The poker economy is struggling compared to 10 years ago. It's no secret. But with Amaya Gaming buying up Pokerstars and Full Tilt in the last year for $4.9 billion, there was always a feeling that changes were on their way.
The first alterations arrived in October, when a controversial announcement was made. Rake on Pokerstars cash games was about to rise. In the middle of the uproar and clamour for this plan to be abandoned, Amaya also abolished the Battle of the Planets sit n go leaderboards, and raised rake on their new Spin & Go tables. They did give in when it came to cash game rake though, and cancelled the plans, but regular players were angry at seemingly being targeted.
6 months later, and the attention was on Full Tilt. In April of this year an announcement was made that several types of ring game were to be removed from Full Tilt. The idea behind this was to ensure the most popular tables were getting the entire flow of player traffic, rather than portions of it being divided between tables that struggled to fill up with any frequency. Tables which covered certain mixed games were removed, but there was also a dramatic overhaul of stakes that were offered on all games, and 6 max tables were switched to 5 max. Again, many regular players seemed unhappy.
Just over a month ago, further changes were announced for Full Tilt. Nosebleed stakes have now been removed altogether, heads up ring games have also gone, and a new automated seating process is removing table selection from the equation. Stud, Draw, and other mixed games have also disappeared.
Full Tilt New lobby
PokerStars Unveils New VIP Steps Program
Pokerstars has also presented a new VIP system change, which has once more gone down poorly with regular players. The program is planned to go live across all PokerStars sites on January 1st, 2016 after a first experiementation PokerStars.uk. The new program will utilize the current VIP levels with the main difference being that players will not be rewarded Frequent Player Points (FPPs) until they complete 100% of a step. Each VIP level will be broken into 20 different steps with each step earning players a certain amount of FPPs. The overall idea is that recreational players never used to get much out of the rewards system, despite the fact that they are essential to the poker economy and how it functions. Recent changes are supposed, according to PokerStars VIP rep, “to surface VIP Rewards to players so that there is a more intuitive relationship between playing and earning FPPs."
Problem is that if a player does not complete all the steps to reach the next level, they will only receive 50 percent of the FPPs earned. To illustrate, PokerStars gives the example of a player who has earned 80 of 100 required VPPs for a Silver Star step. The full level is worth 150 FPPs, so the pro-rated value is 120 FPPs. Half of that (the 50%) is 60 FPPs, which is what the player will get.
A global trend?
Other sites within the industry have also felt the decline in player traffic in recent years, and have tried to fight back in their own ways. Bodog was one of the first site to implement major changes including anonymous poker play, where no screen names are visible, meaning that weak players cannot be hunted by sharks. Unibet took a similar path, offering a new platform, with no seating or table selections by players, screen name changes allowed as often as players wish, and all HUDs and hand tracking software banned.
It seems like the most balanced way to summarise this rapid shift across multiple poker rooms is that regular players who tried to use as much software as possible, and tried to hunt down weak players until they were bled dry, are now feeling an industry wide backlash. The need to chase every tiny edge and as Amarillo Slim would say, skin sheep rather than shearing them, has driven weak players away and created an imbalance in the poker economy. There are far more top class pros than ever before, and far less recreational players, and in order for the poker economy to renew itself, drastic changes must be made. It boils down to a cull of the sharks, alongside reintroduction and preservation of fish shoals. Perhaps this was always inevitable, and every 12 years or so the poker economy must undergo a brutal process of renewal. Or perhaps the critics are right all along, and the big companies are simply filling their pockets at the expense of regulars. We will eventually see the reality of that bigger picture, one way or the other, when we look at the online poker economy in a couple of years time.
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