888 Poker Adding Many New Players Thanks to Increased Social Interaction

888 PokerPlayer traffic at 888 Poker has seen a tremendous upswing in the past year, more than doubling in size, which the poker site attributes to its concept of embracing the social facet of the game and encouraging greater personalization and interaction among players.

At a time when other poker networks are featuring anonymous tables, prohibiting HUDs and player-tracking software, changing rake structures and restricting winning players from playing on certain tables due to their high player rating –all in an effort to attract the casual and recreational players– 888 Poker has taken a different approach. They have welcomed and encouraged player communication by launching webcam tables, player lounges that combine tournaments and private games with webcam technology to offer a rather unique social experience, and new software that is seen as more user-friendly for players. All designed to make the poker-playing experience more fun and enjoyable.

[Players] get to talk to people across the world, said Maytal Ginzburg, head of business-to-consumer marketing efforts at 888, about the site’s webcam poker tables. It creates great interaction and it shows that players actually crave that exchange of communication because it’s friendly and fun.

Gigi Levy, the former CEO at 888 Poker, said this in June about the tables featuring webcams,

It … creates greater trust in the product, many players fear they are playing against bots and this obviously puts that theory to bed. The other important aspect is that how you look and act can deceive you or help you win. This is a vital ingredient of the game that to a large extent has disappeared with online poker. The PokerCam has brought it back and there’s also a lot less trash talk when players are face-to-face.

This, of course, is no surprise to the majority of poker players. Recreational and casual players, especially, are attracted to the communicative and social element attached to the game.

The biggest risk we were running was that casual players avoided the product because of a lack of interaction, which is why so many have gone to Zynga, Ginzburg said. In terms of game play, they stay four to five times longer on the client than they used to. It shows the product is connecting with them and is relevant.

In addition to the PokerCam, 888 Poker rolled out new software that enhanced the playing experience. The site’s regular players applauded the change, while new players flocked to the poker room to check it out, and, apparently, were quite impressed with the features.

It comes down to making it as easy as possible for players to access tables and play, Ginzburg said. That means one-touch access to the lobby, quick access to table seats, 3D graphics, videos and editorial content. These excellent features are integrated and geared at the user in the poker client, resulting in higher liquidity and the improved performance of our poker product.

The success of 888 Poker has not gone unnoticed in the industry, as they recently won the award of 2011 Poker Operator of the Year by eGaming Review. The poker site’s traffic numbers tell the whole story. By embracing poker’s social benefits, 888 Poker now ranks as the fourth-largest online poker network worldwide. Other internet poker networks have made gains this year, but those sites are still offering online poker in the U.S. market. The departure of Full Tilt, PokerStars and Absolute Poker from the market has left a void that Bodog Poker and the Merge Poker Network have capitalized on. The spike in traffic at 888 Poker is even that much more impressive when considering that they have chosen not to operate in the legally uncertain American marketplace.

Speaking of the U.S. online poker market, 888 Poker is also perfectly positioned to join that market when internet poker is no longer uncertain and becomes legalized and regulated in that jurisdiction. Earlier this year, 888 Holdings, the parent company of 888 Poker, entered into a partnership agreement with Caesar’s Entertainment Corp., the land-based Las Vegas casino company. Many expect 888 Poker’s growth to continue upon future legislation that is currently under review and debate by U.S. lawmakers.

While some in the poker industry have decided to punish winning players and anonymize and de-personalize the game, 888 Poker’s success in going in the opposite direction is quite refreshing. During a time of industry uncertainty and also a 30% reduction in worldwide online poker traffic, 888 Poker, also known in the trade as the Pacific Poker Network, was able to buck the trend. Combined with attracting casual players, 888 Poker knows that winning players are also vital to maintaining healthy liquidity on its poker site.

We have turned it around because we have managed to get casual players in large numbers, Ginzburg said. This also attracts skilled players, which is good for the ecosystem in general.

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