#270: Beware The Vampire Squid

Posted Thoughts

Microgaming has decided to leave the poker space, winding down its operation over the next six months or so. It is a sad day for poker as all industries benefit from competition and that is particularly the case in an industry like poker in which there is a dominant industry leader. That is even more the case when the established leader has, for some time, exploited its position, squeezed every cent from its customers, broken promises to its biggest customers and in general behaved like a vampire squid, its suckers glommed onto the face of the poker community, draining the lifeblood out of the game in the pursuit of bigger and bigger profit margins.

Sustainability is the key word for poker – sustainability in three inter-connected ways.

1. Is poker a sustainable product from the poker site’s point of view?

I believe that the answer is a resounding yes because poker done correctly can not only yield a profit in itself but it is also a Trojan Horse bringing customers to a site where they may avail of other gambling products.

2. Is poker sustainable from a player’s point of view?

Again, I say yes but only if the sites adopt rake, game type, game structure, promotion and loyalty rewards models that ensure the long term health of the game. That means being less greedy so that losing players lose less, small losers break even, break even players make a little, more players win and yes, some of those winners can become or remain pros. It is aspirational to be a pro and it is pure misdirection when any site justifies a decision which benefits its bottom line by actively turning poker players against one another with sentiments akin to “Fuck the Pros”. This brings me to the third form of sustainability…

3. Can you trust a company with a monopoly to be less greedy and offer value?

No, therefore sustainability in this sense relies on healthy competition between the sites and networks.

In 2015, I finally voted with my feet and stopped playing the bulk of my volume on Pokerstars/Full Tilt who at that time were about 70% of the industry. I spent a year struggling with that decision in the hope that things would improve, that decisions would be reversed, that players would be heard. They weren’t. For 6 years, I played 6000 tournaments a year on Pokerstars.com/FullTilt.com. For 4 years I had played 60-80 tournaments per year at Pokerstars live festivals. In the 4 years since, I have played fewer than 200 of their online tournaments total and just 2 live events. I realised that the right thing to do was support the smaller sites, to pay them my rake, to give them my liquidity and to encourage others to do the same.

During those years, three of which I have been a Unibet Poker ambassador, I have treated the MPN skin 32Red like my ‘second site’. The Microgaming (MPNPT) tour stops have been the only festivals to rival Unibet Opens in terms of player experience. Over that time, I have gotten to know and befriend the MPN and 32Red teams and I can vouch for their professionalism and hard work, their attention to detail and fairness. They are some of the most talented and innovative people in our industry and I know that they have always tried to provide value and quality to their customers, despite numerous difficult setbacks over the last few years. I am sure that this news comes as a gut-punch to them and I know the poker landscape would be all the poorer for their departure so I sincerely hope that clever people in other sites recognise their abilities and snap them up.

I also sincerely hope that, when Microgaming poker customers withdraw their money from the network (deposits are safe and poker will be still running for at least 6 more months so no rush on the bank necessary), they look to make deposits on the smaller sites, the scrappy sites, the licensed sites with healthy eco-systems who prioritise player experience. I hope they target live events in nice locations and satellite their way to packages that put them in nice hotels and put on fun parties and excursions. I hope that community of fun-loving poker players stay together as much as possible and find new homes on sites that appreciate them like I know Microgaming did. Most of all, I hope that as Microgaming’s market share is redistributed, players overwhelmingly make a choice that improves competition in our industry because one less network could easily bring us one step closer to a monopoly.

Beware the Vampire Squid.