PokerStars Home Games: Almost But Still Not There

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.

12 thoughts on “PokerStars Home Games: Almost But Still Not There”

  1. Well yeah i do know what you’re on about i just dont see how it fits into the conversation we’re having

  2. your answer to points 1 and 2 are redundant … if they were to advertise on the clock itself which had been downloaded from their own site ?? also everyone knows who pokerstars are – even my dad who isnt interested in poker or computers…. they have branding on loads of pro’s at the WSOP main event, anyone interested in poker enough to have a home game knows who they are.
    Point 4 was just simply pointing out to you that PS do tell you what amount the chips are equal to…. really have no idea what you’re on about there bud.

  3. 1. & 2. I would consider it branding. It’s your chance to get your name associated with poker on tens or hundreds of thousands of desktops and in front of people already interested in poker.

    3. Yes, private tables is a much more appropriate description. The term “home game” was already in use and means something completely different. Using the term home game not in its intended context is confusing and creates an expectation which the product doesn’t meet.

    4. See 1&2 above. You don’t have to do everything for money. You can do things because they help promote the game of poker . . . which just happens to be your core business! Nearly all sports promote the overall game but poker doesn’t have a central organization so its in the best interests of the market leaders to take on that role.

  4. 1. there are free poker clocks availible online to download.
    2. pokerstars operate as a business and get no rake from home games so why would they encourage people to play against each other rake free?
    3. “home games” is clearly for private games so that you can have a tournament with only your friends without having to find a game that noone else is playing before you can play against each other if they had called it “private games” would u be happy?
    4 The chips in pokerstars are coloured and labeled and numbered their value.

    I do think that poker rooms make too much though a 5th the buyin is alot of money for running servers tbh, if a poker site was to reduce rake for the lower stakes players to around the same percentage as the high stakes (20% and 7.5% respectively) I would play there and im sure alot of others would too (hint HINT).

    Although saying that… the next big thing i reckon is going to be video conference games some sites are already doing that and i think as people get more confident on the webcams the more it will take off. Which will require more moderation and much higher bandwidth and processing power. Which will cost more money.
    But just imagine how good it’ll be to beat someone on the river with a 24:1 shot on the turn and see them lose the rag

  5. They definitely need some way to integrate offline games into the standings. A chat area in the lobby of your own group would also be useful– I could see myself keeping it open anytime I’m on Stars if I could see my friends come and go and talk about our games.

  6. @Wes: Yes, I think features like this are more evolutionary than revolutionary. I’m both a little surprised and disappointed in the industry as a whole for not doing more on the revolutionary side. Stars, Tilt, etc because they certainly have to money to try something big and the smaller sites because unless they change the playing field many of them won’t be around very long.

  7. Just heard about this as well and the first thing I thought was “aren’t these just private cash games?” But knowing Stars, I can imagine them taking this several levels further in the future.

    Also wanted to say that your marketing ideas for home games are absolutely brilliant. I would have never thought of something like that on my own… You just opened my mind in a completely new direction. Thanks!

  8. @Yair,

    Like I said, I don’t hate the idea and they are doing better than others but considering that they’re clocking maybe $1 billion a year or more in revenue you would think that they could be doing even more.

    I guess I’m disappointed to see that they’re missing the essence.


  9. I agree that their solution is not exactly bringing the home game online, but stars are five steps ahead of everyone else. This is a good start and has potential to grow into much more, especially if stars will not try to profit on it in the short term (they need to let it evolve).
    I agree with your 3 points 100%. Using the rake generated to reward the group, rather than the individual player is great. So many $$ are going to affiliates which take the money out of the ecosystem. This money, if put back to the players as a group will be regenerated as rake, everybody wins.

    One thing I don’t understand – I can’t invite my friends through facebook with automatic tracking?!?!? Can someone from stars please contact me ASAP? 🙂

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