Lee Davy sits down with a representative of 888Poker to talk about their philosophy behind their new long-term strategy: ‘Taking Back The Game’.
When it comes to writing, I’m like a squirrel that spies a bird feeder full of nuts. I have to return to the same thing again, and again, and again.
When I write about Phil Ivey, I refer to him as the greatest poker player alive. PokerStars is the largest online poker room in the world. And when I write about 888Poker, I refer to them as the second largest online poker room in the world.
If I’m Phil Ivey or PokerStars I’m happy with that, but what if I’m 888Poker?
Would I want to be known as the second largest online poker room in the world?
And this is the positioning issue I felt 888Poker has had for a long time.
Things are changing.
In May, 888Poker changed their positioning with a new long-term focus carrying the headline: Taking Back The Game. As I let my thoughts run loose on the computer like dogs on a broad plain, I was both supportive and constructively critical of the idea.
I liked the new mission.
It had teeth.
But I was concerned by the by those four words. Were 888Poker reverting to the ecosystem created by the Moneymaker poker boom era, in a bid to make poker great again?
There was a Donald Trump vibe about the slogan that didn’t sit well with me, like a parent-teacher day when one by one they tell you that your kid has the capability but lacks the applicability.
And that’s the message I conveyed in my piece.
I’m never sure if anyone reads anything I write. The only time I get feedback on social media is when someone hates something, thinks I am racist, sexist, or something elseist. But this time 888Poker was reading, and during my time at 888Live Barcelona, a company representative sat down with me to put my concerns at ease.
Forewarning – the interview pre-dated the decision to implement shot clocks at 888Live events.
Where was the idea for ‘Taking Back The Game’ born?
“We love the game of poker, and that love drove us to keep producing a broad variety of poker products, and activities. But we got to the point where it was clear we needed an overarching theme. We needed to be doing all of this for something, and to push our marketing activity to a point where we were saying something.
“What is 888? What is our goal? What do we want to achieve outside of making money? The people who work in the poker marketing team love poker. They care about the game, and they see that online poker is in decline, and how other poker rooms are closing, and we wanted to take a stand; to say something, not just to make 888poker better but to save online poker. We love this game. We want it to stay. That was our motivation.”
What does ‘Taking Back The Game’ mean?
“I will tell you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean we will transport you 10-years in the past when poker was great and everyone was happy. It means we are taking the game back for the people who love it. Poker was not fun as it was, and we are big enough and strong enough to take responsibility for the online poker game.
“We have been in a state of change for eight years. We decided not to have Rakeback, to go after the sharks, we wanted to create a healthy poker ecosystem by implementing major product and marketing changes, including a revolutionary non-rakeback loyalty program, etc. These changes lead us to where we are, today. We are one of the few very profitable online poker rooms.
“We needed to fine tune what we were saying for 888 and the poker community. We find all the elements that force people to abandon poker are destructive, like slow action and uneven games. We want our players to come to the tables and have a good time, even if they lose.
“We have been in the game for a long time. We are not giving all of our bonuses to the pros. We are spreading them out to everyone. We want to give players access to big prizes, to get to compete in the WSOP for one cent, for example.
“Take the €220 opening event in Barcelona. It’s not a big amount of money, but you enjoy playing poker with the pros; good dealers; a great environment. You get to play with Patrik Antonius, Kara Scott, Will Kassouf, and Denilson – a FIFA World Cup winner.”
Was it a challenge to provide the right balance for pros and recreational players?
“It is not easy to do, and I can say we are not there yet, we can do more. Our ecosystem is an asset. It is an asset because more recreational poker players are playing there than anywhere else. It’s no secret that people think 888Poker is softer than PokerStars and Party. People feedback they don’t feel comfortable with the slow play of the mega-grinders on other sites. It’s not as exciting for them as it could be.”
You have filled your ambassadorial team wisely, have top class photography, videography, and are hammering out the digital media content. Has all of this been a conscious working plan?
“Our conscious decision is to invest in everything around poker. We understand banners are not interesting. Poker players are more sophisticated than that. We know we need to create amazing stuff so that people will pay attention. We are aware we need great photos, great writing, great ambassadors. Our ambassador team is united, and we picked each of them because they share our culture. We don’t tell them what to do. We have a win-win situation between them as a player and us a company to help promote 888Poker and the game
“We respect our competitors but have a different approach to the business. It is good to see that Party is joining PokerStars and us in investing in poker. It’s exciting times for 888poker and the whole industry.”
How are you going to make the game more fun?
“We tried to avoid the word fun. Everyone wants to do fun. We want to make the game better. We will release more poker variants like Fast BLAST, a game where you can qualify for the WSOP in only two minutes. We want to skip to the action, but still, be playing poker. It doesn’t mean we are giving up on everything else, we will still grow the other areas, but we need other elements in the game. People change. Many people don’t have a computer at home, and they do everything on their mobile. It’s difficult to play a long tournament on a mobile, but it’s easy to play for a few minutes.”
Did you consider changing the very fabric of the game of poker?
“Yes, it came up, but we won’t go in that direction yet. We love poker. We want to play poker. What happened to the game? Some players spend 20-30 seconds making trivial decisions; the winnings often go to the same players – this is what we think is unbalanced in our game, and why a lot of people abandoned it. We want to bring them back to play on 888. Not just by showing them a commercial of a star footballer but by giving them classic poker to play.”
In a recent article, I wrote about recreational players, and it was clear that online poker rooms had work to do upgrading their customer service at the rockface. Do you have plans to upgrade, here?
“I agree. We should be improving our support all of the time. It’s one of the focuses of 888 in 2017 and onwards. We understand that we can do it better. The Taking Back the Game philosophy I talk about is making the overall experience better, and support is one of those elements. We are taking action, right now. It’s going to take time, but it’s one of our focuses.”
Part of the ‘Take Back The Game’ strategy is the #Buzzkill promotion. One of the biggest buzzkills is stalling. Do you foresee a time when all 888Live events have shot clocks on every table?
“It’s coming in the very near future. We want to do it. We need to be brave to take this action and take a stand. I know we will get a lot of bad comments, but there is the silent majority, and we need to be the mouthpiece for them.”
Wise words from the online poker room second best to no one.