Speculations for the New Year
In this week's Weekly Shuffle, I'm going to speculate on a few poker ideas that I think we'll likely see in the near future. I believe some of these ideas will be relatively minor developments, whereas others may significantly change the poker world.
One idea that we'll likely see implemented in 2007 is webcam poker. The idea behind webcam poker is to provide a sort of middle ground between online poker and live poker. The interface would be similar to most online poker rooms, except each player's face would be displayed live via webcam. Players would have the convenience of online poker, but would be able to spot physical tells.
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Webcam poker is certainly interesting and will no doubt appeal to some players. However, I predict it will be a relatively minor development that has a small user base for a few reasons.
First, all players on the site will likely need to have a webcam or else certain players would have a significant edge. No one in their right mind would use a webcam while playing for real-money unless all of the other players are using a webcam (any player dumb enough to give away this edge will likely not be playing poker for long anyway). That said, I think poker rooms utilizing this concept will find it hard to develop a large enough player base to have a critical mass of players at most limits. Their might be a $.25-$.50 no-limit game going around the clock, but it's unlikely they'll attract enough players for $2-$4 no-limit games and higher.
The number of poker players that happen to have webcams is quite low, and only a small percentage of them will likely want to play using a webcam. It will be difficult to convince players to both buy a webcam and to sign up at a poker room, especially if the poker room is small. I don't see the major poker rooms implementing this idea, since it's likely not worth it for them to significantly change their software for a small percentage of the poker market. Thus, poker rooms that offer webcam poker will likely be small and fairly unknown.
Online poker rooms that feature more graphically rich games have so far remained fairly unpopular. I don't see webcam poker being any different. There will be some players, but on the whole, the average online poker player will choose the site with many players and basic software instead.
Prediction: At least one real-money poker site with webcam ability. No webcam poker room with 1000+ real-money players at peak hours.
Given poker's increasing popularity in Europe, I predict we will soon see a few major poker tournaments in Europe. The WSOP Main Event will of course stay in Las Vegas, and I don't think there'll be a "European Main Event" anytime soon. However, a major tournament similar to the World Series of Poker Main Event will likely take place in Europe in a year or two.
Ladbrokes Poker has already attempted to do this with their Poker Million V. This tournament has a guaranteed prize pool of over $4 million, with Ladbrokes guaranteeing that it will add at least $1 million in extra prize money and a first-place prize of $1.2 million. The finals of this event were broadcast live on Sky Sports this past Friday.
However, there were many factors keeping this tournament smaller than it could have been. The main factor was that this tournament was limited to Ladbrokes players and requires that these players qualify online. Not only does this prevent offline players from entering this event, American and German players are not eligible to play at Ladbrokes, so two major nations of poker players are not able to enter this event.
Consider this though. When Raymer won the WSOP in 2004, the WSOP had 2576 entrants with a prize pool of just over $24 million. Many expect the 2007 WSOP to draw roughly 3000 entrants, so the size of the event will likely be more similar to the 2004 WSOP than the 2006 WSOP.
Ladbrokes will likely acquire 888, giving its poker room a major infusion of players. If it structures its Poker Million VI to be more similar to the WSOP (with a direct buy-in and open to all players), it likely might be able to rival the WSOP in terms of size.
The significance of this event isn't just that it will be a major poker tournament, it will likely result in the WSOP being even smaller in the future years. Prior to the poker boom, the WSOP had a special place in the poker world as the prestigious tournament that attracted poker's top players. Over the past few years, the WSOP has reinvented itself as a huge poker extravaganza that attracts thousands of players. It's appeal is no longer the best competing against the best, but rather giving amateur poker players the chance to become multi-millionaires.
It is already expected that the 2007 WSOP will be significantly smaller than the 2006 WSOP due to the passage of the UIGEA. If a major European event challenges the WSOP, then even fewer Europeans will opt to play in the WSOP and will instead attempt to play in the European form of the WSOP.
Prediction: In 2008, there will be a poker tournament in Europe with a $10 million+ prize pool. Also, the 2008 WSOP will have less than 2000 entrants.
Advertising Supported Poker Sites
Most fake-money poker sites act as feeders for real-money poker rooms. For example, partypoker.net is a site where players cannot wager real money. However, Party Poker is actually hoping that players will migrate from that site over to partypoker.com, where they can play for both play money and real money. With the exception of ESPN Poker Club, most large fake-money poker sites exist as feeders into their real-money counterparts. These free play poker sites are often able to award cash prizes in free play games to entice players to eventually play for real money.
One idea floating around that we will likely see eventually is fake-money sites where players can win real prizes. Players would enter tournaments where the top finishers win prizes, even though the tournament does not have an entry fee. Instead of being sponsored by a real-money counterpart, these poker sites would be advertising sponsored.
During the WSOP Main Event, Harrah's sold advertising to Party Poker and Milwaukee's Best Light by putting those firms' logos on every poker table at the WSOP. The same concept could apply to online poker. At all online poker tables, a sponsor is seen on the table (or perhaps a banner is shown on the top or sides of the window as well).
Advertising makes even more sense at online poker tables than at live poker tables. At online poker tables, the main audience is the player itself, who is focused on the action at the table. At live poker tables, the audience is the TV viewership. The cameras are constantly focused on the players, not the table, as well as all of the other television gimmicks the shows utilize. Online poker players, fake-money players included, spend a significant amount of time playing the game, so they would be greatly exposed to the advertiser's message.
Advertising sponsored poker sites have not taken off in the past since the major poker sites had little need for advertising dollars. Since the real-money poker players are paying rake (which is much more significant than any advertising money the poker rooms could obtain), it seems unfair to also expose players to advertisements. If the poker rooms even alienate a small percentage of their player base with the advertisements, it would make sense to pull the advertisements to retain their rake-paying customers.
Furthermore, since most free play sites are feeders into real-money sites, the poker rooms focus their efforts on their free-play sites to convert play-money players into real-money players. An advertising supported site would likely need to be a new poker room not associated with a real-money poker site. Another potential is that a room that does not accept US players displays advertisements to US players on its fake-money site, since that's the only way that company will ever be able to make money off of US players.
I think the passage of the UIGEA will indirectly lead to the creation of advertising sponsored poker sites. There is a huge American market of play-money players. In the past, the US play-money market was swamped by fake-money sites that were just the sister sites of real-money sites. Now, many of these real-money sites do not accept US players. These sites will likely utilize advertising to monetize their US traffic, or they will simply not focus on obtaining more US play-money players. Furthermore, the US-facing poker sites will likely find it increasingly difficult to advertise in the United States (even for their play-money sites) due to the passage of the UIGEA.
Due to the UIGEA, the conditions are significantly better for the emergence of an advertising sponsored poker site. The prizes this site offers players will likely not be significant, but few people complain winning something for nothing.
Prediction: At least one poker site that awards prizes is reliant on advertising by the end of 2007.