If you haven’t noticed a trend by now, I’m sort of disappointed that the online poker industry has failed to really embrace the social media world. Much like AOL in the late 1990’s many online poker rooms are very inward focused. The internet outside of the software client doesn’t seem to exist. Sure, some poker rooms might grudgingly set up a Facebook account or pretend to try to engage people on Twitter but they’re just phoning it in.
The other night I got an email from someone in the industry I respect and he had CC’d the CEO of one of the online poker sites basically saying, “You have to show this to Bill.” I have to say I was immediately intrigued because the person making the introduction shares a lot of the same opinions as I do on the poker sites needing to differentiate themselves and seems to also share my same frustrations over the lack of innovation in the industry.
So we arranged to have a virtual meeting on Skype and he shared his screen with me so I could check out something that they’re planning on launching very soon (think within a week or so). It’s difficult to describe because I don’t have screen shots but allow me to take a pass at it.
First off, when you open your poker client you get a control panel sort of extra window that sits side by side with your poker client. In there is a little social networking control panel that lets you connect with your Facebook and Twitter accounts. That’s a nice step forward but I wouldn’t even be writing about it if that’s all it was.
From there you could choose to send out updates to FB and Twitter on whenever you money in a tournament, make a big hand, etc. You can add friends, post status updates and all of the other stuff you might want to share with people in your social network.
But the part that really blew me away was that added features so that you could challenge friends to matches, make last longer bets, and buy a piece of your friend’s action. And it worked so seamlessly. For instance, if I want to make a last longer bet with you, I pick the amount of the proposed wager and send you a request. When you accept the request it enters us both in the same tournament/cash game. It even settles the wager at the end of the bet automatically based on the results. Same goes with buying a piece of your action. I can offer you 10% of my action in a tournament and it if you choose to back me it automatically deducts 10% of the buy-in from your account and if I make the money it credits your account with 10% of the proceeds.
For all of the billions of dollars online poker companies have made in the last decade this has to be one of the biggest innovations in online poker that I’ve seen other than Rush Poker. Not necessarily because of the specifics of what it does but because it’s the first time anybody is willing to admit that a world exists outside of the poker client software. It’s the first time a poker company has made any sort of substantial effort to utilize the social aspect of the game that benefits both the player and the poker room.
And even on the most basic level, just the sharing of the player’s big scores on the FB and Twitter accounts, this is a huge step forward in how the online poker industry has utilized social media in the past. Users sharing amongst their friends vs. online poker companies blasting out promotions.
Will this turn someone into a threat to PokerStars overnight? No. But every customer that they acquire via social media will cost them a tiny fraction of what it costs to acquire a customer via traditional media. And I’m willing to bet that their churn will decrease too as now the game is more social and connected with friends than it is on other sites. Getting a customer from one deposit to his second deposit is one of the toughest tricks in all of online poker. This is exactly the kind of feature that has a chance of getting that second and third deposit.
The other features that allow players to make last longer bets and buy action should be very popular as well. We all talk about poker being a social game but have you ever gone into a real casino and played in a tournament with some friends? Everybody is seated at different tables and the only time you ever talk to each other is on bathroom breaks. But here you can make a last longer and sweat each other because you’ve got some cash on the line. Or you can put up a partial stake and root on your friend in the hopes of making a cash.
Again, I’m really excited that all of my screaming into the wind has not been a waste. I really think this will be the start of a whole new way of looking at social media and how to bring much deeper immersion into the whole poker scene.
So who is this company? I’ve been asked to hold off until the launch which should be either later this week or early next week. So stay tuned here for more information.