The Reshaping of Merge, Part 2: OverBet, Iron Duke Skins Depart

Editors Note: This article follows The Reshaping of Merge, Part 1

Two more skins have departed the Merge Network in recent days under what appear to be strained circumstances, as OverBet.com and Iron Duke Poker, both formerly Merge sites, have sold out to unnamed purchasers that may well be Merge or its “house” skin, Carbon Poker.

The absorption of OverBet and Iron Duke continues a trend of Merge getting rid of many skins in recent ones, particularly competitive, independently-owned skins whose marketing practices may have conflicted with the preferred methods of Merge itself.

ScreenHunter_01 Mar. 07 16.33First is OverBet, a site which mentioned that it had produced many of the leaders in Merge’s long-running Monthly Tournament Leaderboard competitions, suggesting that the site may have featured a high percentage of the sort of profitable grinders that we mentioned in our last post, and hence moved into Merge’s sites.

The guts of the OverBet website have been removed, replaced with this simple entry, which directs players to visit one of Merge’s “preferred partners” for assistance in transferring their account balances to a new home:

ScreenHunter_02 Mar. 07 16.34Interestingly, the exact same text appears in the latest version of the OverBet software client, though it is signed “Merge Gaming,” a pretty clear tipoff as to wrote it.

The “preferred partner” page at Merge’s domain being referenced shows only three of Merge’s two dozen or so remaining skins — Carbon Poker (the flagship skin of the network), and SportsBook.com and PlayersOnly, which are owned by the same group.  So there’s little doubt that this is an absorption of OverBet, much as happened with Hero Poker a couple of months back.

ScreenHunter_05 Mar. 07 16.43Then there’s Iron Duke Poker, a small, UK-facing skin run out of the Isle of Man which is one of the cheesier-looking offerings I’ve seen in a while.  Iron Duke’s so hapless its home page features graphics which don’t even fit the space allocated to them, and if you can’t get the basics of web design down, it doesn’t mean you can’t run a poker site, but it does mean you’ll have trouble communicating that fact.  Behold, the slickness of Iron Duke:

ScreenHunter_04 Mar. 07 16.42I don’t even want to think about what a copyright-violating Bugs Bunny — or at least most of him — has to do with Iron Duke Poker.  Mixes messages, much?

Come to think of it, horrid graphics aside, Iron Duke reminds me of another small, UK-facing Merge skin, Gutshot Poker, which has its own set of problems and shouldn’t be visited by anyone.  Tying Gutshot to Merge isn’t really fair to Merge, however, even if it is something of a mystery as to why, with Merge battling with and buying out so many of its former skins, that Gutshot is still allowed to maintain a presence there.

And those skins that have gone?  Wow, what a list.

It all started with the high-visibility split between Merge and Lock Poker, which prompted Lock to flee over to Cake and buy in for a share of that network, which has since been renamed the Revolution Network.

But the list of former Merge skins is long and growing, with RPM Poker, Black Chip Poker, Hero Poker and Felt Stars among the other Merge skins who have been bought out by Merge or moved to another network in recent months.

Exactly how many skins Merge even has right now is anyone’s guess.  For a brief news presser I did on the Iron Duke and OverBet post mortems, I noticed that Merge has temporarily taken down their normal “Partners” web page.  The most recent version I could locate a cached copy for showed 24 skins, including both Iron Duke and OverBet, but a couple of the prominent skins listed as preferred partners (SportsBook — which does offer poker — and PlayersOnly, weren’t there, though they’ve been available at Merge for a couple of years.

PokerScout, a major tracking site and one of the more reliable places to find complete network listings, currently lists 69 supposed Merge skins, though a lot of those may be for casino games only and others may be small, single-country offerings.  With all deference to PokerScout, I don’t trust their current Merge information and I think it’s well out of date.

I doubt that Merge has more than 20 active poker skins at the moment, and the number continues to drop, as Merge continues to seek to buy out or drive off its nearest competition.

As for why it’s all occurring, there are competing theories.  There’s no doubt that Merge had to find a way to fight back against the most aggressive and vulturing of its former skins, none of whom was more blatant in its pirating than Lock.  Lock’s antics may well have been an eye-opener for Merge execs and resulted in the drawing of a line in the sand, with this secondary sweeping away of skins that still continues.  Merge may well believe that it’s better to have a network whose player base is a third smaller, but actually have control of it, than be at the whims of a larger but more unstable operation with a tendency to feed on itself.

But where will Merge’s skin-culling stop?  It’s hard to say.  There really aren’t that many more skins they can buy out, anyway….


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