When I heard about PokerStars Home Games I got a little excited. I’ve long been a proponent of promoting online poker by promoting offline poker. I think there’s potential in cultivating relationships between offline play and online play. By that I mean that people tend to fall in love with this game and a good percentage of them get introduced to the game via friendly home games so the potential to scoop up a player into the online world during the beginning stages of his introduction to poker seems valuable.
So, as I mentioned, you can imagine my excitement when I read the headline. Unfortunately, that rush of excitement quickly left me as I realized that PokerStars is rehashing a rather old idea. At least the idea is old to me. I’ve heard it discussed for years. If memory serves me correctly I think a few rooms have even dabbled in this area before though it does look like Stars has taken a more serious stab at it.
It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that it’s not a home game. They should have called it something else. Maybe, “Team Game” or “Social Game” or “Network Game” or whatever. A home game is a home game. It’s greasy pizza, cold beer, a rickety old table, cheap chips, cigars, and a lot of trash talking. I mean, how are you going to be able to tell if one of your opponents is so tilted he’s ripped the door handle off of the bathroom door? I was crying, literally crying, I was laughing so hard when that happened at the Murder’s Row home game. That’s what you play home games for!
If they really want to promote home games they should provide tools for players to manage their home games. How about a tournament timer? How about some tools to help figure out how you should value your chips (what are the reds worth, the greens, etc) or let them create invites and tournament leader boards for their offline games? Think about it, you’re collecting data on how often these guys play, who’s good and who isn’t (their rankings on the leader board), how many people they’re getting at each game, etc. That’s valuable information.
Let’s say I play in a friendly home game on Friday nights with about 20 buddies. I don’t really play online much. I have an old account on UltimateBet but only play a few hours a month. But the guy organizing the weekly home game set up the invite list on PokerStars so now they have my email address even though I don’t have an account with them. At the game my buddy uses the PokerStars tournament timer and manages all of the players via PokerStars. We don’t even need to be online because everything gets synced up next time he’s online and logs in.
They notice I don’t rank very high in the tournament leader boards and at the bottom of my invites is an ad for a free eBook on improving my poker game. Wow! Nice freebie. In the eBook is a promo code for $20 free on Stars so I sign up. Since they know what level of buy-ins I’m comfortable with and that I play on Friday nights they start sending me offers to get a warmup game in on Thursday nights or whatever?
Or what if you’re a good player but you play on FullTilt? You don’t really feel like moving over to Stars but you enjoy the weekly live home game with your buddies. Stars notices you consistently do well in the games and they might even be able to rank how good you are based on who you consistently outplay in the home game. Say for instance that half of the other players who play in the home game play semi-regularly on Stars. They can get an idea of how good you are based on how good they are. That gives them come clues on how they can focus what they offer you as an incentive to try them out.
Whatever. The specifics really don’t matter. The point is that a home game is a home game. I’ve actually heard some marketing types comment that they want to move people’s home games online (see, told you it’s not a new idea). But they don’t get that people playing in a home game are looking for a different experience. Instead of making it an either/or choice for them why not support them? Cultivate a love of the game and in the process collect valuable marketing information so if or when they are ready to play online poker (or switch rooms) you’re there for them. They’re still going to play in their Friday night home game whether or not they play online.
Like I said, I don’t hate the PokerStars concept. In fact, there’s some value in it for people who might be separated by considerable distance and want to play against each other. However, I’m going to guess, based on the failure of private tables to ever be a huge draw, that this is going to have very limited appeal.
It just seems so meh. I have a few suggestions on making it exciting though:
1. Dump some of the rake the players generate within a club into a prize pool available for club leader board winners.
2. Give the players a cut for players they’re recruiting into the game.
3. Have a way for clubs to compete against each other for some sort of cash prize.
That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure a little brainstorming could unearth another dozen or so ways to spice this up.