The worldwide lockdown and ongoing global pandemic saw thousands of people take to online gaming and poker (due to enforced stay-at-home measures). How has the influx of new users aided in the resurgence of poker and its online development in Ukraine?
The end of April 2020 was a record-breaking time for the online poker industry. The previous time when similar figures for the number of online players were observed was as far back as 2014, when the market capacity was 2.5 times higher than now, in August 2021. For PokerMatch, April 2020 was also a record-breaking month in many aspects. We clearly understood that we needed to provide an exciting interactive experience for the people who stayed home, and we did it by offering unusual promotions, bonus offers, and our humanity and empathy for our users. Now we see that many of those who came to us during lockdown are still in the game. That helped us to develop in Ukraine as well, but we realise that now people also need to relax after a long time at home and in online games, and we remind our players more often to take breaks.
Do you think the new surge in poker this year could even equate to how huge the online poker boom was back in the 2000s?
You can compare it to the boom of 2003–2006 and to one in Eastern Europe in 2008. But only in terms of quantity, not quality. The interest in poker in general and online poker (in particular), was due to the victories of charismatic players in live tournaments that were shown on TV. So the reasons for the interest were very positive and vivid, people were interested in something new. The 2020 boom is a little bit different; as an industry, we were supposed to be happy, but I would have preferred that any interest in our beloved game was spurred not by pandemics and restrictions on humanity. Instead, the same bright victories by ordinary people like it was in the early 2000s.
Back in the 1990s, poker was largely televised, which increased its popularity. Given the restrictions on gambling advertising nowadays, do you think this will curtail the growth of poker? Or is the growth of mobile more effective in increasing people’s interest?
Nowadays, television no longer plays such an important role in brand promotion as it once did. Mobile platforms and the internet have taken over the market and are growing at an incredible pace. Of course, being on TV is still a landmark in any company’s marketing strategy, but you can no longer say it’s impossible to develop without television; the internet does an excellent job. The main thing is for advertising managers to set up their advertising campaigns correctly so they do not target and affect children.
The influx of online players will generally be newer and more inexperienced compared to veterans. Do you expect PokerMatch will boost its customer profile and how will you be adhering to the more novice gamers?
Historically, we’ve had six or seven amateurs per one pro at the low-limit table, and it’s a great ecosystem. We’ve always been focused only on attracting beginner players, because the professionals themselves come where the conditions are comfortable for them. That’s why the profile of our players hasn’t changed and won’t change much if our marketing strategy is aimed specifically at amateurs. We support beginners through a friendly atmosphere, a high-quality support team and direct interaction with the company management (for example, our C-level executive can easily communicate with players via messenger chat, and our audience appreciates it). Alongside this, easy affordable promotions are available, which switch from a competition format to an individual challenge format. Amateurs don’t want to compete with others – they want to complete missions and get something. So we give them that.
What do you think should be used to attract the modern poker player?
The modern player is tempted and overwhelmed by possibilities. Online poker competes with video games and other types of entertainment. I am convinced online poker should not try to win all of its customer’s attention; we should approach being a part of our player’s life very consciously, allocating only a fraction of time to ourselves. It’s much more important for us to have a long-term relationship with players than to squeeze them out in a week, and then lose them. That’s why we use a friendly atmosphere and clear game mechanics to attract players: fun promotions, easy tasks, convenient mobile apps. And we are honest with our players, we tell them: "Don’t spend all your time on poker. Play a little bit, and then make time for your family or friends and come back later.” Today’s players need the same things our friends or coworkers need – we just have to give it to them.
Based on your experience, can you compare the modern poker player to those of past generations?
Yes, the portrait of a player is very different. When I started playing poker in 2009, the player’s portrait was stricter. Online was kind of a closed club with a small community where everyone spoke some strange language. Software was heavy; there were no mobile applications. And, of course, no one understood how to advertise poker on the internet. You could say knowledge of the game was spread almost literally by word of mouth. Now, the super-convenient mobile applications and online advertising have opened poker to thousands of new people.
Their portrait is significantly different. Advertising campaigns started to position online poker as entertainment, and those who want to have fun started to come here. I’m not talking about gambling addiction, which of course I sympathise with. I’m talking about an easy-going fun attitude toward the game. Ask 100 players in our poker room about their BB/100 or $/hour – and they won’t give you a clear answer because they don’t think about this stuff. They’re here to have fun and that’s the main difference.
What will you do to evolve PokerMatch as a poker room ready for poker's resurgence?
We realise being an independent poker room without being part of any big network is challenging right now. It is becoming more and more difficult to compete with the giants of the industry, who are much larger than us both in terms of their liquidity and marketing budgets. That is why we are considering joining one of the existing poker room networks, to get reliable allies with whom we can fight for global share of the online poker market more effectively. We are also considering building our own network based on the software we currently use. We are working on both scenarios at the same time and are already in talks with some well-known brands.
And, of course, we will continue using our greatest strength: vibrant marketing that creates emotion. This applies to advertising as well as to game offers. On top of that, we are accumulating very good offline expertise and strengthening our profile managers to improve the synergy between offline and online. I am convinced this will have a correspondingly positive effect.