There is always constant chatter in the poker world on how to appeal to recreational players and improve the online poker ecology. What most people mean when they start discussing these things is, how do we recreate the environment that set the Poker Boom in motion at the tail end of 2003?
The questions they generally want answered are:
What can we do to bring these recreational players back into the fold?
How do we keep the grinders away from these new players while they learn the game?
In my opinion, this type of thinking looks past the real issue.
The Poker Boom Was A Case of Right Place Right Time
From 1998-2003 (and mostly between 2001-2003), online poker was created and grew into a thriving industry: the hole card camera was unveiled and changed poker on TV, Rounders became a cult classic among young males, James McManus wrote Positively Fifth Street, and a guy named Moneymaker won the first ever WSOP Main Event where the hole card camera was used.
Think about that series of events for a moment. New promotions or marketing to casual players isn’t going to recreate what occurred in the few years leading up to 2003.
Poker has always been a popular game, and people (new players and seasoned veterans) sit at poker tables for a variety of different reasons. What occurred in 2003 was a newfound accessibility to poker games and unprecedented awareness.
It was the first point in time where poker was available to everyone, no matter where they lived.
We cannot recreate the environment that gave us Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, and we cannot recreate the convergence of innovation and circumstances that gave rise to the Poker Boom.
Talk of creating another Boom without also talking about radical change is just that, talk. Unless someone has another hole card camera type innovation, or can somehow make poker even more accessible than online poker did in 2003, we can forget a second Poker Boom.
This doesn’t mean current innovation is all for naught. But what we need to do is look forward, or at least at the present.
Forget about the fool’s errand of recreating what transpired from 2003-2006 and look at the current climate to determine what is best for poker moving forward, even if that means it will not approach what we saw during the Boom years. We already peaked, so now let’s try to maintain what we have.
The main reason for this is the players are different in 2014, and the general public’s attitudes and knowledge of poker is different than it was 10 years ago.
5 reasons 2003-2006 Will Not Come Back
People have more online entertainment options
One of the biggest issues we will find as we try to draw new players to the poker tables is that the number of ways to blow money online has significantly increased.
Back during the original Poker Boom people could play online poker, or bet on sports, or try an online casino. Other than shopping or online auctions, that was about it. Now, they have all of those options plus massive Fantasy Sports leagues, Daily Fantasy Sports, and social games to choose from.
On top of the gambling options, we now have entered an era of streaming videos, apps, books, and any number of other time sinks to choose from.
When it comes to poker, people are better informed
Back in 2003/2004 online poker content and websites were just getting off the ground, and the level of sophistication was nowhere near what it is today. There weren’t any databases or poker training sites, and the type of content that so enthralled players a decade ago would be considered outdated and beyond basic in the modern world.
10 years later, in 2014, people, have access to strategic information orders of magnitude more advanced than anything that could be found online a decade ago, and coupled with a decade of “poker, poker, poker” on TV, even the most casual player comes to the table armed with a decent base of knowledge.
People are simply more discerning
On top of having more advanced content to peruse, people are also much better at finding that content in 2014. Think back to 2004, when people were still asking Jeeves to answer their questions. 10 years on everyone is using finely tuned search engines to find precisely what they are looking for.
In 2004 the Internet was not used as a consultant in the way it is now. Internet booking websites were still in their infancy and for the most part, people were not comparing hotel rates or haggling for cars online. In 2014 virtually everyone consults the Internet, and this extends to poker.
Do a quick Google and then Google News search for the term poker with customized date ranges to see how much this changed.
The skill level of poker players is through the roof
During the early stages of the Poker Boom the game was still being sold as a game where anyone could win – you just needed to catch lightning in a bottle a couple of times and bingo, you could be the WSOP Champion!
Now, because players are so much more advanced, poker is being sold as a game for highly skilled practitioners, where if you put in the time and effort you can compete with the best.
Which one of those sales pitches do you think will perk up the ears of a complete noob?
The skill level is so high in the modern poker world that completely clueless players (like the ones that flocked to the online poker tables after watching Chris Moneymaker win the WSOP Main Event) have literally no chance.
They have no chance to win a typical tournament. they have no chance to string together a few winning cash game sessions. And there is no chance they will not immediately realize how outclassed they are.
Poker has lost its novelty
The final piece to the puzzle can best be described as an issue related to being the flavor of the month, or having your 15 minutes of fame end. Quite frankly, poker’s time in the spotlight seems to be over.
The general public still has a fleeting interest in the game but it no longer commands mention around the water cooler at offices around the country, and poker on TV has dipped back in its viewership.
Poker is and always will be a popular game, but it’s moment in the sun has passed.