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Duel was a long time in the works. PokerStars prepared for the launch of its latest poker app throughout 2015 and prepared an elaborate presentation at the 2016 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure for players and media. And the mobile app officially launched in beta on February 11 in Norway with generally positive responses all around.

Several months later, the app was declared dead.

What happened?

What Was DUEL?

The app was a real-money online poker game in a heads-up format. It was tailor-made for people without the time to dedicate to full matches and long games. As compared by many to Words With Friends, the game allowed one player to make a move and walk away from the action until receiving notification that their opponent made their move. The lack of time commitment was appealing, as was the format that stayed true to most other aspects of online poker.

Finding opponents was relatively easy. A player could challenge anyone – even one of the members of Team PokerStars – to a duel and choose the amount of chips with which to play and the stakes, whether free or real money. The app was also set up to connect the game with social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, so players could invite others to play via those mediums.

The game was advertised with a number of Team PokerStars Pros using the product, as well as the PokerStars-sponsored Cristiano Ronaldo enjoying the action.

Duel by PokerStars Flying Sceen

Admitting Failure

The news came in the first week of June. It was not a huge news story, as the app was still in the beta-test mode, but it was reported that Duel failed the test. A representative told Poker Industry PRO that the app was killed “after reviewing usage data from the beta launch and determining that it was not commercially viable at scale.” And another statement revealed that PokerStars hoped to use the experience in developing future apps.

Few players downloaded the app from the AppStore, and the lack of ability to increase popularity led to a final decision to shut down the project. After putting so much time, effort, and money into an innovative poker app, PokerStars was not pleased to have to scrap it.

The Future of Poker Apps is Tough

The goal of a poker app is to create a version of online poker that can be monetized and go viral. The hope is to find an aspect of poker that grabs the attention of a new audience, something that makes the game a must-play” feature on everyone’s mobile devices.

It has been done to an extent, such as when Open-Face Chinese Poker became the new poker craze, but the game was really only popular with a portion of the population that was already poker fans. Most poker apps fall into that category of being popular with those already interested in the game, and they fail to attract new players.

What most of the apps miss is the ability to entice new players with prizes that appeal to everyone. Players must be able to win cash or non-poker prizes – like movie tickets or concert access or trips to casinos. A tangible result makes players feel that they’re playing with a real chance of turning that time and effort into something they can use. A non-poker fan isn’t going to be convinced that they “must” download an app just to play a game against a poker pro with whom they may not even be familiar; it is not a substantial reward for most.

The developers also have to be willing and able to advertise the game to a wide audience with a spokesperson who has a connection to the app as well as a non-poker appeal. For example, nothing particular stands out about a game called “Mobile Strike” or separates it from every other war-type app on the market. But all ads for the game include the familiar face and/or voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The app is connected to him in every way, and the familiarity with him gives people a connection and a desire to explore the game and play.

PokerStars did begin to think outside the box with Duel, but online poker operators are going to have to climb completely out of the box to see what works for other games. And there has to be a solid investment in spreading the word of the game to non-poker audiences. Someone can do it, but we will have to wait a while longer to see who that might be.

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.