Sunday, May 27, 2007

Online poker room cultures

The Poker Chronicles has a nice post about historical changes in market supremacy among online poker rooms.
I find it odd and somewhat disheartening that Paradise Poker is switching to Boss Media's network. It sort of marks the end of an era in online poker, just like Kmart going bankrupt did for retail. I remember playing on Dise back when it had first opened and the only real competitor was Planet Poker. Their software was so much better, even for those of us who didn't know that Planet Poker's shuffle had been taken advantage of, that it was practically in a different league. It was what made me believe that some day online poker might be almost as good as the real thing.

I don't have quite the same emotional attachment to the downfall of Paradise, but it interesting to look at the ups and downs of individual poker rooms. One of the things that's changed in the poker world is the concept of celebrity. What made a poker celebrity 10 years ago isn't what makes a poker celebrity today. Poker rooms that understand that have done well, those that didn't understand if fell by the wayside.

Online poker started with Planet Poker. The main thing they provided was being first. The software was clunky, their software maintenance was not user-friendly (they had complete shutdown every Tuesday morning for maintenance.) They really didn't have much going for them. But they were first and they thrived. When online poker people said PP you knew they meant Planet Poker.

Then came Paradise Poker. What they offered was clean looking and clean operating software. Planet Poker responding to the better product by hiring two celebrity spokespersons -- Mike Caro and Roy Cooke. Both derived their celebrity from writing for Card Player Magazine. In those days Card Player Magazine was the poker magazine market, and the magazine strongly featured it's writers.

Today that market is a little different. Card Player isn't only part of the market and almost all poker magazines these days feature players seen on TV, not the writer's. Poker writer's aren't the celebrities they were in the past. That movement away from featuring writer's and featuring players started with June Field when she established Poker Digest and put players on the cover as opposed to Card Player who always put casinos on the cover. Card Player tried to stem the competition by buying Poker Digest, but the market was destined to grow way to fast for them to maintain a stranglehold on it.

Planet Poker's attempt to compensate for an inferior product by using celebrity flopped. They just kept losing market share.

But Paradise Poker also failed to respond adequately to competition. For a while the term PP no longer meant Planet Poker, it meant Paradise Poker. But that didn't last long. Party Poker came along showing a high degree of competence in promotion. They established strong affiliates, they had high player bonuses (funded by high rakes). Then when poker hit TV they hit it with ads. They succeeded in a huge way. It was all about promotion.

An underfunded room, Poker Spot, came along and tried to establish a niche by copying Party Poker's high player bonuses and combining it with tournaments. They were the first room to offer tournaments. But, it's harder to get away with very large rakes in tournaments and they quickly found that the high player bonuses didn't self fund without high rakes. They flopped in a big way.

But Poker Stars did succeed with their tournament offerings. Chris Moneymaker helped establish them as a new brand of poker celebrity -- a TV celebrity.

TV makes a huge difference in the value of celebrity. Something Planet Poker didn't last long enough to figure out.

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4 Comments:

Blogger nerkul said...

wasn't the first online poker on irc? i found it when studying ai. there was darse billings and poki, chris ferguson apparently played there, and once i found greg reynolds' client software i was hooked.

12:30 PM  
Blogger alex said...

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2:24 PM  
Blogger HighOnPoker said...

Gary, this was a great post. I got onto the online poker thing a bit later, circa the first year of the WPT. I barely even knew that Planet Poker existed until this post. I'd like to hear what you think of the swing from Party to Stars and FullTilt. Of course, the shift from Party was largely based on the UIGEA, but how about the fallout and emergence of Stars (and lesser so FullTilt).

3:26 PM  
Blogger DMW said...

I remember believing that Stars's players were better than Party's in 2003.

Then it boomed and everyone had accounts everywhere so it didn't matter.

But Stars held their ground when the UIGEA hit, reaffirming my belief that Stars is #1.

8:35 AM  

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