Why Zynga Poker Will Not Be The Next PokerStars

I was having a nice chat with my good friend and former Party Poker cohort Hilly a few weeks ago sitting in the Old German Beer House on Soi 11 and somehow the conversation drifted around to Zynga Poker. I grabbed my trusty iPhone and made a note as I told Hilly, “I always love our conversations because I end up with like 4 or 5 great blog topics to write about.” Seemingly by coincidence, a few days ago I received an email from someone else who asked me about my thoughts on Zynga.

zynga poker

See where I’m going with this?

I think the title of this post is sort of a spoiler as to what my views are but let me explain the reasoning.

As much as Zynga Poker seems to have captured the Facebook world by storm, the cold, hard truth is that free money poker doesn’t convert very well. Just ask any affiliate who set up a website and SEO’d it up for keywords like free poker, freerolls, etc. Yeah, you get tons of signups but THEY NEVER CONVERT TO REAL MONEY PLAYERS!

That’s an awfully strong way to put it and perhaps NEVER CONVERT should be “convert at a rate so low that it might as well be zero” but you get the point.

Free Poker

See, someone who types in “free poker” in Google probably already searched for “poker” and got a list of sites like Full Tilt, PokerStars, Party Poker, etc. They went to those sites and said “Make a deposit?!? WTF?!?! I want to play poker for fun. I don’t want to lose money.”

The model works for the online poker sites themselves because they’re part of a little game online poker sites have to play in order to advertise in certain media. It’s the old, Dot Net game. You advertise in markets where it would be illegal to advertise by advertising the play money Dot Net site in the hopes that the players will be smart enough to figure out that by putting Dot Com at the end of the poker site name they can get over to the real money side.

Even then, the conversions from play money to real money aren’t necessarily fantastic even for the online poker rooms. There are some people who either try out the software using the play money client or eventually graduate to real money after whetting their appetite but if they don’t convert within the first 60 or 90 days the conversion rate drops to a number so low it is effectively zero.

They may stay playing on the play money site for months or years but they’ll never convert. I explained as much in my previous post Play Money Players Are Free to Officially Hate Me where I defended PartyPoker’s decision to cap the number of chips a play money player could hold in their account. Literally, there are players with billions of play money chips. It normally takes longer than 90 days to accumulate a million in play money chips and we already know the conversion rate drops to near 0. Do the math. There’s no sense keeping those play money players happy if you have no way to monetize them since they just become a cost.

Zynga Poker Gets it Right

The thing that Zynga Poker has done that I applaud them on is monetizing play money players. All of the major online poker rooms with real money poker available have either botched this or are so blindly looking at their real money business that they don’t want to commit the time and resources to make money off of their play money player base.

Zynga had to build a poker room that didn’t rely on rake and could still make money. They approached the problem from a completely different perspective. Even these play money membership sites like the recently defunct SpadeClub from CardPlayer Magazine still approach the problem with a rake based mentality which is why they all fail. Zynga is a company that builds games and has figured out how to make money off of offering those games for free. Whether it’s Farmville or Mafia Wars or Zynga Poker they approach their products as games that need to be monetized rather than trying to get around gambling law loopholes.

But what do they really have with Zynga Poker? They have a massive database of people who want to play poker but don’t want to wager real money. Many people assume that many of these people can be converted from play money to real money in the event that online poker is legalized in the US. And with 3.7 million “Likes” on Facebook (and reportedly, 25 million players monthly) that would seem to be a pretty good assumption unless you just read everything I wrote in this post before this.

Try this little experiment, next time you get one of those annoying “Bob just won a $1000 pot playing Zenga Poker” status updates on Facebook, go send your friend a message and ask them if they know that it’s possible to play online poker for real money. I’m guessing that less than 1% are unaware that there is real money online poker being offered. I mean, it’s so mainstream that playing online poker is often referenced in television shows. Everybody knows.

So if they know it’s available and they enjoy playing the game for play money, why haven’t they found a real money poker site to play on? Because they don’t want to play for real money!!!! They might tell you 1000 different reasons but they’ll all basically boil down to the fact that they don’t want to risk losing their money.

So the assumption that Zynga flips a switch the second the president signs some bill legalizing online poker and suddenly Zynga has 3.7 million real money players is really absurd. Realistically, they might enter the real money playing field being roughly the size of Bodog (which is nearly 1/50th the size of PokerStars in terms of cash game players). Then they have to fight and claw for customers just like everyone else.

But Zynga does have some advantages:

  1. Brand
  2. An existing gaming platform that obviously can scale to accomodate a large number of players
  3. An understanding of how to leverage social media
  4. Existing cash flow (from their monetization of the play money Zynga Poker)

But then again, every existing online poker room operating today has #1, #2, and (hopefully) #4. They can always figure out #3 (maybe).

So, when you really look at it, Zynga isn’t a slam dunk. In fact, I would only rate them slightly higher than an underdog if the US legalized online gambling.

Zynga Poker in Asia

The person who asked me to write about Zynga (and I have kept his name private only because I’m unsure if he wants his name publicized – but if he does, write me and I can use your name and post a link back to your company website) suggested as a blog topic:

“Zynga Poker moving into Asia, and the consequences of ZP licensing a real gambling product, as opposed to their current social gaming rev model”

First off, I just want to air one of my pet peeves. Again, thank you Hilly for articulating this into a sentence which is easy to communicate. There is no Asia market. Every country in Asia is radically different than the next. They have different cultures, different customers, different languages, etc.

So, whenever I hear anybody talk about the “Asian Market” I automatically assume that what they mean is the Mandarin speaking part of Asia which is primarily Taiwan, China, Singapore, and to some extent Hong Kong (though Cantonese is the more common dialect, from what I understand enough HK citizens speak Mandarin that I’ve lumped them into the group). Sure, there are Mandarin speakers living all throughout Asia but when you read past the first sentence in the “Hey We’re Cracking the Asia Market” press release that every company does when they translate their client into Mandarin those are the countries they are typically targeting.

Nothing personal but hairs on the back of my neck stand up a little bit whenever I hear that phrase. 🙂

So, with my little rant out of the way, I think for Zynga they’ll have a nice little bit of traffic from Facebook users in Hong Kong and Taiwan (Zynga did not mention any marketing plans in Singapore). They’re banned in China because even play money gambling is filtered out in China.

And, there’s a (major) difference between entering a market and translating your software. I read the press releases and I don’t recall any new office being set up in the Asia region to go after Mandarin speakers. I suspect they’ll do some targeted ads on Facebook and such but that’s not really what I would call “entering” a market.

It’s a subtle but important difference.

So I guess the point I’m trying to make is that unless Zynga is setting up shop in Taiwan or Hong Kong they’re really not committing to those markets at all. All they’re doing is hiring some Mandarin speakers to translate the software and to tell them what are the lucky colors and numbers and what cultural mistakes not to make.

I’m sure they’ll have some success in those markets just due to their size but I’m not sure that this actually has any relevant meaning for the overall online poker industry. People have been trying to get into the various Asian markets for years but nothing ever seems to stick. I mean, I can’t even begin to count the number of press releases I’ve read about this or that company setting out to crack the Asian market and then never hearing another thing about them until they announce they’re ceasing operations in that market.

Until I hear of a company that is opening up offices in Asia and running their company like an Asian company with a product specifically developed for that market I don’t get too excited.

25 thoughts on “Why Zynga Poker Will Not Be The Next PokerStars”

  1. hello. yh this zynga poker is completely rigged the game is an absoloute pathetic joke. 29 million players a month play this game huh? lol so why when i was playing it all i ever used to play against were computer programmes and zynga admin, i’ll tell u why and the reason being is because they use these tactics to drain u of your chips so u keep on spending, if that tactic doesnt work they just empty your account and pretend u have been hacked, i have a friend that just recently lost 3.5 billion chips to supposed hackers she contacted zynga and zynga has done absoloute nothing about it accept patronise her, she even has screen shots to prove she was hacked. heres my question how is this legal?? people are paying real money in some cases thousands of pounds to get cheated, my friend that lost her chips spends money on this game and zynga has done nothing to protect her….. i want to know who i can report this to, surely zynga has to look up to some1?or do they have there own law. i have rang the british trading standards and i have told them about these parasites (zynga) and they have told me if it was happening in this country it would be shut down, but seeing the servers are based in america there is absoloutly nothing they can do about it. once again if anybody can give me information on how to report this please let me know. thanks.

  2. I agree that you all miss the point-
    Problem with Zinga poker is everything is free money and even with the buying chips we can not convert the chips won into real money.
    The bingo players are exhausting and want to go in blind on dumb hands and sooner or later you got to go in against them and lose all your chips-
    People think a good player has millions of chips but if they have not risked their 100 million to get more then they are just chipping away at everyones wins-
    Zynga has to have to separate good players from the bad and both extremes of bingo players and misers are irritating people- It is about risk but at the same time it is not bingo

  3. I have been playing Zynga poker fora couple of years on facebook but have recently bought a new phone so I installed the game on it and went to play but I am sure it said I had paid entrance money and a fee for playing. I am really worried that this one time free game now has access to my money, help please.

  4. Players sometimes suspect Zynga is rigged because they don’t fully understand the math or the fact that because its a free game players are far more likely to stay in to the showdown even with dreadful hands. If cards are dealt randomly and a player stays in to the showdown the chances of drawing a strait or above are 10.4%. If all 9 players stay in then 60% of hands will be won by a strait or above. The chances of 2 or more players having a strait or above can be quite high especially when a flush is involved or an open ended strait. It’s worth remembering that with 9 players being dealt 2 hole cards each the game starts with 18 hole cards, more than a 1/3 of the deck, face down. In that situation almost anything can happen and someone will have a hole pair almost every other hand. And 2 or more players will start with a hole pair 25% of the time.

    Add to all this the fact that blinds are going up every 5 minutes in tournaments and most players will be out after 50 hands or less. As one pro once observed this isn’t poker its a crap shoot.

    But Zynga is in the business of entertainment so even if they do rig hands to spice up the action then that’s just part of that entertainment. To complain about hands not being random is like going to see a movie and complaining about the picture not being historically accurate. The movies are about entertainment not education, and Zynga is about entertainment too, its not a free training program for wannabe real money poker players.

    I don’t know if the hands are random or not but if the game is rigged then that just adds to the entertainment value. But even if hands are random you still won’t learn anything about real money poker play because most players don’t care about free virtual chips but care passionately about real money.

  5. Even if the cards are random it is still rigged due to one or more players on the table who know all the cards prior , they know yours deal and every others player at the table as well as the 5 cards beforehand. Its their job to take players down

  6. No question, zynga poker is rigged, but it is very unsophisticated. I’ve worked for other game companies and written similar games. They all do it the same way. You think that deck is really “shuffled” haha?

    Seriously though, just play for a while and study the patterns. I have hundreds of millions of chips on zynga poker and I’ve never given them a single cent. The fact that its actually rigged is what allows you to take advantage of it.

  7. Zynga poker is not free if you buy your chips. It is rigged for sure. Those that bet at smaller tables for large amounts are just looking for there next hack. I have gotten hacked 3x, and Zynga points at Fb and FB points at Zynga..something smells here. Cards are not random and seems to me it depends on the seat of the day. I have never seen such horrible players before playing Zynga. Perhaps we need to divide the player class. All bingo players play together etc. At least it will keep them off a good game table.

  8. I love poker and play at our local indian casino, but never on electronic games until zynga. So, I signed up on my iPad and Mac. In the beginning, I loved it! Then, gradually become suspecious with the Large amount of small card straights. And, why so many high hands? Why so many winners to players with poor cards? Then, I noticed both iPad and Mac versions didn’t balance…both the upper larger banks and the lower game balances. And, why was I losing chps between sessions, which requests buying more chips. So, I emailed support zynga on three times for these two questions. Their first response suggestion was for me to delete the app, then reinstall them again. When this did not help, I contacted them again. Their second response was to fix my passwords, that my poor choices were allowing hackers. When persistently questioning support, their third response was short and curt, “we cannot confirm your password prevents hackers take your chips. Each of the three support customer contact included all three questions: 1) why losing chips sure and steady, 2) why are the four balances don’t sync and 3) why do the math software tilt towards beginners with poor hands? In each three responses, they only answered one… My password is allowing hackers mess with my game and chips. Since I love poker… And because a real version of electronic would great to have at home to augment my improved my game… I am looking for a better replacement. Any suggestions?

  9. Zynga poker is on facebook. What the article does not mention is that Zynga poker is rigged, and any poker player worth half his salt would figure this out very fast. The way Zynga makes money is by giving new players awesome hands (royal flush’s, Full house’s, straights, 4 of a kind all the time). After the new player is winning and feeling great, then suddenly the luck disapears, and in a blink their chips are all gone. What happened? What happens, is you are told now you can “purchase” chips. I was way up millions, and suddenly I started losing every hand, I went 20 hands with nothing. Then I get straight-to-ace on the flop, I went all-in, the other guy called with King seven, and then comes the river dealt by Jesus himself, two sevens!! What do you know he got a full house…

  10. “the probability algorithim is low quality” LOL, how would you possibly know that? You have some data to back that up, or should we just settle for throwing fancy words like algorithm around? Here’s a thought for you, dude, maybe, just maybe, the probability of a bad beat INCREASES when more people call after you raise with Ace King, like on Zynga, than when they don’t like on PokerStars.

    Also, I would love to be in a courtroom when a lawyer represents a client who was swindled by a low quality probability algorithm out of millions of play money chips. That would be a hoot. Please back up your claim that law suits were brought to trial over such a thing. I could use the laugh.

    I’m not crazy about being bounced off of PokerStars either, and yeah, the play at Zynga is pretty horrendous, but I played there a lot before I opened a PokerStars account, and now I am playing there again because of recent events, and I’ve NEVER suspected the game was rigged. The worst thing about the site is that as you move up you run the risk of getting hacked, but it looks like Zynga has taken some steps to make the game safer (eg, not allowing you on higher stakes tables unless you can afford to play there) since the last time I played there.

  11. Tbh I thought this article would talk about the unrealistic poker in zynga poker… Kind of a random article.

    This is a copy and paste from a different website I posted on:

    I love when people automatcally dismiss others as bad players jus because they lose. Please be open minded 😉

    Zynga has indeed faced lawsuits for scams and has been successfully sued. It might seem rational to think that people would stop playing after learning it’s rigged. The fact is poker is addicting and zynga likes it that way.

    Zynga poker is indeed rigged. Many speculate that scripts are written to have players perform a specific way (the extremely common bad beats are a way to keep players interested and adduced for example). However, as common sense would dictate, the game is rigged simply due the fact that the probability algorithim is low quality. They don’t bet real money and so an expensive high qualty pseudo probabilty calculator is not needed. Nowhere does it state that zynga poker is intended to simulate normal Texas hold em accurately. It is simply a social networking game.

    Ofc one can look at poker stars and full tilt poker which have been banned now for online betting… Sad that we’re now left with facebook poker.

  12. I think the biggest reason more of these folks don’t jump on any of the sites is the ease of getting real $$ on (not to mention the stigma of poker being “illegal”). If poker gets legalized, I guarantee zynga will figure out an easy one click method that will get people to try real $$ on a whim. Once the fish start jumping in, the sharks will jump in. Party Poker feeding frenzy. They have a big enough player base that even if a small percentage try it they’ll have enough momentum to grow quickly. How sustainable that is is anyone’s guess…
    I could be completely wrong, but that’s my best guess…

  13. I’m not sure if you’ve written anything else on this topic but… I think the most likely scenario of US online poker legalization will have Zynga making a software deal with already established casinos. These casinos already have their own live real money player base and along with the Zynga’s play money player base looks like great potential to be as successful as Pokerstars.

  14. if you pay for zynga chips its gambling. and the other problem is the cards dealt are not random. so i would say its a scam.

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