How to Attract Recreational Online Poker Players
It is no secret that online poker game quality has suffered substantially over the last five years. Part of this has to do with the lack of Americans at the tables. Some of it can be attributed to natural attrition due to burnout and people cutting their losses. Traffic at many sites has declined as the poker boom subsided and some countries ring-fenced players. Lower liquidity sites expose losing players even worse than one with large pools of online poker players.
One of the biggest problems sites face is the gap in expertise between professional players and beginners. New online poker players sit down at tables and get crushed by serious players, sometimes within a matter of minutes. These depositing players may not even pay enough rake to cover payment processing costs before going bust. This creates a serious issue for a poker site. As much as professional poker players do not want to hear it, something must be done to address the skill gap.
What Can Sites Do to Attract Recreational Players?
One of the easiest ways to address the lopsided ratio of professional poker players to amateur ones is to limit the number of cash game tables one can open. This has multiple positive effects. One is that games will move faster as players sitting at more than 10 tables tend to lag. It also lowers the ratio of serious players because most losers do not sit at more than one or two tables at the same time.
Removing Table Selection
Removing table selection is another method for leveling the playing field. This is done by dropping waitlists – in one of two ways:
- Forcing players to choose a game limit
- Having the software find an open seat eliminates seat selection
Party Poker recently rolled this feature out with the additional function that players cannot see screen names until the first hand is dealt. This could only be used at sites with large player pools. Another option is to remove waitlists entirely but still permitting seat selection. Bodog and its sister site Bovada do this.
Some sites removed usernames from the tables. This keeps players from seeking out amateurs through a process called bumhunting. Bodog and Ignition Casino rolled this feature out. Some Microgaming tables also do it. A variation of this is to allow players to change usernames often.
Fixing the Problem at Heads-up Cash Game Tables
Heads-up tables are especially problematic for sites. Experts sit at tables waiting for a fish. If another expert sits, the seated player often refuses action. This creates a lobby where dozens of tables have one player seated. A “King of the Hill” format helps fix this issue.
This permits only a small number of tables to be open for a particular heads-up limit. If a player seated at a table refuses action to someone that joins him, the table closes and the player is booted. Refusing action multiple times results in a suspension.
Altering VIP programs & Dropping Rakeback
Changing VIP programs may help keep players in the game longer. The old flat percentage rakeback deals attracted sharks. Most fish have no idea what rakeback is or how to get it. This hurt game quality as it gives professionals a reason to generate volume instead of action. Tiered VIP programs that reward high volume play can have the same effect.
Ongame was the first network to address this issue. It rolled out Ongame Essence. This feature used a formula that rewards more VIP points to the weakest players at the table. That helped these players clear bonuses and move up the VIP ladder faster. The formula was secret, something that drew some ire from professional poker players at the time. Some believe this is what caused the sudden loss of traffic on the network that eventually drove it out of business.
PokerStars seems to have recognized this. It dumped rakeback at Full Tilt immediately after acquiring it. PokerStars dropped its Supernova Elite and lofty returns for 2016 and converted into an entirely different rewards format that involves some luck.
Bodog, Ignition & BetOnline
Bodog and Ignition took an entirely different approach. The Bodog Poker Network dropped all rakeback and VIP programs. BetOnline took the same route when it launched. Merge Gaming since joined them. All three sites have one thing in common: They accept U.S. players. It is unlikely a site that did not accept Americans could pull off the same move.
Match Bonuses & Free Play
One idea that nobody has instituted is luring losing players with great match bonuses and free play. This would help attract players that may have given up back to the tables and improve game quality. This money could come from reducing higher VIP tiers.
Attracting Players with Disposable Income
Marketing to events that are popular among demographics with disposable income is another potential way to attract recreational players. Ultimate Poker used this approach by combining the UFC and online poker. Ultimate Poker eventually failed, but it was not because of that. Party Poker joined forces with professional sports teams to help promote its product.
What Doesn’t Help Attract Players?
One thing that has never paid off is acquiring professional players to promote the product. Full Tilt Poker specialized in this and it failed. These pros often had equity in the site. A few were decision makers that helped run the site into the ground.
Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker also went this route. Both of those sites also failed. PokerStars seems to have recognized this. It has slowly dropped most of its pro poker players’ contracts over the past several years.