Online Poker Lobbies are Creating Decision Fatigue

Steve Ruddock : July 27th, 2016


Regular readers of my musings will know I’m a big advocate of doing everything we can to make sure poker is fun for recreational players, even if this means professional players get stung a bit – not a lot, just a little.

In this column I want to focus on a specific aspect of my “make poker fun again” campaign that doesn’t adversely affect poker pros: reducing the number of games, stakes, and structures offered in order to simplify and pare down online poker lobbies.

Making poker fun can come in many forms. Whether it’s the skillfulness of the game, the interactions between professional and amateur players, or the way the game is presented and marketed, they all matter.

And first impressions matter a lot. In my opinion, one of the aspects that has gotten out of hand is the overwhelming number of options online poker sites bombard their customers with. Their desire to offer the most games, stakes, and structures (to make sure they’re competitors don’t poach their players) is having the opposite effect, as the complexity of the lobby is confusing and intimidating.

While my incessant calls for simplicity may seem like an “old man yells at clouds” issue, it goes beyond way beyond that.

Decision Fatigue

Being asked to answer too many questions, or being presented with too many choices, has a clinical name, it’s called decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue, or choice fatigue, is when a person is presented with an abundance of options, or overloaded with numerous questions. Research shows this type of bombardment of information leads to poor, unsatisfying decisions, or in some cases, an inability to decide.

Decision fatigue is a real thing, and when you place someone in new or unfamiliar surroundings, it’s effect is further exacerbated.

Think of it this way, it’s one thing to go to your favorite restaurant and leaf through an eight page menu you’ve had the chance to peruse 20 times in the past (so you have a general idea of how the menu is laid out and what you might be looking for to begin with), but it’s entirely another thing to do so in a restaurant you’ve never stepped foot in.

What ends up happening is you have a hard time deciding, and the restaurant better knock your socks off, or you’re going to leave with regrets – regrets that you made a bad decision on where to eat or should have gone with one of the alternate dishes you were considering.

Decision fatigue in poker

Decision fatigue is rife in poker.

You’ve probably played many a session where you push away from the table mentally exhausted. The sheer number of anxiety riddled decision one can make during a typical session of poker is enough to tax even the most mentally tough mind, and at the tail-end of your sessions your decision-making ability is likely taxed, making you more prone to making a poor choice.

Now imagine you hit the mental exhaustion wall before you even sit down to play a hand of poker. This is essentially what happens to new players every day, as they’re confronted with online poker’s version of the 20-page menu when they first set eyes on the site’s lobby.

Actually, with the plethora of games, structures, and stakes, it’s more like being handed the 50-page wine list, when you’re only knowledge of wines is they come in red and white and sometimes have a screw top instead of a cork.

Online poker lobbies are enough to make your head spin.

We should have realized this the moment lobby filters became a necessity, but somehow the situation has gone over the proverbial cliff. As is the case in restaurants with massive menus, when a new online poker player finally settles on a table, if the experience isn’t great (meaning they win) they’re going to be filled with regrets and leave disappointed.

The sheer number of games a player has to choose from makes it more likely they will leave the table unsatisfied and disillusioned with online poker.

Good games are better than more options

Continuing with the restaurant analogy, a restaurant will be far more successful if they serve 10 great dishes than 100 mediocre dishes. Sure, someone who may had their heart set on veal will have to settle on a lamb or seafood dish, but if it’s fantastic it won’t matter.

The same concept holds true for an online poker site. Sure, a player may wish you offered hyper-turbo Sit & Go’s, but if the turbo Sit & Go’s are soft, they’ll be very content to play them. And I’m of the belief that if we increase “game liquidity” the games become softer.

As I explained in this column last year, game liquidity is different than total liquidity:

“There is total liquidity, the total number of players on the site at any given time. And then there is individual game liquidity, which measures the player pool at a specific stake and game type.”

Basically, liquidity takes a macro look at the online poker ecology, measuring the total number of players across all games, sites, and networks. Game liquidity is the micro view. Game liquidity measures what games these players wind up playing and where any overlap might exist.

The fewer game options, the less likely new players will wander into highly skilled games full of specialists. And, if we pool a greater number of players in certain games, we insure that the ecology of these games will be better balanced.

Yes, it will be an annoyance for professionals who want a certain game type, but as I said above, if you offer them an awesome second or third choice, they’ll quickly forget you don’t offer their first choice. Professional players go where the money is.

In the long run, a professional player who can beat $50 hyper Sit & Go’s for $100/hour or standard $50 Sit & Go’s for $75/hour will be fine if you eradicate the hypers if it means they can now beat the standard Sit & Go’s for $110/hour. (Of course, simply eliminating stakes might not do the trick, and the site will have to follow through on other improvements for the ecology to improve.)

This is a secondary reason why I often advocate for consolidation of the lobby, it not only improves the initial user experience, but it also improves the ecology.

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