PokerStars Revamps Loyalty Offerings, Introduces StarsCoin

PokerStars, the world’s largest online poker site, has announced a series of what its executives describe as “significant changes,” largely to the site’s loyalty programs and related promotions, with the twin focuses of enhancing game play and attracting new users to the site.  In a news release issued to selected media today, PokerStars has announced a series of enhancements and changes planned for 2016 that will significantly alter the Stars user experience.

Old Loyalty Offerings Out, VIP Steps and StarsCoin Debut January 1st

pokerstars-spade-logoAmong the most important changes on the way is the tossing onto the virtual trash heap of Stars’ old multi-faceted rewards program, which is being replaced by a new single structure called VIP Steps, and enumerated with StarsCoin, which will have common value throughout all promotional offerings.

Being done away with as of the end of 2015 are FPPs (Frequent Player Points), Stellar Rebates, and Milestone Rewards — the bronze / silver / gold / platinum “Star” … and on up to Supernova Elite — that have long been staple descriptors of the Stars player heirarchy.  Instead, all the player rewards will simply be valued in StarsCoin.

According to Pokerstars, the switch to VIP Steps and StarsCoin “will simplify the reward system and enhance its visibility during play, so that players can follow their progress in real time. VIP status players from BronzeStar to GoldStar will continue to be able to receive up to a similar level of rewards to what they receive now. In some cases, players will receive less; in some cases, players will receive more, but it’s very much in the same ballpark.”

Loyalty Rewards Capped at 30%

In line with the above, PokerStars has also announced that its revamping of the site’s loyalty program will include a capping of total rewards at a level equivalent to 30% rakeback.  That will have a negative impact on about 2% of the site’s highest-volume players, virtually all of whom are Supernova or Supernova Elite players.

In announcing the changes, PokerStars is admitting that it is openly disincentivizing some of these high-volume players from putting in enormous amounts of hands on the site, particularly if those players are doing so that can negatively impact the enjoyment and experience of more casual players who collectively provide the lion’s share of the deposits that make all of online poker a viable business.

According to today’s announcement, “The reason we are focused on the highest status levels [and capping consumer rewards] is because these rewards have become so enticing that we have inadvertently altered why some people play and how they play. We are introducing these changes to move towards a more balanced long-term poker economy and to return the game back to one that rewards skill via winning at the tables rather than playing primarily for volume.”

It is likely that the affected players who post on poker-discussion boards in highly disproportionate percentages, will likely be calling for the corporate scalps of PokerStars and parent company Amaya in response.  Nonetheless, the changes make perfect sense in the increasingly competitive and maturing global online-poker market.

Continuing Third-Party Software Restrictions

PokerStars was just one of several major poker sites and networks to have implemented various restrictions on third-party software programs in recent years, or to institute other changes which are designed to nurture what other sites (not Stars) have termed a “recreational poker model”.  In PokerStars’ case, the site in 2015 has already taken steps to reduce data mining in its Zoom!-style games,, restricted the use of heads-up displays (HUDs), and limited the use of Spin & Go seating scripts.

That’s just the start.  More changes are coming, with an expected and continuing tightening of Stars’ rules regarding third-party software appearing to be on the way.  PokerStars is expected to also institute programming changes within its own proprietary software clients that will make the use of many of these third-party software programs harder to accomplish.

According to PokerStars, “Our intention is to expand these restrictions through major changes within our own software that we will communicate in more detail through 2016. PokerStars wants to offer fun, fair and competitive games of poker globally. These changes aim to help us achieve that goal.”

PokerStars has evoked the spirit of poker as a battle of wits in clamping down on the third-party software, as opposed to allow it to continue to be the battle of processing power it has often become.  According to Stars:

Technology liberated poker from the constraints of bricks and mortar and allowed poker fans to discover the game at their own pace in their own home on the internet. While the tactics of the game may have evolved, poker has stayed true to its core – it’s fundamentally about human competition, which is something that needs to be protected. The game should be about combining logic and an ability to steel your nerves to make that big call or bluff; it shouldn’t be about clicking a button because harvested stats tell you to. For this reason, we are on a path to eliminate many of these technological advantages that are used by a minority of players.

Marketing Focus on “Casual” and “Lapsed” Players

PokerStars also announced that it will be investing heavily in marketing designed to reach new audiences and rekindle the interests of former players who, for various reasons, no longer play on the site.  Stars continues to trumpet is signing of global sport stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar Jr., even though the site walked away recently from a similar sports-themed sponsorship deal with on-the-wane tennis superstar Rafael Nadal.  Stars has announced that Ronaldo and Neymar Jr. will be part of a massive marketing campaign to be rolled out later this year, though no other details are available.

In summarizing these and other changes, the PokerStars announcement noted that, “We are confident that these changes will improve the playing experience for all PokerStars players and will drive increased play and more players to the ecosystem.”

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