STABILISING POKER’S DECLINE Mukhanov reckons the decline in global online poker play has now stabilised, with plenty of growth on the horizon.
The global online poker market has been on a downward trend for several years now, with many considering Black Friday (15 April 2011) as the catalyst for this decline and current levels of play. Other factors have played their part too, such as the escalating use of rakeback, seating scripts, usage of data to gain an advantage, operator network drain and the limitation of liquidity when markets initially regulate.
Just how far the market has tumbled can be seen in monthly average cash game traffic, which has fallen nearly 40% between January 2012 and January 2017. But there is light at the end of the tunnel; decline has stabilised in recent months and some operators in some markets are even seeing an uptick in play. While only slight, it indicates the vertical is onthe cusp of major growth.
That said, there are certain things to consider when looking at the online poker at present and in the future. Many analysts compare today’s market to the golden era. But that is not a sensible, or accurate, comparison to make, and doesn’t take into account the inevitable decline that would have happened regardless of whether Black Friday happened or not.
Sure, prior to Black Friday, online poker was booming – particularly in the USA. But following any boom is a correction, and a downturn in play was almost certain. This correction has been long and tough, but is now starting to stabilise and some countries and markets are seeing the early signs of returning to growth. To make this happen, however, operators and suppliers have had to dig deep to turn the tables.
Key to this has been understanding the need to flood ecosystems with new players, making the numbers add up in the skilled player v non-skilled player equation. This has been achieved by focussing on casual players, and developing new game formats that appeal to their need for instant gratification and that have been optimised for play on smartphone and tablet devices.
888, for example, recently launched Blast, a time-limit Sit&Go where players can win up to 10,000 times their buy-in. Its other variants include Flopomania, a fast-paced game with no pre-flop betting round, allowing players to see the flop every hand.
These formats are streamlined and stripped back, making them appeal to new players who don’t want to invest significant time learning the intricacies of the game.
By removing layers of complexity, and making game formats digestible, they work much better on mobile – the platform of choice for the younger generation of player. In addition, developers have finally embraced HTML5, allowing them to significantly improve the mobile experience with rich graphics, lightning-fast load times and the same tools and features as found on desktop.
Connective Games was an early adopter of HTML5, and we now develop in WebGL. This has allowed us to move the needle when it comes to mobile poker; one of our biggest triumphs to date has been to roll-out multi-tabling on mobile. For this to work, the simplicity and functionality of the platform are hugely important factors, due to the limitations of small screens. WebGL has made this possible.
Operators and developers have also cracked the code when it comes to engaging players. While the gamification of poker is still very much on-going, things are certainly moving in the right direction with the game of poker now appealing to younger generations. Take PokerStars’ Power Ups, for example. It combines poker with card games like Hearthstone.
Players hold up to three “Special Power” cards that can be used to help defeat their opponents – things like manipulating your hole cards, altering the board, and providing intel about opponents’ hands or the upcoming cards. Each card uses energy, so players must deploy them sparingly. Power Ups takes place in a futuristic universe, with a range of characters set against a detailed backstory.
It is just the sort of shot in the arm the online poker market needs, and will undoubtedly help in the initial goal of flooding player ecosystems with new players. It has taken a while to stabilise decline, but there is a new wave of optimism about online poker and its popularity among a new generation of players. So long as operators continue to invest and innovate, it will go from strength to strength.