Zynga Poker has never been the go-to app for serious poker players, but that doesn’t take away from its importance in the poker world. It’s the leading way for casual poker players to engage in play money games, and through micro-transactions for chips and other perks, it’s a pretty profitable enterprise for Zynga. So when the company implements a feature that many real-money poker rooms would probably like to try, it’s certainly worth paying attention.
The latest version of the Zynga mobile poker app was launched last week, and it included plenty of features and upgrades across the board. There are better animations, a more “realistic” graphics package, and a better lobby. But most interesting of all is a new skill-matching system that tries to ensure that players can compete against opponents that are a reasonable match for them, resulting in more competitive games for players of all skill levels.
This, in various forms, is something that real-money poker rooms have tried from time to time using a number of methods. There’s the use of beginner tables in some rooms, where only players who are new to a site can access and play. At one time, PartyPoker attempted to hide tables with recreational players from big winners, though that was eventually abandoned. Some networks, such as the Equity Poker Network, have even gone so far as to ban some winning players in an effort to protect their more casual player base.
Perhaps the most direct parallel to the Zynga skill-matching system, however, was the Fair Play Technology system that was attempted by the Revolution Gaming Network. While the details of the system were never revealed to the public, it placed players into three tiers and then tried to keep the lowest ranked players from meeting highly-skilled competition in cash games. The program was discontinued after five months.
When it comes to play-money games like those on Zynga, skill-matching benefits just about everyone. Nobody feels outclassed in games, and serious players can test themselves against others who are trying hard to win, rather than those who are just throwing chips around for fun. By giving more players an experience they want, it may even help increase the amount of revenue the app generates in chip sales.
But in the world of real-money play, such efforts are much more controversial. For poker rooms, the idea is simple: since most of their money is made off of casual players who mostly lose, break even, or at best show a small profit, it is in their benefit to keep those players happy and not have them chased off too quickly by winning players. To the rooms, protecting weaker players is good for the poker room ecology.
On the other hand, such efforts are quick to draw the ire of serious winning players. Over the long run, professional poker players can only make money by exploiting the mistakes of less-skilled opponents. To these players, dividing up the poker room is akin to taking money directly out of their pockets. And as these players are the ones who are typically most active in the poker community, they tend to be loud about their displeasure, something that may help explain why most of these programs have been abandoned in real-money poker rooms.