PokerStars and other poker sites provide social interaction features as an alternative to the traditional, frequently hostile chat box

Online Poker’s Social Features May Be Here To Stay, Despite Criticism, And GGPoker Says Why

GGPoker’s “table emojis” are meant to make online poker even more fun, said Paul Burke, the operator’s head of PR. Speaking to Online Poker Report on Friday, he said GGPoker will add “throwables” soon, too.

These sorts of social features have become a staple for online poker sites, including every major US online poker operator. However, long-time players often roll their eyes at the idea of throwing virtual fireworks or alarm clocks in what is for them a serious, strategic game.

Other operators OPR contacted for this story didn’t want to discuss the features. Representatives for both BetMGM Poker and Partypoker – which operate as a network – formally declined to comment. 888poker, Pala, PokerStars and failed to respond at all. Neither did French operator Winamax, which OPR contacted because it often takes the lead on such innovations.

However, last year’s blog post by the leading US online poker operatorPokerStars – provides an honest description of its rationale:

“First of all, let’s not shy away from the elephant in the room. Not everyone likes ‘throwables.’ We get it. For some players, the idea of chucking virtual objects around the tables doesn’t inspire a serious or dignified tone. And they’re not really supposed to. Throwables are a bit of harmless fun, a way to express a certain feeling in the moment – basically, they’re a new and novel way to say ‘donk’ or ‘zzzzz’ to your opponent.”

That’s also a key difference between online and live poker. When OPR visited Live! Casino and Hotel Philadelphia last month, more than half of the poker room’s 29 tables were full. Regardless, the room was nearly silent, and what conversation was happening was quiet and civilized. Anyone who’s played online knows that the chat is rarely very polite, if it’s used at all.

Online poker throwables, table emotes aren’t going away

Those throwables and table emotes can be disabled on the apps, of course.

Nonetheless, the online poker operators do have the options. So at least some players appear to be using them.

Plus, PokerStars keeps adding more throwables – including “the world’s smallest violin” in April 2021.

Perhaps the operators are considering app engagement. App marketing vendor GetSocial noted last month in a blog post that Fortnite’s Party Royale mode increased the time players spent on the app by 130%. That mode allows players to “fool around with weird non-lethal weapons, like paintball guns and throwable hamburgers.”

App engagement matters because unlike at retail casinos, where players must physically get up to leave a game, app users can just ghost operators. Mobile engagement platform provider Upland Localytics found in 2019 that 25% of users abandoned an app after only one session.

Specifically for betting apps, the trend is on to add social networking features to increase engagement. DraftKings Social caters to sports bettors, who studies show are often similar to poker players.

So perhaps what the online poker operators are doing makes sense.

Burke explains why GGPoker offers table emojis

GGPoker‘s Burke told OPR that the app’s table emojis are available for use at all of its tables:

“Our emojis have been designed to allow players to communicate with one another without needing to break the flow of their game typing in the chat box. Of course, players can continue to use chat as they normally have done, but the emojis allow emotions, thoughts and feelings to be expressed in an instant. After all, a picture paints a thousand words.”

OPR: Why did GGPoker add throwables/table emotes to online poker?

We introduced the GGPoker emojis as part of our overall aim of making poker as much fun as possible, and reintroducing some of the fun and excitement that had slipped away or been ignored by the industry for many years. Poker is a game with high emotions, with aggression and anger as much as joy and excitement. Emojis can represent any of these emotions, and can be accessed from the mobile or desktop GGPoker app in a second.

We do not have throwables just yet, but this is in development, and we hope that people are excited for what we have planned. It will be a lot of fun!

OPR: Have the GGPoker table emojis started any fights? Have you banned any players?

No players have been banned for using emojis. At present, players are limited to posting a maximum of five emojis in each 10-second period, which reduces the possibility of misuse. I’m sure there’s a little bit of needling opponents using emojis by some players, but that’s all part of the game we love.

OPR: How many online poker players disable GGPoker’s table emojis?

Some players *have* asked to disable the emojis entirely, for whatever reason. But since the vast majority of the community enjoys them, they aren’t going anywhere for now! If an individual player doesn’t want to see the emojis posted by their opponents (or read their chat), they can simply enable GGPoker’s helmet mode, which blocks all incoming communication from others players, and also stops a player from posting themselves.

- Heather Fletcher is the lead writer with OnlinePokerReport. She's a career journalist, with bylines in The New York Times, Adweek and other publications. Reach her at [email protected]
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