Mobile poker: slower than other mgaming verticals but the components are in place

Date: 
29 October 2013

Poker is the sob story of the gambling industry at the moment, with declining revenues reported by all but a few operators over the past several quarters. bwin.party, Ladbrokes, William Hill and many others are all reporting significant decreases in revenue. 

In fact bwin.party, whose Party Poker was once the unrivalled giant, has recently been overtaken in size by 888. Many networks and operators are looking both to the US market and mobile poker to reverse the weakening of the product in the European market.

For a long time, however, there was a lot of scepticism about mobile poker – with questions over whether or not it had real potential on portable devices. Convergence was the key issue – running the same game across all devices and platforms, both desktop and mobile. With specific regard to poker, flagged player considerations include:

  • How to manage the game if a dropped player has money in the pot
  • How to manage a heads-up game if one player is disconnected
  • High scope for connection abuse
  • Players being blinded out if legitimately disconnected for long periods of time
  • Liquidity issues in a mobile-only network, and online player frustration in a combined mobile-desktop pool
  • Unsuitability of lengthy real-money tournaments and cash games to the timing and duration of mobile entertainment usage
  • Screen-size limitations for simultaneous multi-tabling which is popular amongst many players on desktop
  • Heavy bandwidth requirements, especially for web-based offerings.

These were very real issues, which is why poker had a slow(ish) start relative to other mobile products – both in terms of consumer acceptance and product launches by operators. Early products were overly-simplistic and rife with issues – to the point where the chief executive of the World Poker Tour was quoted at the time as saying: “There were some games that were hard even to describe as a poker product. Sure, there’s a table, hole cards and chips, but they were poker in the way a Vespa is a motorcycle.”

Time and technology developments have eliminated many of the past problems, leading to poker being a viable product now:

  • The growth and sophistication of apps and even the improvements in web-based technology with HTML5 have resolved the product quality and much of the bandwidth issues (given so much data is going back and forth during a game, it’s best not to have to have additional weight and demands made by the product itself). PKR was a brand that would not consider mobile poker until such a time as the technology would do the product and the brand justice, but earlier this year they launched a mobile product, first on iOS, then a few months later on Android, and it’s showing impressive results already.
  • Bandwidth is also resolved by the pervasiveness of Wi-Fi in public locations, as well as the fact that most gameplay happens at home. As 4G rolls out, it will also add colossal benefit to poker game play.
  • Devices have evolved significantly in the past few years. The new larger screens lend themselves well to the complex poker product and, of course, tablets are ideally suited to the product.
  • Head-to-head games and the new generation of fast games, which seem to be designed with mobile play in mind, are making a huge difference to the popularity of mobile poker. Fast fold poker has proven to be a highly successful gaming format among players, accounting for up to 40% of all cash game hands played, according to PokerScout in November 2012. In traditional poker ring games, players compete against a static set of players seated at the same table. In fast fold poker, players compete against a pool of players and when one player folds he is immediately placed at a new table with new opponents and dealt a new hand. Most of the operators have their own versions live on mobile:

- bwin.party – FastForward
- Microgaming – Blaze
- PokerStars – Zoom
- Full Tilt – Rush
- Amaya/Ongame- Strobe

There is a plethora of decent poker products available on mobile devices at this point; however, the stark reality is that there is little or no consistency between any of them. On a desktop, no matter what site a player uses, he has broadly similar product functionality available, in terms of gaming suites, payment options, etc, yet this is far from the case on mobile – which will inevitably lead to confusion and player frustration until there is more standardisation.

Examples of the diverse offerings include the following:

  • PKR offers real money ring-game and sit-n-go (SNG) tournament games but multi-table tournament play is not yet available.
  • iPoker skins used web-based Android Air products for “instant play” for quite some time without any iOS support, and the network has only recently launched native iOS and HTML5 apps.
  • PartyPoker offers a single-table experience for hold’em cash games, in both real money and play money, and provides options for multiple languages, but non-hold’em games, tournaments and SNGs are currently not available in the app, and at launch players were able to register on the mobile devices but had to use the desktop client for deposits and withdrawals. Android was the only operating system available at launch.
  • PokerStars recently announced its web-based cashier, accessible from any mobile or desktop web browser. The new cashier is already available to PokerStars mobile players on their .es (Spain) and .eu sites (which includes German, Dutch, Swedish and Finnish players, among others).
  • 888 has offered an Android application since February 2013 but only recently launched its iOS version for iPad, and the iPhone has yet to be launched. SNGs were only added recently as the original product launched without them. There is no lobby in the client – only “quick seat” options – and there is no multi-tabling support. Only hold’em games are currently available.
  • New entrant Mobile Poker Club has launched Next! Poker, which offers real-money and play-money ring games, SNGs and multi-table tournaments, and allows users to play up to four tables simultaneously on iPhone and Android devices.