The online poker industry is in the midst of an upswing and it’s not only the big brands that have led the way in 2019.
With another year coming to a close and a new one dawning, those at the top will be taking stock of their progress.
As ever, PokerStars and Partypoker continued to push each other but they haven’t been the only active players this year. As the industry as a whole enjoys an upswing, comparatively smaller brands have made some important contributions.
Security Takes Priority in 2019
Security continued to be a major concern for operators and players in 2019, but new ground was broken this year. Partypoker was the most proactive in its efforts to stop the cheats by shutting down more than 700 bots.
Since employing a team of experts in December 2018, the online poker operator has recovered more than $1 million.
That’s an impressive feat but it was the Winning Poker Network (WPN) that made the biggest contribution to game integrity in recent months.
Although it didn’t stop as many bots as Partypoker, it did uncover a new way of cheating. After picking up intelligence from software forums, WPN’s security team found that bots can now read screen pixels.
By using a process known as scraping, bots can analyze table data and make moves based on position, bet size and cards. After discovering the technique, CEO Phil Nagy said that graphical updates have been used to thwart the cheats.
Hand Histories Wiped
Not content to let its rivals dominant in the security stakes, Partypoker pushed out a controversial update this year. Designed to make games safer and less predatory, the update prevented players from downloading their hand histories.
Although the data is available online for a brief period, the change has rendered tracking software useless. Regulars that rely on products such as Hold’em Manager were quick to rally against the decision.
However, as the industry moves more towards an ecosystem that can sustain all players, limiting the use of third-party aids has become crucial. While the jury is still out, Partypoker advisor Rob Yong described it as a necessary step towards making the site an industry leader.
While its competitors focused on safety and security, PokerStars continued to target casuals. Although annual events such as WCOOP maintained their multi-million-dollar allure, cash game table caps and restructured Spin & Go tournaments have enhanced the site’s novice-friendly dynamic.
In fact, even with Partypoker’s 2019 Millions Online giving away more than $20 million, PokerStars has stayed the course. Indeed, as we move into 2020, it’s a safe bet that PokerStars will continue invest more in engaging beginners.
Online Poker for Everyone in 2020
Rounding out this year’s online poker movers and shakers is Winamax. Finishing 2019 fourth in the industry’s traffic rankings, the European operator found a way to satisfy regular players without putting too much pressure on newbies.
Instead of banning heads-up displays (HUDS) like Partypoker, the developers created their own. Offering personal stats and information on their opponents, the integrated HUDs are designed to be insightful but not invasive.
By offering just enough information, the HUDs will give regulars something to work with but not so much data that beginners become targets. Moving forward, this may be the direction other operators take in 2020.
Indeed, if this year has taught us anything, it’s that casuals and novices remain the target for all operators. Although value for experienced players is high right now, their needs are almost secondary to those of newbies.
However, in the long run, the current focus on should ensure the industry remains buoyant for all for many years to come.