’t want to feel like they have to plug into some dull as ditch water stat machine, crunching numbers and numbing any feeling of having to take a risk.
Possibly for a lot of players who aren’t as into it as we all are yes – It’s tough for occasional dabbling players to stay enjoying something that costs money in a recession and where if they don’t make an effort to get better then they will end up re-depositing often without gaining enough enjoyment / value for money from most sites … this is why I don’t like rakeback –
For many players the glam IS a very big part of the attraction, the possibility of the lifestyle, the vibe of a casino or poker room the buzz of a game. Poker sites need to work much much harder at that side of things. IMHO they don’t even work as hard at that as they used to so it’s no surprise that players aren’t being captivated as before.
Sites should be spending less on rakeback and far far far more of their money on new, recreational players and small stakes players (majority) where frankly their enjoyment is NOT so much in winning / grinding out a consistent profit but in afford-ably enjoying a game or two of poker now and again … looking after those customers better would benefit everyone in the poker economy.
Conclusion – Everyone Should Learn From PokerStars
IMHO all of the poker rooms should be learning more from PokerStars, understanding what attracts players to Stars rather than their own site … and its not all about size.
Half the time the other sites copy ideas from PokerStars that might work for the biggest site but not for smaller ones. Seemingly endless late registration works on PokerStars because they have big field tournaments for every stake seemingly starting every 10 minutes – Small sites don’t and they should stop pretending they do and start working on better tournament formats – maybe like running more capped size MTT’s all day rather than a handful of medium sized games and letting the registration run forever – players hate it.
Look after all your players not just rakeback grinders – PokerStars has a VIP program that looks after all players to a greater or lesser extent, they have live game qualifiers, they have a handful of sponsored pro’s focused on actual target market sectors and countries but above all they concentrate on a good user experience actually playing the games.
Most other sites come up with new promotions here and there but there is little feeling of consistency. PokerStars however have several annual events and a feeling that anything that they launch is going to work and going to be back bigger and stronger the next year. If other sites took a similar approach to strengthening their brand over the long term this would IMHO bring improvements right away.
That’s my 2 pence worth – check out the discussions in the forum, see what everyone else has to say and add your thoughts too …