By Severin Rasset, Director of Poker Innovation and Operations for PokerStars
At PokerStars, we are constantly looking for ways to better provide a safe and fair environment, and to improve the overall experience when a customer chooses to play with us. Protecting the game of poker that we all love is at the core of everything we do. It ignites very passionate discussions as the decisions are often quite complex when we take in consideration our pool of players with different needs and desires, the historical precedence, the evolution of the game, the latest trends...
With so many customers who trust our products, we have to be particularly vigilant against tools or strategies used to gain an unfair advantage. We also need to be able to ensure that we create enforceable and sustainable policies, making sure that players who do follow the rules are not at a disadvantage.
These were the considerations we undertook before announcing today the introduction of Seat Me which aims to improve our ring game seating process by making it smoother, quicker and fairer. Seat Me eliminates the ability of players to pick their tables and seats at the tables, and will instead get them straight into the action automatically once a game and stake has been chosen. We will be testing this new functionality soon, on PokerStars.es, and will review the results of this trial before considering potential future use of Seat Me in other markets.
Seat Me will:
• Greatly reduce the ability to bumhunt
• Prevent seating scripts and level the playing field by undermining those few players using software that allows them to unfairly prey on less experienced players
• Mimic the live poker experience of random table and seat selection
• Introduce potential time penalties to reduce game disruption caused by players constantly switching tables, stealing blinds or refusing to play certain opponents
While this means live observation of ring game tables will no longer be possible, railbirds will still be able to observe ring game action through rolling highlights of key hands, with Team PokerStars Pros' play weighted to appear at the top of feeds to enable fans to locate and watch them more easily.
Seat Me will complete other initiatives we took in 2016 to protect our customers and to improve their overall experience:
• Destroying datamining - We have always been committed to doing everything we can to completely remove datamining. In 2016, we made it impossible for observers to harvest hands with this sole purpose. We started with Zoom, then Spin & Go, and finally our cash games. We also updated hand charts and our third-party software policy to be more restrictive as we want the policy to be enforced, with consequences if some of our players do not respect it. However, we also acknowledge that it can be very challenging for players to know what is allowed or not and we are planning to continue to improve our communication there in 2017.
• Matching players randomly - All players have a reasonable expectation to play against a large variety of players and of not being targeted by particular opponents. That's something that we should deliver for the good of all players, not just those that put in the most hours. So, we are currently testing a Heads-up Sit & Go lobby on our Spanish client that removes the possibility of seeing the name of opponents before starting the game, which provides a pool of players that will be randomly matched against each other.
If the test is conclusive, it will be a major milestone against seating scripts and the groups of players that prevent these games being played on an even footing. We aim to deploy this feature in other licenses if the test is successful, and our intention is to propose something similar in cash games in the coming months.
• Improving payout structures - The more improvement we can make around the creation of winning moments, the more it will improve the experience of all players, and the health of the game overall. After analysing Spin & Go data and feedback, we found that the lowest multipliers can be quite a frustrating experience, especially if a player goes through a long series of them. Therefore, we have removed some of the frequency of the highest multipliers and transferred that equity to the 4x and 6x multipliers while decreasing the frequency of the 2x.
The payout distribution in Multi-Table Tournaments has also been revised. It is always a very delicate balance to maintain; players love a big first-place prize and significant payouts for the final table, but nobody likes to make the money only to get close to the buy-in of the tournament. In the end, we decided that it makes sense to take a few percent from the final table, and redistribute it amongst those who cash for the minimum amount. Cashing in a tournament, even for the minimum, is a significant accomplishment that we wanted to be more highly rewarded.
• On-demand functionality - We recently released the new functionality of late registration for our multi-table Sit & Go tournaments. We think that it is important for our players to wait as little as possible before starting to play. You can read more about the thinking about the introduction here.
There will be more on the changes made and our efforts in 2016 in my next post, but looking ahead to 2017, our focus is to continue to explore more ways to protect the game, bring more players to the game, and increase those winning moments.
Severin Rasset is Director of Poker Innovation and Operations for PokerStars.