Online poker has taken a real battering. We wait with hope for clear legislation and regulation after the strong-arm of the law made itself felt in the states, robbing many of their livelihoods. Worldwide, a more subtle slump has been felt as the popularity of the game has waned. The numbers are clear – according to PokerScout online poker players are now 27% fewer than a year ago.
Perhaps it is appropriate to attribute this partly to the economic climate and the straightened times we live in. After all, popular opinion is against the bankers, the speculators, the risk-takers, and who are poker players if not calculated risk-takers? One might suspect this is a character trait rendered unfashionable in this less confident era.
Poker’s image problem is a point that has been echoed by industry insiders criticising appeals to the gambler mentality. The master in online poker marketing is Dominik Kofert, owner of PokerStrategy.com, who wants to see poker become more like the video games industry:
“Computer game players simply have extremely low churn rates. Customers will of course switch games, but rarely will they stop spending on their hobby. Do a little mental check of people around you; those that used to spend money on computer games five years ago, do they still now? In most cases, the answer is going to be yes.”
Kofert sees the low but frequent spending habits of the gamer as inspiration for the future of online poker. A future market where the low-risk, spend and be social aspect of online gaming can be tapped into. Contrasting this with the high-roller gambling ethic still prevelant in much poker marketing, Kofert appeals to practical economics rather than overt distaste towards “baller” cliches:
“The poker boom, by and large is pretty much over, with overall poker revenues in decline. Typical ‘gambler-type’ players are much harder to acquire than before… If you check out the websites of most poker rooms in the market, you will really see that their websites and products are optimized for those players. You usually see green felts, lucky symbols, huge deposit bonuses and the chance to become a world champion at the next WSOP. Also, you are encouraged to get out your credit card straight away and make a large deposit. Hardly any poker room does a good job at engaging and educating their customers first.”
Working out how to engage new customers so that they keep coming back and making small deposits to fund their hobby is the goal, and of course it is easier said than done.
The industry can only watch in awe at how popular Zynga Poker has become on Facebook. Here is a free app with social features where people are spending real money to obtain play-money. This social impetus to spend is surely something the real-money online poker market will be trying to work out how to harness in the years to come and people are starting to publically voice how that might be achieved. Improved usability in poker software, social media integration, lower rake at the lowest stakes, more transparent and universal incentives that don’t split players into “regs” who know about rakeback and fish who don’t.
If the poker industry can go some way to overturning the preconceptions about what online poker is all about, if it can create some entertainment value in the learning process and the social potential of the game, then half the battle might be won despite the current regulatory uncertainty.