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The finer details of the new scheme have yet to be fully revealed. However, in a recent blog post by PokerStars Director of Poker Innovation and Operations Séverin Rasset, PokerStars indicates that reward amounts will be randomized.
PokerStars is no stranger to randomized reward systems, having crafted the crux of its 2016 online poker promotions around the concept. The new rewards scheme appears to be, at least in part, a massive extension of its favored promotional vehicle.
But how has this direction worked out for PokerStars so far? Were the results positive enough to warrant a complete revamp of its loyalty scheme around randomness?
In 2016, the average PokerStars promotion adhered to the following basic roadmap:
Clearly, these promotions were targeted at net depositing players. They tend to be more attracted to the idea of a sizable score than concerned about their average rakeback rate.
This fits with Stars’ new marketing directive, where the bulk of its spend is now dedicated toward the acquisition and retention of frequent depositors.
It’s early yet, but PokerStars’ love for randomized promotional payouts doesn’t appear to be setting the online poker world on fire.
By relative standards, Card Hunt was a stronger performer for PokerStars, providing a nice initial uptick and helping the site maintain increased cash-game liquidity for almost its entire duration.
It also appeared to have worked to retain some players, as liquidity was down just 3 percent from the day the promotion started to a week after it ended.
While that doesn’t sound too great, consider that cash-game liquidity on other dot-com sites was collectively down 8.7 percent over an equivalent time frame.
Usually cash game promotions inspire an uptick in liquidity, at least initially. That wasn’t the case with Pyramid. Liquidity on PokerStars actually lagged behind the dot-com market for nearly the entire duration of the promotion.
It wouldn’t be fair to look at promotions that encourage cash game play exclusively.
That said, this promotion, which effectively increased cash flow on the site, did little to spark increased cash game play.
Traffic on PokerStars was relatively on par with other dot-com sites when Mega Bonus Rewards was running. It was up 7.1 percent one week in, versus 8.5 percent for the rest of dot-com.
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We can somewhat neatly conclude that randomized payout promotions have not been a boon for PokerStars’ cash game traffic.
Furthermore, over the past two years, ring-game liquidity on PokerStars and its regional branches has fallen off at a much swifter pace compared to most other top ten sites and networks:
But cash game liquidity is only one part of a much bigger whole.
In terms of revenue, PokerStars fared much better in 2016 than the activity of its cash-game lobby would indicate:
Collectively, this suggests that PokerStars’ overall strategy for online poker — which randomized payout promotions are a big chunk of — was at least partially effective.
This is especially true in the context that PokerStars was forced to exit some smaller markets in 2016. Its online casino and sportsbook also cannibalized some of its online poker traffic.
More on Amaya’s 2016 financial results here.
Although PokerStars’ new promotional strategy has been largely ineffective at growing cash-game traffic, any losses were partially offset by rake hikes, and by increased traffic for other, highly-raked online poker verticals.
In particular, Spin & Go’s, which are heavily based around randomness and have been the focal point of many randomized payout promos, continue to thrive.
What this suggests is that randomized award structures can work when applied to more “gambly” formats, but less so when the skill cap is high.
Whether PokerStars will overplay its hand by extending randomness into the daily lives of poker players is yet to be seen.
But the new demographic that it’s been targeting — which, let’s face it, is losing players — does appear more amenable to playing the lottery than the average cash-game grinding regular.