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Carbon Poker Drops Sponsored 2+2 Forum in Risky Cost-Optimization Move

carbonpokerlogoThe perils of a mid-sized online poker trimming customer-service expenses amid a volatile marketplace have found a perfect working example in recent days, with the announcement by Merge Network flagship poker that they’ve discontinued their sponsored support forum on 2+2, the internet’s largest English-speaking poker discussion forum.

Abandoning such a highly visible PR outpost is the type of move that’s fraught with risk, since another mid-sized site, Lock Poker, made a similar move just a few months back.  Lock Poker’s public-forum abandonment was widely ridiculed when it occurred just six weeks ago, given the site’s widespread failure to honor its players’ withdrawal requests in a reasonable time frame.  Lock Poker’s move to a private, Lock-operated forum was made even funnier by follow-up news from Lock players that the site demanded that potential posters have raked $100 for the site before being allowed to post, and any content critical of Lock would be deleted anyway.

With such a horrible history in recent memory for another site having pulled the plug at 2+2, following such a path has to be considered high-risk for any other site to contemplate.  And yet, on the surface, Carbon did the same thing just six weeks later.

The question is, why?

Though Lock and Carbon were once of similar sizes, were once both on the Merge Network, and have their own antagonistic history, this is clearly an example of the same strategy being employed by sites heading in opposite directions.  Cashout times — perhaps the most reliable public indicator of a site’s responsiveness to customer concerns — have done nothing but dramatically improve at Carbon in recent months.

There was once a time when Carbon and Lock cashouts could be talked about in similar timeframes: For a while, Carbon cashouts to US players (the largest sub-category of the site’s players) took 2-3 months, while similar Lock payouts took 4-6 months.  Today Lock cashouts range from six months to forever, with several recent reports suggesting the site’s liquidity problems are worse than ever.  Multiple high-rake Lock players report private offers of bumped-up cashouts in exchange for promises to generate thousands of dollars of rake, while some standard cashouts have languished since late 2012.

Carbon, meanwhile, has seen its cashout times improve from 2-3 weeks as of the last monthly PAS (Poker Affiliate Solutions) report, and in some rare instances, withdrawals via check have been received in as little as three days in recent weeks.  That’s not hearsay; your loyal FlushDraw blogger was among the fortunate rapid recipients, having requested a small withdrawal on a Monday evening stateside a few weeks back, the answering the door to sign for the check for the postal carrier on Thursday morning.

An explanation for Carbon’s dumping of its paid 2+2 forum must lie elsewhere.  Despite the fact that neither liquidity or turnaround times are a current problem at Carbon or parent network Merge, Carbon has engaged in numerous cost-cutting measures in the past year or two.  Part of that was a secondary effect of the slow processing times and general difficulties for players to get money on or off the site; Carbon needed to extract more action per player, and revamped its cash-game and tourney offerings as well.  In the tournament area in particular, Carbon and Merge switched from a largely-freezeout schedule to one where rebuy an reentry tournaments dominate, attempting to entice more action per player.

It still doesn’t explain the forum situation.  So let’s look at 2+2 itself.  And therein lies the likeliest answer.

As the online poker market continues to mature, 2+2 continues to move ever further into a hardcore, narrow-demographic direction.  The typical 2+2-er is not the typical online player, and the concerns of desires of that forum’s players, right or wrong, aren’t necessarily what’s best for Carbon — or Carbon’s players — as a whole.  Given that Carbon and Merge also maintain an interactive “Live Chat” feature through each player’s administration panel, the existence of a paid forum at a site such as 2+2 has to be considered a luxury.

Carbon and Merge give signs of being a lean, mean operation.  Such businesses can seldom afford such public luxuries, and a sponsored forum on a high-traffic site such as 2+2 doesn’t come cheap.  It should also be noted that Carbon is still an advertiser on those forums, so the forum drop is a cutback in advertising, not a total elimination.

It all makes sense as a cost-cutting move, even if the forum’s most vocal posters might think otherwise.  2+2 under-honcho Mat Sklansky (David’s son) shut down the forum, leaving only a brief message from an unnamed Carbon rep:

After the past few great years on 2+2, we are closing our sub-forum
as of today.

To ensure players receive the highest level of support from CarbonPoker, all
feedback, questions and promotional clarification will be done through
[email protected] or LiveChat on our website. We look forward to
offering more comprehensive and timely support via this channel.

Thanks for the years of support, discussions, and feedback. All the best.

Elsewhere, just a single Carbon discussion thread remains active.  All that is generally the sign of a curtailed business relationship, rather than a site in trouble.  It looks like business as usual as Carbon, even if that business is leaner and more cost-conscious than ever before.  For the smaller guys in the online poker world, that seems a smart survival tactic.

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