Online poker has been constantly evolving since the rise of its popularity during the Moneymaker Boom. Since this phenomenon, online poker has changed from a vast sea of players in an unregulated environment to its presently restricted and legislated form. The skill of players has increased exponentially and the technology pertaining to the online game has become mandatory for success. Furthermore, the strict regulations in Europe and the lack thereof in the United States have hurt the player pool and the traffic at poker sites with the exception of Poker Stars and Full Tilt Poker.
The difficult regulatory environment has forced major poker networks to evolve in their marketing, site technology, and product offerings. Poker websites have offered various bonus promotions, increased marketing in countries, improved technology, and changed game structures in hopes of attracting more players. Despite these improvements, poker networks such as Bwin.party, Revolution gaming, iPoker, and Ongame have failed to match the juggernaut that is Poker Stars. Now, online poker sites have decided to target a new area for improvement: Poker Player Ecology.
The Revolution Gaming Network and Party Poker Gaming Network have announced the implementation of skill-based player pool segregation. Both networks have made plans to separate strong regular players from the pool of recreational players. The online poker sites hope to protect the pool of recreational players from seasoned professional players in an attempt to maintain healthy poker ecology.
Revolution Gaming have announced plans to implement a product called Fair Play Technology, which will replace the recent segregation of higher stakes games. The new technology will separate players into three basic categories of skill: recreational, normal, and advanced. The recreational and advanced players will not be able to face each other at tables while “normal” players will be able to face players in all three categories. Although the implementation and categorization requirements remain unclear, network representatives plan to reveal more information over the next few weeks. More importantly, Revolution Gaming representatives believe that this new feature will improve the quality of sites and player liquidity.
Lock Poker Representative Shane Bridges stated:
Lock Poker fully supports this move by the network and will be removing the segregation when it’s put in place. We feel this new feature will make huge strides to improve the ecology of the network and want to return our players to the network player pool to give this feature the best chance to be a big success….This plan still allows the overlapping of player types to ensure the liquidity remains strong at all levels and the natural flow of funds through the poker ecology still occurs.
Party Poker has also decided to implement a similar system that will separate the advanced winning players from the new and losing ones. Although the exact implementation remains unclear, Party Poker representatives have confirmed the experimentation of this new policy. According to posts on the TwoPlusTwo forums, winning regulars have been seeing less table options while losing or new players have seen the regular choices of tables on the site. The exact requirements and implementation have been vague, but players have noticed the changes to table selection.
Party Poker Representatives have issued a similar statement in response to the recent changes and expressed its concerns regarding the maintenance of a recreational player pool.
We are continually looking for ways to balance our poker room ecology. As we have said before, we are testing various features to make poker a more fun and entertaining game for both new and inexperienced players. Our extensive research shows that new and inexperienced players enjoy the game more and continue playing for longer if in the early stages they play with players of a similar ability, this includes, but is not limited to our welcome lounges. These players are free to play on any table they chose.
The news of this skill-based segregation have faced some strong opposition from several regular players on both sites. The Lock Poker thread on TwoPlusTwo was filled with angry posts about the failures of the site and threats to leave the site. Many regular players have cited the fact that traffic has dropped immensely at stakes higher than $1/$2 NL after the initial Lock segregation plan. These players have also voiced concern that the higher stakes games will become unbeatable and cease to exist if the “recreational” players are unavailable in these games. Although the Party Poker thread contained a more productive discussion, players still continued to express unease and disappointment about this new policy.
Player segregation isn’t a new concept and major networks such as iPoker have implemented such splits. However, online poker sites have never used player winning rates to separate liquidity. With traffic dropping for both sites, Revolution and Party Poker have decided to target the protection of recreational players who provide much needed deposits and traffic.
Poker Player ecology has always been a hot topic of discussion and it has been a concern with data mining technology such as Poker Table Ratings and Heads Up Displays (HUD). Given the zero-sum and skill-based nature of poker, recreational players have been decreasing in numbers given constant losses and defeats at the hands of highly skilled veterans. Unlike other forms of gambling, the aspect of luck slowly decreases as players play more hands and the long run expected value is realized. Revolution and Party Poker hope to reverse this trend by protecting recreational players.
Although these policies are in the beginning stages, poker players continue to worry about the consequences of this new technology. For now, poker players await more details about the new policies and hope that it will not hurt the games. Nevertheless, the online poker world continues to evolve and it has become a vastly different environment since the Moneymaker Boom.