PokerStars has outlined a plan to make significant changes to the way it does business in an attempt to attract and retain more recreational players, with wholesale changes scheduled for 2016.
Online poker can be very Darwinian at times. What started out as a game played for fun, quickly evolved into a virtual realm of natural selection, as the strongest more skilful players devoured those who were not.
Those that rose to the top of the food chain on PokerStars became known as Supernova and Supernova Elite. A profession was born – one without boundaries. It was like mass slaughter only over a prolonged period. Those not in the 2% club decided it was no more fun to play online poker. They started leaving in their droves.
A hackneyed quote attributed to Darwinism goes like this: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
PokerStars are about to test that theory with some radical changes that are going to feel like grizzly bear like paw prints in the hearts of the professionals.
Jonas Odman, the father of the recreational poker model, first etched the way forward in a series of commandments several years ago. They took their time, but eventually the rest of online poker civilisation stopped calling for him to be sectioned, and instead implemented his innovative policy.
PokerStars, the world’s largest online poker room, has dabbled in this way of thinking. They have tried to prevent data mining, restricted the use of third party software and made it more difficult for the chilling Seating Scripts to have an impact. At the same time, their sister site Full Tilt rolled out even bolder changes also aimed at taking poker back to it’s roots.
But today, they have declared an allegiance to the recreational player by announcing sweeping changes starting in 2016. The changes are designed to create a loveable and enjoyable (and also commercially profitable) environment. It’s all good propaganda unless you enjoy life as a professional living in the 2% strata of the industry. If you are, then you will be pissed. You will need to adapt.
The announcement came on the PokerStars Corporate Blog. Eric Hollreiser was the scribe. They have named the journey: ‘The Comprehensive Plan for Enhanced PokerStars Experience.’ The goal will be to ‘re-emphasize the fun and social aspects of online poker while attracting and retaining more players to the game.’
They will obliterate the current VIP Club program. Erected in its place will be a new program called VIP Steps and the currency of choice will be StarsCoin (a lovely name for a new form of digital currency). The philosophy will be to concentrate on rewarding players for their skill instead of volume.
PokerStars also plan to continue to search for new and innovative games. They already excel in this field. Most likely continuing to blur the lines between skill and luck by making the games easier to win by those less likely to in the current structure.
They will also be using their two weapons of marketing mass destruction in footballing pretty boys Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar Jr. Keep an eye out for millions spent on marketing strategies designed to lure more sporty-type recreational players into the fold. They should also sign up a female megastar so they can tap into one of the largest streams of recreation and fun type players and that’s women.
Patrick Leonard is an MTT specialist. I reached out to him to ask for his opinion on the recent changes.
“I see the business decision behind it,” said Leonard, “but sympathize with the players affected. When all the breakeven players from sngs, cash games, hypers, etc. move to MTTs, they will quickly become elite MTT players and fields/ROIs will get pretty low as a result of it.
“If PokerStars are true with their ethics and follow the message they sent in their posts in the 2+2 thread they will surely lower rake. If they do that then I won’t be complaining.”
Daniel ‘Jungleman’ Cates is a high stakes cash game player on Stars. He also had a view.
“I don’t mind the restricted use of third party software as it might bring more recreational players into the games. On the other hand its tougher and tougher to win online and seems like they are trying to squeeze every penny out of us. It seems very stingy.”
Hollreiser wanted to make it very clear that ‘the line will be drawn to preserve poker as a battle of wits and a test of heart.’
Over the past few weeks, I have asked numerous professional poker players to give my teenage son some advice. The vast majority of them told him never to do anything purely for money and only to do things that he loves.
Interestingly, this advice will now be running through the minds of the 2%.
Is poker about making money, or is it about having fun?
In 2016, PokerStars players will find out.