Last week the Cassava network, home to poker rooms like 888 and Pacific Poker, overtook Ongame to claim the No. 4 spot on PokerScout’s traffic rankings.
888 may not hold on to fourth for long, however. Based on daily traffic stats Ongame looks set to reclaim its position, but considering 888’s recent growth Ongame should be worried. Although online poker traffic has decreased 32% in the last year, 888 has seen a 106% increase. This is even more impressive considering growth has been achieved organically, without the post-Black Friday US traffic that has boosted Bodog and Merge 53% and 43%, respectively.
As part of the newly branded Cassava network (previously Pacific) players enjoy added liquidity from other licences. Notable skins include WSOP Online, which is exclusively available to residents of the United Kingdom, and Littlewoods Poker. The 888 brand is by far the strongest on the network and the company boasts that it is now the world’s third largest poker room behind PokerStars and Party. Much of 888’s success may be attributed to new software developments and close attention to poker ecology.
Ongame was once considered the most innovative network in terms of poker ecology, especially relating to rake methods. Ongame’s Essence system is a real time algorithm that calculates rake, and measures a player’s value by factoring in style of play and relative performance over the last 90 active days. Recreational players and the operators that attract them get a much larger share of the valueback.
The reason Ongame introduced Essence is to encourage affiliates and site operators to attract more recreational, losing players. However, Essence needs to be more transparent. The system cannot be tracked using software like HEM or PT3 and nobody has come close to decrypting it to date. Even more alarming: allegations of affiliates and poker rooms using the lack of transparency to profit by rewarding players less than they’re truly owed.
The kicker is BWIN’s inevitable departure to the Party network. Industry insiders believe BWIN can be expected to migrate in Q2 of 2012 and could account for as much as 50% of Ongame’s traffic. Needless to say this has created a lot of panic and is probably part of the reason why licences like Gala Coral are already jumping ship.
888 has focused on the recreational player in a pragmatic way that doesn’t isolate current customers. The poker room is happy to go above and beyond for its customers, and its definition of a valuable player isn’t just about what he or she rakes. WSOP regularly sends its VIP customers to Premier League matches, which is exactly the way loyal customers should be rewarded. 888 is also the only mainstream room to offer web cam tables and run a solid MTT schedule, which PokerStars has proven is the backbone of any successful poker room.
Kudos to 888 who sacrificed short-term, artificial growth for long-term gain. Long may it continue.