Three members of the poker community recently met with PokerStars executives to discuss the changes to the VIP program the company announced in early November and rolled out on January 1, 2016.

The three player representatives, Dani “Ansky” Stern, Ike Haxton, and Daniel Dvoress had to sign nondisclosure agreements when it came to proprietary information they may be shown during the meeting, but they did release a joint statement, posted by Ansky, on the twoplustwo poker forum where they offered their general thoughts on the meeting.

PokerStars remains steadfast on 2016 Supernova reductions

The most controversial change made by PokerStars was their reduction of Supernova and Supernova Elite benefits in 2016. Supernova status earned in one calendar year is supposed to carry over to the next year, and since PokerStars didn’t announce the changes until November, a lot of players who spent most of the year working toward reaching Supernova (particularly Supernova Elite) status feel cheated, as they expected their hard work in 2015 to continue to pay dividends in 2016.

According to the statement on 2+2, and despite the backlash, it doesn’t appear that PokerStars is going to reverse course on this controversial point:

“Although the PokerStars and Amaya representatives were apologetic and expressed regret at the impact that the decision has had on players’ perception of the brand, we did not make any real progress on this point. They denied having any firm obligation to give 2015 SNs and SNEs the rewards they were promised and asserted that they did not feel that doing so would be in the best interests of their business.”

The statement from the player reps concludes with the negative outlook statement:

“We deeply regret that we are not bringing back any good news for the players. We tried our best to present both practical and ethical arguments against the SN/SNE cuts, but PokerStars is not willing to reconsider any of the changes.”

I see your data, but I don’t agree with your assessment of it

No headway was made on the Supernova changes, but Ansky and company did agree they were shown compelling data from PokerStars indicating issues within the poker ecosystem. However, the trio was not convinced the current changes would solve these problems.

According to their statement, “As far as we could tell, PokerStars’ goal going into the meeting was to convince us that 1) There are problems with the current “ecosystem,” and that 2) The VIP changes will address those problems. We did feel that they made a compelling case on the first point.” The statement goes on to say, “They presented strong evidence that something needs to change… However, we did not feel that we were shown convincing evidence that any of the changes implemented so far would directly impact issues with the game ecology or the playing experience of recreational players.”

Throughout the statement the data PokerStars presented the player reps with was called “dubious, unconvincing,” and other superlatives.

For their part, the player reps did offer suggestions, such as “reducing rake in shorthanded cash games while increasing it in full games and offering discounts/bonuses for SNGs that run with a lineup of all SN or SNE players.”

The statement by the player reps implies that these suggestions were more or less dismissed out of hand by PokerStars.

PokerStars point of view

The players weren’t the only party that released a statement on the meeting. On Monday Amaya Gaming’s Head of Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser released a statement portraying the meeting from PokerStars perspective.

“It is common for people to disagree on interpretation of data and the insights gained from this interpretation. As we expressed in the meeting, we are open to continued dialogue regarding our analysis and whether the changes will accomplish our goals. Although it’s very early, the initial data seems to confirm that we made the right decision with the VIP Club changes as we player bankrolls are lasting longer in ring games and net deposits are up.”

The statement also makes it pretty clear that the company is resolute with its recent decisions:

“Although that may not be what some players want to hear, the recent meeting demonstrated that an ongoing dialogue can provide greater understanding.”

What’s really going on?

It’s becoming quite apparent (at least to me) that PokerStars isn’t simply redirecting money from winners to losers (or from winners to their own pockets). What they’re doing is something a small minority of industry people have called on poker sites to do for quite some time: change player behaviors. The goal isn’t to simply redistribute wealth to losing players, but rather to change the experience these players have.

As Hollresiser said in Amaya’s statement:

“We emphasized that there is no single magic bullet to do this. The changes to the VIP rewards program are only one part of a broad-based plan to improve the online poker ecosystem. This plan is aimed at increasing the number, frequency of play and total deposits of recreational players (who are the lifeblood of any poker economy) by continuing to make poker fun and relevant to today’s players whether they’re playing on desktop, smartphone or tablet.”

As I’ve stated in the past, this element of “fun” includes removing the current impediments that prevent fast upward mobility (the ability to “run it up” in a short amount of time), and reducing the appeal of mass multi-tabling and a reliance on rewards.

As Kim Lund has long advocated, these problems are only fixable by changing the lures that:

  1. Lead people to sign up at an online poker site;
  2. Keeps them loyal and in action.

Needless to say, Kim was not a fan of the thread on 2+2:

I don’t know if the current changes PokerStars has implemented are going to accomplish this, or what else they have planned, but harming the biggest winners in your ecosystem isn’t going to change the fundamental issues, and from everything I’ve seen, PokerStars understands this, which in my opinion, is a good thing.

Now, if they’d only reconsider those 2016 Supernova benefits…