Unibet has announced that it will depart Microgaming's MPN network early next year to launch its own online poker offering in tandem with Relax Gaming that aims to focus on attracting recreational players.
The decision was partly prompted by a Q3 earnings report that saw gross winnings revenue fall 26% from last year's pace. Also a factor in the move was an overall industry trend that is geared toward catering to casual players.
“The environment in the online poker industry has changed over the years and we have come to the insight that being part of a poker network is not sustainable for Unibet in the long term,” Unibet head of gaming Daniel Eskola said.
The new software being designed by Unibet will be rolled out in Q1 of 2014. A number of new features include the option to change screen names and avatars, rich 3D graphics, and a bent toward gamification that urges players to strive to complete missions and achievements.
Such an online poker model has become all the rage as of late, with many poker sites realizing that net-depositing players are needed to sustain a proper balance in a poker room's eco-system. None have yet gone so far as to post blatant marketing efforts such as "grinders need not apply," but that is clearly the message being relayed when one reads between the lines.
"In a way, our goal is to bring the fun back to poker by creating software with a clear focus on the casual player,” Eskola told eGR. “This project has given us the possibility to start from a blank piece of paper and define everything we believe is important for a fun poker experience.”
That fun experience for recreational players has often been shattered by online poker pros armed with poker-tracking software that provides an advantage that is not available during live play. It has taken the enjoyment out of the game for some of those who wish to play online, but desire to have a level playing field against others seated at the virtual table.
The new endeavor will see the Swedish-listed Unibet invest €1.25 million in the online poker project with Estonia-based Relax Gaming. A strong working relationship will still exist with Microgaming, as Unibet will continue offering the network's Quickfire games in its online casino.
Relax Gaming operates Fast Poker, a fast-fold product similar to other industry product offerings such as FastForward, Blaze Poker, Rush Poker, Speed Poker and Zoom Poker. Unibet did offer Fast Poker to its players as an alternative since early 2012, but decided to drop the option last month and encouraged fast-fold enthusiasts to continue playing online poker quickly at Blaze Poker.