MPN to Offer Enhanced Player Name-Change Capabilities

MPN, the Microgaming Poker Network, has confirmed through several media channels that it will be enhancing the ability of its network’s players to change their screen names on a frequent basis, in the interest of overall player and game fairness.  The pending change at MPN was announced some months back and was originally planned for a mid-summer rollout, though technical fine-tuning resulted in a few weeks’ delay in the process.

MPN LogoAs a result, the enhanced name-change capabilities are expected to be implemented on or around September 22nd, on a skin-by-skin basis.  (The Microgaming Poker Network is comprised of about 30 traffic-sharing sites, or “skins,”)  All MPN sites are expected to have full access to the name-change enhancements by the end of the month.

The specifics: Soon, all MPN players will be able to change their screen names every 30 days or every 1,000 real-money, cash-game hands played.  The enhancement, titled “Alias Changes” in a June blog by MPN CEO Alex Scott, is designed to reduce the “parasitic behavior” of that population of tech-dependent online players who use seating scripts and other third-party software programs in an attempt to continually optimize chosen tables and seats.

It’s true that picking a good game and seat is a part of poker, but many online software programs have taken that notion to ridiculous extremes, to the severe detriment and health of the online game.  The alias changes are expected to reduce the effectiveness of various forms of tracking software — including both the HUDs that amass the statistical profiles of online players and the scripts and other software that identify, track and chase weaker players.

Here’s what MPN’s Scott has to say about the “Alias Changes” rollout back in June:

“The intention behind this is simple – we want to stop parasitic players from ruthlessly pursuing weaker players. We also want regs to play each other once in a while, and we don’t want players to create a new account with a new poker room just because their alias is unlucky. So we’re making the alias change feature quite prominent and I hope that a lot of players will use it.”

Well stated and to the point, and it’s clear that the bumhunting scourge has been on the minds of the powers that be at MPN for quite some time.  Alex Scott’s June blog post dealt with far more than just the enhanced screen-name changes that are in the process of being implemented; he also continued railing against the use of the seating scripts that are the opposite face of the same problem.

Last October, in a blog post titled “The Scripts,” Scott put forth a very well-reasoned argument against such scripts in general.  Said Scott at that time, “Arguably, we are now at a point where the game of online poker needs to be rebalanced[.]”  It doesn’t appear that Scott or other MPN execs have changed their minds in the months since then.

Getting rid of all such seating scripts is a problem, starting with the fact that their use is not easily detected in a way that doesn’t intrude upon players’ computer privacy or dramatically slow down gaming-client performance.  This doesn’t mean that MPN and other sites aren’t in the process of figuring out a way to do so, regardless.

Here’s Scott on the “scripts” issue, from last October:

“On the MPN, seating scripts are currently allowed, but that will not be the case forever. When we have determined a way to reliably detect such tools and fairly enforce a ban, then we will rid the game of them without a hint of regret.”

And now, from the June blog:

“As promised, we continue to make efforts to combat seating scripts and other parasitic behaviour. Our Grouped Lobby de-emphasises table selection, while also taking high-level measures to combat and track seating scripts. If our research shows that we can effectively police a ban on scripts, we’ll do so.”

It’s also important to note that the pending Alias Changes aren’t the only move MPN has made.  The Grouped Lobby formatting was a small part of that, and MPN had already implemented segregated anonymous tables for those who wished to avoid the tracking problem altogether.  And that in turn begs a follow-up question: If MPN has already implemented those anonymous tables, then why the pressing need to also implement that name-change enhancements?

The answer appears to be that the seat-scripting pandemic is so damaging to overall game balance that further steps were needed.  Totally-anonymous tables contain one significant drawback that have kept many players from embracing them en masse: The anonymity allows for certain low levels of collusion between anonymous players to -possibly- occur.

Unless that anonymity comes with hand-history followups that help identify the real players (as Bodog/Bovada has done with its version of the recreational player model), then players are left only with the sites’ presumed oversight as protection.  In online poker’s history, that presumption has come with warts, as the insider cheating scandals at UltimateBet and Absolute Poker proved, doing lasting damage tot the game.

That legacy is why some players will never quite trust totally-anonymous tables, no matter how responsible and well-intentioned are the networks who provide them.  Anonymous tables aren’t quite enough to settle novice players’ jitters about playing online, and the alternative is a script-inundated shark tank where such new players are often mauled in a hurry, for reasons they don’t fully understand.

That’s still not all of the tale.  It’s not all about protecting the fish, or at least allowing them to get a bit more action and enjoyment out of their deposits.  It’s also, as MPN’s Scott noted, about trying to find ways to force script-running regulars to play each other.  The “script kiddies” running the programs hate the thought behind the process — that MPN or any site should be trying to force regulars to play.  Yet there’s a cost involved on the network side that these script-runners never want to consider.

Virtually all poker networks and standalone sites have encountered the problem caused by excessive script users dominating access to the online tables, with the end result that no games are actually being played.  Nowhere was this more beautifully illustrated than this comically classic video showing the problem at PokerStars’ 6-max tables.

All sites experience the same thing, and all sites suffer huge performance problems to their software in handling all those seating requests that turn out to be fakes.  Worse, the automated-script process is so fast that it blocks those manual seat selectors who might actually want to play at the table instead of bumhunting while dodging the sharks already seated.

And what’s a newer player to think when encountering this?  Why would anyone new to online poker even want to attempt to play?  Certain formats on many sites are all but useless due to this parasitic script-running behavior.  Just a couple of months ago, prominent site Full Tilt walked away from its HUSNG (heads-up sit ‘n’ gos) tables, rather than leave hundreds of non-playing but half-filled HUSNG tables taking up valuable client and server resources and serving as a negative ad for the entire site.

It’s all part of the same problem.  MPN isn’t the first network to take serious steps to combat the bumhunting parasites, and it won’t be the last.  Frequent name-change capabilities are one of the handiest ways a network has to help balance the playing field.  If there’s a surprise, it’s that more networks haven’t already done the same.

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