Full Tilt Traffic Drops After Cash Game Changes
At the end of July, Full Tilt Poker went nuts and made dramatic changes to its cash game offerings in an attempt to make the poker room better for recreational players and fix the poker economy. Full Tilt knew this was a huge risk and is likely not at all surprised that those changes have had a detrimental short-term effect on its cash game traffic.
According to cash game traffic monitoring site PokerScout.com, Full Tilt Poker has lost a significant number of ring game players in just a week and a half. When the sweeping changes were made on July 28th, Full Tilt’s seven-day average cash game traffic was sitting right at 1,000 players. That was not close to cracking the top three in PokerScout’s rankings, but it was still solidly in the top ten, hovering around top five. Today, on August 7th, Full Tilt’s seven-day average player count is down to 800, a loss of 20 percent of the site’s liquidity in a very short time frame. Full Tilt is now tied with PokerStars.fr for eighth on PokerScout’s chart. For reference, if cash game traffic would have stayed flat, Full Tilt Poker would be tied for sixth with Winamax.fr.
It would have been shocking if this did not happen, but it is still notable. As you likely know by now, Full Tilt made the bold move to completely revamp its cash games in order to create a more hospitable environment for casual players. The changes included completely eliminating heads-up ring games and removing the ability to seat select. Instead of the latter, players just choose the game type and stakes they want and are seated automatically. Full Tilt also got rid of Stud, Draw, and Mixed games, but that decision was made based on the lack of popularity of those games. Also up in smoke are nosebleed games, favorites of fans who enjoyed watching some of the top players.
In making the decision to eliminate heads-up cash games, Full Tilt Managing Director Dominic Mansour wrote on the Full Tilt blog:
We’ve decided to remove Heads Up tables from our ring game offering. We’re doing this for two important reasons; firstly, Heads Up games were being adversely impacted by the minority of experienced players who targeted ‘weaker’ opponents rather than take on all challengers, and secondly, new players who tried out the Heads Up games found it intimidating and confusing (asking themselves ‘Why are all these guys not playing each other?’).
Over on Two Plus Two, Full Tilt Poker Room Manager Shyam Markus added that the more a new player plays in heads-up cash games in his first month on the site, the less likely he is to come back for a second month.
Heads-up games have been a problem at Full Tilt (and other sites) because they end up populated by the most skilled players. Those players, as Mansour said, didn’t play against each other, but just sat alone at tables, waiting for weaker players to sit down so they could bleed them dry. The skilled players used poker tracking software to have instant information on their opponents, so they typically knew if a player was weak right away (at the very least, the skilled players all recognized each other and stayed away).
Table selection, a totally normal thing at online poker rooms, had also become an issue, as the best players would use software – some of it legal, some of it illegal – to follow weaker players around the tables. When a target would sit, the hunter would sit and try to drain their stacks.
And so Full Tilt did away with the aspects of online poker that most often result in new and lesser skilled players becoming victimized. This is a truly admirable attempt to improve the health of Full Tilt’s poker economy, but to this point, it has come at the cost of losing the high volume, highly skilled, high raking pros and serious amateurs. When you take away heads-up tables, the heads-up specialists will leave. With no Pot-Limit or No-Limit tables above $10/$20 and no Fixed-Limit cash games above $15/$30, the highest raking players have most on to greener pastures. And with no ability to table select, a large group of high volume players – players Full Tilt saw as predators – has thinned out.
The hope is, though, that in the long run, Full Tilt will become much more hospitable to recreational players, the kind of customers the poker room wants as they both make up the largest percentage of the poker player population (alliteration!) and are the ones who are the most likely to lose and then redeposit, injecting more money into the poker economy. The more comfortable these players feel at the tables, the longer they will stay. And as people learn that Full Tilt is a fun place to play, more people will show up.
That’s the hope.
It will be a while before we will know whether or not Full Tilt’s strategy worked. The short-term drop in cash game traffic was predictable; we’ll see where things go from here.