Can Party Poker resuscitate its online poker brand?
The merger between gaming giants bwin and Party Poker was supposed to create the iGaming world’s first “Super Brand” but has instead left the company reeling, facing backlash from poker players over recent decisions, and at the same time dealing with poor P&L reports. All along the company has maintained that during their repositioning plan the company would go through some growing pains, but these pains have seemingly turned into a chronic and potentially terminal illness.
The criticism began with the move towards a “recreational” player model that saw Party Poker eliminate its high-stakes tables and do away with the upper tier of its VIP Rewards Program. More recently the site has come under fire for a newly imposed fee on popular withdrawal options; for lessening the compensation to affiliates; and most recently in regards to their new software update.
The Update That Was Supposed to Save Party Poker
This is what was supposed to save Party Poker; this is what the company pointed to when those bad P&L’s were coming in. And this is what we got: A new color scheme; an emphasis on social gaming and player achievements and missions; the disappearance of all Stud games; and the reduction of the deposit bonus (from 100% up to $500 to 100% up to $50).
I just don’t see how this will help the site, and neither does Kevin Brkal of PokerEagles.com who wrote in his article titled Party Poker a Slow & Painful Decline:
“If I was a betting man, I would bet even with Party Poker being available to USA players again you will not see them gain a significant amount of market share. Its [sic] sad to say but the brand is dead.”
Another negative view of the “new” Party Poker was penned by Alexander Baron of DigitalJournal.com, who lamented the loss of Stud poker games at the site:
“While the stud tournaments were not well patronised, this is surely a step in the wrong direction for Party Poker. PokerStars is the world’s biggest site by far, and the variety of games available there is enough to satisfy almost every player.”
Why Rebranding Online Is So Difficult
It’s one thing for a restaurant or bar, or even a hotel or casino to rebrand itself and shed its old customer base. We’ve seen this happen, and we’ve seen these types of businesses right the ship and go on to bigger and better things –despite some aggrieved former patrons. Sure there is a lean time during the turnaround, but there is a specific model that can be followed.
The difference here is that we have zero history of this being a possibility for an iGaming site. Online poker has only been around for 15 years or so and there is no “playbook” for Party Poker to open and reinvent themselves. In the world of cyberspace there are simply too many competitors accessible to your customers, so once you lose them they tend to stay gone.
There is no instance, no example to point to, of a major online poker room that fell from grace and then regained their standing later on after a rebranding: Planet Poker, Paradise Poker, Ultimate Bet, Full Tilt Poker, and Party Poker have all been knocked off their perches, and not a single one of these rooms was able to come anywhere near their previous apexes.
History indicates that an online poker room can go up and then down, but there is no case study to point to where an online poker room has been up, gone down, and gone back up to their previous level –the best comparison for what Party Poker is attempting to do would be Amazon.com which was decimated by the “dot-com bubble” (Amazon stock went from over $100 a share to $7 a share) but later on surpassed its pre-bubble value.
It would seem that Party Poker is trying to write the recipe for online poker rebranding as they go, and so far what they are cooking doesn’t smell or look all that edible to the poker community. This isn’t to say it can’t happen (who knows what legalized online poker in the US will bring) but right now I tend to agree with the naysayers that Party Poker’s return to its former glory is more wishful-thinking than a well-mapped plan. I don’t see the brand going anywhere, or failing, but the long-awaited return of Party Poker to the top of the online poker world –that has been bandied about since 2006– doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
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