Many insiders in the poker industry have come to realize that the key to long-term success and profitability of a poker site is not in pandering to the high-rolling, multi-tabling, tracking software-using pros, but to attract the casual poker players.
The new beliefs come more than ten years after the reverse was arguably true. Since online poker’s inception about a decade ago, many improvements made by poker rooms in their software have catered to customizing the product and allowing high rollers to play more effectively. In the last couple years, individual operators and networks have discovered a new approach to online poker, one in which the recreational poker player is courted instead of ignored and the poker site’s software is starting to reflect that change.
“The market is maturing in terms of hardcore poker players and every operator, including ourselves, needs to look into generating new players into the game, which means we have to be a lot more softcore focused and make it more user friendly and inviting to use,” said Gareth Edwards, director of marketing and strategy at 888 Poker.
The software at 888 Poker features a very simple lobby and opening screens that are less cluttered. “We don’t want to scare new players away by showing them a long list of all the thousands of games available,” Edwards added. “Instead we show them nine tables that look like tables; nine buttons that show the range of limits so they can pick one and get taken straight to the table without being confused as to why there are 100 different tables with the same limit.“
Poker room operators realize that casual players want more than just playing poker. They don’t need to be overwhelmed by features and don’t want to multi-table 20 tables at one time. They enjoy the playing experience and are looking for entertainment, often investing some of their budgeted allowance for entertainment on playing poker instead of watching movies.
Poker sites don’t want to remove the high rolling players altogether. Increasing liquidity by attracting new players to join the old players is the ideal situation. It’s kind of ironic, though, that as technology gets more detailed and complex, some poker rooms are going in the opposite direction and making the graphics on their sites simpler and easier to use for the casual player.
“Poker systems are already complex pieces of software, and increasing the complexity through innovation for innovation’s sake is going to result in confusion and disenchantment,” said Lydia Melton, head of network games at Microgaming. “When it comes to poker, innovation is only important when it improves the player experience.“
Several poker rooms have started using anonymous tables. This is one of many measures poker sites have started using to keep the fish from being eaten by the poker sharks, designing software that discourages the use of multi-tabling and tracking software.
“It is better for long-term revenue to protect the recreational players, and players are starting to realize that,” Melton added. “Poker software in itself is not as much of a differentiator as it used to be. However, features within the software, such as Microgaming’s exclusive anonymous tables, can be a real differentiator in players’ eyes.“
There has also been a new push toward aligning poker sites with sites that feature social networking. To that end, ChiliPoker has broken new ground by integrating its software with Facebook and Twitter.
“Social media is a useful tool because you want to get your player following you on Twitter and liking you on Facebook so you can use it as a direct point of contact with the player and it is almost like free advertising in many ways,” said Terry Barnett, poker operation manager at B3W. “But most companies have been slow to get involved. Facebook really took off a good four or five years ago and it has only been really in the last two years that is has been picked up by the gaming companies.“