It’s the Thought That Counts: Failed Poker Innovations
Online poker rooms are constantly trying to come up with creative ideas to attract and retain customers. Some work, like Full Tilt’s Rush Poker in 2010 and Winamax’s Expresso Poker last year (both of which have spread across the industry), but most do not. Let’s take a look at some innovations that have either not had staying power or that, in this writer’s opinion, will have a very hard time ever catching on.
Zero Rake Poker Rooms
A few poker rooms, most notably WSEX.com (before you start giggling, that stands for World Sports Exchange), have tried to be poker players’ BFF by not charging a single cent of rake in any of their poker games. The idea makes sense: make the games free and tons of people will flock to the tables. Despite the valiant attempts of the poker rooms, though, rake-free poker has never been able to stick.
There are a few reasons why zero rake poker has generally been an abject failure. First, it has to be done by a poker room that is connected to a site that makes sufficient revenue from other forms of gambling. WSEX, for example, was primarily a sportsbook. The problem here is that those kinds of sites aren’t typically already leaders in the poker space. Their poker rooms tend to be very small and the people that run them just aren’t as good as those running the major sites. Small or poorly run poker rooms have a difficult time attracting players; even eliminating rake doesn’t help too much.
Additionally, the players who care about low or no rake make up a fairly small percentage of the potential customer base: the pros and serious amateurs. The vast majority of those who play poker don’t know much of anything about rake, so advertising zero rake would at best have a minimal effect on them. And in this era of poker, poker rooms are trying to build their recreational player base; hardcore grinders that are attracted to zero rake are not the ones poker rooms want, anyway. Poker rooms are better off spending money they earn in rake on marketing to recreational players rather than not charging it and possibly attracting a handful of grinders.
One complaint that I’ve heard about zero rake rooms that I feel doesn’t apply here is the idea that advertising that you are awesome because you don’t charge rake will just bring the concept of rake to the attention of casual players and end up turning them away. I don’t really buy that. For one, even the biggest of noobs has got to realize that the poker room is making money somehow, so when they found out how it’s done they’ll probably nod and say, “Yeah, that makes sense.” And secondly, even those who are shocked about the rake won’t flee the rake-free room because, after all, it is rake free.
This is something that poker players fantasize about every so often: being able to play online while at the same time being able to see a live video feed of their opponents. How cool would that be? Combine benefits with online poker with live poker’s ability to read other players’ tells. Take the natural next step and add live audio and now you have a much more social game. What fun, right?
Yeah…no. This has been tried, but never came close to catching on. One of the most attractive things about online poker is that we don’t have to be face-to-face with our opponents, that we can relax in the comfort of our own homes. People often joke about online poker players playing in their underwear, but that’s because it’s true! We like that we can hide behind a monitor. For new and recreational players especially, it takes a lot of the pressure off when you don’t have a bunch of people staring at you.
Using live video streams of every player can also cause a lot of problems. This is the internet. Inevitably, some would treat it like chat roulette and players at the table would get a show for which they didn’t buy a ticket. “Two pair” would take on a whole new meaning.
And audio, no thanks. Can you imagine the cacophony that would result with nine players from different countries trying to talk at the same time, all with a myriad of sounds in the background? I’m no networking expert, but it seems like a poker room’s bandwidth would take a beating with all of this.
We live in a Texas Hold’em and Omaha world. Once upon a time, people actually played other poker variants online. Back in the day, before we found out that UltimateBet was run by a bunch of assholes, I got as excited about their Crazy Pineapple games as Key & Peele get about “Liam Neesons.” But now, good luck finding much action in anything outside of the big three. Sure, PokerStars and other sites have draw games, mixed games, and even badugi, but the traffic they get is miniscule compared to Hold’em and Omaha. Some of the games may get more railbirds following the high stakes players than they do actual players.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly why games other than Hold’em and Omaha (and, I suppose, Stud) haven’t maintained popularity. It may have to do with casual players. Casual players are going to naturally flock to Texas Hold’em because it is what they have seen on television and is the easiest game to learn. Many will end up trying Omaha because of its similarity to Hold’em. Serious grinders, despite their higher skill and possible interest in other games, may stick to Hold’em and Omaha because that’s where all the fish are. Why play some other, specialty game that’s just going to be filled with tough players? With the majority of both casual and serious players congregating around just a couple game types, the alternative games look less attractive and people stop trying them.