I read recently on Bill Rini's excellent blog which covers the online poker industry that the concept of "Loyalty" programs are a complete joke. Poker is essentially a commodity business so most players will rationally act in their own self-interest and respond to whoever offers them the best financial incentives. I generally agreed with this but got to thinking about ways that this could be changed.
Of course, when we are referring to loyalty programs, this generally only applies to players of the high volume nature. While liquidity from recreational players is ranked the highest in terms of value, we still can't overlook the role played by high volume regulars whose play is necessary to run the engine that grinds recreational money down into rake for the site.
I received my Full Tilt Black Card in November. I was fully expecting it to be just another piece of laminated card board, but was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was a credit card shaped piece of painted steel with my name inscribed on it. I know it's kind of cheesy, but I couldn't help but feel a little bit of pride while feeling it's weight in my hand. Kind of like a trophy, I always thought.
On the surface, this can also be said of many of the items with Full Tilt's logo that can be found littered throughout their store, but herein lies the problem: once you have items that can be exchanged for points in lieu of cash based rewards that can be purchased with the same points, you have forever tainted the symbolic value of those items. Let me explain:
Rakeback Nation has a great rewards system that offers items that can be exchanged for points built up by generating rake. Unlike items bought at an online poker store for points, getting these items does not deduct from your rakeback in any way. Similarly, there are no optional bonuses or gift cards that you have to pass up. What does this mean? This means that I can thoroughly enjoy the Kindle that I "achieved" without having to feel like I paid for it.
While Full Tilt can counter that they offer a special avatar or watch for those who finish first in their FTOPS or Mini-FTOPS events respectively, since everyone understands that only one winner gets to enjoy these symbolic items and that there is a certain amount of luck needed to achieve them, they are not an appropriate way to incentivize play. In the same vein, having your handle being listed on any kind of anonymous monthly leaderboard only to have it swept away the following month doesn't feel like your accomplishments are exactly being appreciated, either. And just how are they recognizing such achievements? By offering cash and buy in tokens, of course! Once again, Bill Rini is right: all the sites are doing this and again reducing their product into a commodity business. While this might be good for future advertisements of one's coaching services, it doesn't exactly appeal to someone's emotions and sense of loyalty.
Here is my proposition: the sites should begin mailing out actual trophies and plaques that recognize personal, stakewide, and sitewide milestones that are achievable to anyone who grinds hard enough. Furthermore, they should offer a permanent place on the site for a "Hall of Fame" for various achievements where a player can choose to be awarded with a photo and their real name. Here are some suggestions:
Stakewide and Sitewide (based on minimum number of hands played):
- Most hands played
- Most money earned
- Highest winrate
- Most first place finishes
- Most knockouts
- Most cashes
- Most final tables
- $10k in career winnings
- $100k in career winnings, etc.
- $10M in total wagers, etc. (doesn't mean much, but makes you look a total baller)
- 100k hands played in a month, etc.
- Best poker blog ;)
It is no secret in business that people have bigger needs than just wanting more money- they want full appreciation for the work that they do. Most of the work done by poker players is never recognized in any formal way- even for those at the top of their craft. What player do you know that wouldn't want a special trophy room dedicated to honoring his achievements in a way that his friends and family can understand? And how do you think they would feel towards the site that finally acknowledged such performances in a tangible way?
Let me know what you think!