I just got done reading Inside Poker Business’ interview with Bodog VP, Jonas Odman and I really thought it was very interesting. Mostly because Bodog reveals their true motives for creating anonymous tables.
IPB:To what extent is the industry, and Bodog in particular, now moving too far in favour of ‘handicapping’ the game in favour of the fish?
JO: It is the other way around. The unfair tools have handicapped the game in favour of winning players, and we have now managed to stop that. I am sure other poker rooms will follow in our footsteps, or join our network, especially those who are a sportsbook first and foremost, as they do not want their players losing on poker all the time.
Ding, ding, ding, ding. We have an answer. Bodog’s changes are at least partially driven by Bodog trying to launch this Bodog Network which still hasn’t gotten off the ground since 2009. To date, they don’t seem to have signed up any other poker rooms to join the network.
So it seems that they’re trying to differentiate themselves in the poker network market space by making themselves seem more attractive to sports books that are afraid of players losing their money to other players rather than forking it all over to the sports book.
IPB:What else needs to change in online poker to make it more recreationally friendly?
JO: The key question is why recreational players play. Most competitors seem to think it is because they ‘hope to win’ and build their campaigns around that. I disagree, I think they want to have fun and be entertained and are actually willing to pay for that entertainment. Inevitably part of that experience is winning from time to time but it’s not the primary driver. Our job in the industry is to focus even more on the entertainment aspect, otherwise these players will choose other forms of entertainment.
This is untrue based on my own personal experience speaking with poker room operators. In fact, some places call their recreational players, “entertainment seekers.” I don’t know why Jonas thinks Bodog is the only poker room who has figured this out. I’ve written about it many times in the past. In fact, here’s a post I dug up from 2009 in which I specifically note that the motivation for recreational players is entertainment and that poker rooms would be wise to make their poker offerings more game-like. Likewise, Kim Lund has been shouting into the wind about this for a long time now as well.
Most poker room operators are aware of what Kim and I are saying. It’s not like I’ve ever had any gaming exec say, “Damn Bill, I never thought of that.” Free poker sites like Zynga and subscription poker rooms like CalShark and ClubWPT are a testament to the fact that players want to play poker even if there’s no money involved. For them it’s a game, it’s entertainment.
The problem real money gaming operators have with this concept is that the poker ecosystem is not easy to understand. The grinders are the ones who generate revenue for the poker room. They play lots of games and generate rake. However, there would be nobody to play against if the recreational players were not pumping in new cash into the poker ecosystem.
The knee-jerk reaction by poker rooms was to cater to the high-raking players since they were generating so much revenue for the poker room. This is quite a logical response as many poker rooms were started by or run by people out of the casino and sports book parts of the gaming industry.
As the industry matured, the poker rooms began to realize and appreciate that poker was a totally different kind of beast and that the recreational players were feeding the money pipeline that produced rake. At first most poker rooms tried to use the same promotions and incentives that they used for grinders to lure in the recreational players but they either have already realized or are quickly becoming aware that they don’t simply have good and bad players, but two entirely different types of motivators.
The big question is how poker rooms will address the fact that players play for different reasons. Poker rooms don’t necessarily need to turn poker into a first person shooter game but in order to lower the attrition rate and increase the number of players who make more than one deposit but it’s clear that they need to treat their recreational players differently and cater to the entertainment seekers.
If you’ve ever watched the WSOP or WPT on television you know that the coverage is heavily edited. They don’t show many fold, fold, fold, raise, fold, fold hands. Why? Because it’s boring for most viewers. Yes, there are some hardcore poker players who feel that it isn’t “real poker” or it distorts the game but millions upon millions of people love it. So who do you cater to? Is it the hardcore poker players who want to debate whether or not donk-betting the flop was the correct line for Ivey or the millions of poker fans who just like to watch the drama?
That’s why I could appreciate the brilliance of Full Tilt’s Rush Poker. It eliminated all of the boring hands and gave many players exactly what they were looking for. I’m not privy to Full Tilt’s data so I don’t know if this flattened the attrition curve for new players or even if the game was popular with entertainment seeking players but I love the fact that they were willing to try something new.
Conversely, what I really dislike about Bodog’s solution is that it kills any form of socialization. Poker is a social game. The players that they’re claiming to cater to want to interact and socialize with other players. Making everyone anonymous destroys that. I don’t understand how you can claim to be designing the game around recreational players and eliminate one of the aspects of the game that recreational players love.
Here Bodog has not added value. Instead they’ve removed value. Recreational players are not going to notice that they lose money less quickly so it is doubtful that players will even realize the benefit. Because, really, HUDs don’t give that much value to change this equation very much. If a very skilled player is playing against a lesser skilled opponent the lesser skilled opponent is still going to lose money (in the long run). Whether a HUD gives the better player a 0.5BB/100 advantage or 1BB/100 advantage is really of little consequence in the eyes of the recreational player.
In fact, one of the reasons many players like playing on sites that are mainly pools of casino and sports book players is because those guys love to gamble it up and will chase hands when they don’t have the odds. They love coming from behind and winning a big pot. That’s why they play. Making the tables anonymous does absolutely nothing to change this losing behavior.
Anybody who has read my blog for more than two minutes knows I’m not anti-poker rooms or against poker rooms making money. That’s my job. I’ve been saying that the industry needs to innovate going back to some of my very first blog posts in 2003/4. But this isn’t innovation. This is just brute force attempting to change the game to the poker network’s benefit.
I would much rather see poker rooms roll out something like Rush Poker than enforce a mandatory anonymous tables policy. Rush Poker added value. Players enjoyed the game. More importantly, if the idea failed Full Tilt would have shouldered the cost of developing and promoting a flop. Things like anonymous tables and convoluted loyalty point distribution models (Ongame, iPoker) force the cost onto others. Players either are penalized or forced to play in a gaming environment that they don’t like. They can’t opt-out other than to leave and go play elsewhere (or not play at all).
Anonymous tables and similar restrictive policies are treating the symptoms of the problem rather than the problem itself. If poker rooms want to lower attrition rates and keep players playing longer on their sites they need to do something innovative that increases the entertainment value of the site.