View Single Post
Old 11-02-2015, 01:22 AM   #233
Carpal \'Tunnel
Ansky's Avatar
Join Date: Apr 2004
Location: .
Posts: 17,523
Re: 2016 PokerStars VIP Club

Full Disclosure: 95% of my rake contributed on Stars is from high stakes cash games. I was SNE last year, I am not this year. I expect these changes to affect my bottom line by around ~50k USD next year.

SNE changes

Last year when Stars increased the rake, I didn’t speak up at all. I thought the changes, while seemingly random and unexplainable, were not exactly disgraceful. It was simply a price change from the industry leader, one which justifiably caused outrage by their customer base. This new announcement however, has crossed the line into outright deception, and as far as I can tell is extremely unethical. The VIP program is not simply an annual program, which restarts at the end of every year. It’s actually a two year program, where you carry over your VIP status that you achieve on year one, over to year two. A huge percentage of the value in achieving SNE is that you maintain the SNE FPP multiplier for year two, and you can maintain it for the entire year even if you aren’t going to reach SNE status again. PokerStars is surely very aware that players have been grinding hard all year with the expectation that they would be able to maintain their SNE status until the end of next year. Making this announcement in November is truly an outrage. If that wasn't enough, they weren't even planning on announcing it yet! It leaked and they rushed the announcement.

For the record, I am aware that Stars announced that there would be changes to the 2016 VIP program. Simply saying that months ago while tacitly watching all the SNE players grind away does not give them carte blanche to royally screw their most loyal customers. Regardless of your position on the current climate of SNE super grinders, you have to acknowledge that PokerStars had an agreement with them, which they are now breaking. This is completely outrageous from the biggest poker site in the world. For the entire year, this graphic was displayed explaining what SNE gives you (and it’s still there for the record).

This is a lie.

Lower tier changes

I think I have covered the most unforgivable element to this mess, but unfortunately it doesn’t end there. The deception continues quite dramatically. PokerStars language in their announcement attempts to portray this as a change which will redistribute the rewards from the ultra grinders, to the more recreational players. I think that is a fine goal to have, and I would have no problem with efforts to do that. Unfortunately, this does literally nothing of the sort.

“2016 Average Rewards by Status
BronzeStar - No change
ChromeStar - Up to 10% increase
SilverStar - No change
GoldStar - No change
PlatinumStar - Up to 10% decrease
Supernova - 0%-27% decrease
200k+ - 44%-60% decrease (30% rakeback cap)”
The only players who will see an increase in rakeback, are ChromeStar players. How much rakeback? Roughly 30 cents. Yes, you read that correctly, their rakeback will go up by up to 30 cents per month. Anyone playing small enough stakes to where this 30 cents matters to them is already playing in a game that is raked so high by stars that it is literally unbeatable (>15bb/100 rake is common at micros).

It should also be clear how low of a volume ChromeStar is. Not only do you have be an amateur, you have to be an amateur who virtually never plays, or plays extremely micro stakes. Playing one 50 dollar tournament every week will get you ChromeStar.

So how then could this possibly bring a positive effect to the current games? One possible change would be the massive decrease in volume of the SNE players. Guys who do things like play 100k-200k hands a month of low-mid stakes cash games, or thousands of sit and gos, will be forced to decrease their volume massively. While these players certainly prefer playing with amateurs, they spend a lot of their volume right now “battling for lobbies,” or playing zoom cash games to maintain volume. I don’t see how this will improve the playing experience for the amateur player. Whenever they sit at a cash table or SNG lobby, it will fill up with pros regardless of the new and enhanced VIP structure. The only thing being cut in this equation is the incentives for regs to play against each other. And to be clear, amateurs are going to be getting significantly less rewards in the new model. I know of multiple non pros who are Supernova, and even of one who is SNE. What about the PlatinumStars? Surely anyone who can’t even reach 100k VPPs on the year is an amateur right? They must be rewarding PlatinumStars with some increased bonuses right?

PlatinumStar - Up to 10% decrease
Apparently not.

High stakes

This is the part that affects me the most. I don’t expect most people out there to care about this as much as the rest, but I’d like to discuss it mostly to decipher what Stars is saying, and what they are actually doing. Their explanation for cutting ALL rakeback for high stakes is:

• VPPs will not be earned in high-stakes cash games. High-stakes cash games include pot-limit and no-limit games with blinds of $5-$10 or higher, 8-game $10-$20 or higher, and other limit games with blinds of $10-$15 or higher (limit hold’em of stakes $15-$30 and higher).

Apparently there is no explanation at all. In the initial Russian translated version they indicated that there was a high cost of transaction at high stakes and they were thus compensating for it. I’d really love to know what that means, or if they are even going with that as an explanation anymore. For a high volume SNE player at high stakes, this is a seventy percent decrease in rakeback (~120k USD). For medium volume grinders at high stakes it’s anywhere from 30-50%. Whether Stars wants to accept it or not, the fact is high stakes players do an enormous amount of free marketing for them. Isildur has poker fans literally salivating on the screen watching high stakes games. Successful pros post graphs, videos, and Twitch streams, inspiring lower stakes players and amateurs to play more poker. PokerStars has essentially told us: You were valued, you are now a cancer to our site.

FPP devaluation
Despite all of what I’ve written, if there were any doubt left that this was something other than a complete revenue grab, that this wasn’t exclusively about increasing PokerStars margins, there is the FPP devaluation. Starting on Jan 1st, 2016, PokerStars is converting all FPPs to StarsCoins, and devaluing them by 25%. I’m actually shocked that their marketing and PR team didn’t care to alter this. What could devaluing FPPs possibly do to improve the quality of the gaming experience?

I was curious if I could figure out how much FPP “debt” PokerStars is currently holding (calling it that since it’s essentially an amount owed to it’s players, for an unknown future payment). I found this document from Amayas published financials: There is a section in which the FPP liabilities are outlined:

Additionally, the Corporation has $105.25 million in frequent player points, which are included in “other payables” under current liabilities in the condensed consolidated statements of financial position. Frequent player points relates to loyalty programs operated by the B2C business for its customers, which involves awarding customer loyalty points based on, among other factors, amounts wagered. The points can be used to make a wide variety of purchases in lieu of cash or can be exchanged for cash. Management has estimated the value of the liability using relevant historical information about the likelihood and magnitude of an outflow of resources, i.e., payment of frequent play points to loyal customers. The Corporation maintains sufficient overhead in cash and investments to cover the estimated future frequent player point liability.
Who knows how much of those FPPs balances are sitting in dormant accounts, or in accounts of players who don’t follow the daily happenings in the poker world? I won’t begin to speculate on what percentage of that 105mm in FPP liability Amaya expects to recoup by this devaluation. Players have two months to cash out their FPPs, I wonder how hard they will try to contact players with outstanding balances before they rob them of 25% of their hard earned rakeback. And what about players who had long term FPP goals? To buy a PCA package, or any number of smaller and attainable goals? Nope, screw them and their attempt at a reasonable goal.

On a personal note, I have always loved PokerStars as a company, and as a product. In the early years of online poker, way before they were industry leader, I loved the way the company was managed. Customer service, and an honest and open dialogue with the players were essential components to their business. It is why they thrived. Those days are long gone. To be clear, I am a capitalist, and I don't have a romantic view of what is a decidedly unromantic industry. I understand that PokerStars is a business operating in a mostly unregulated marketplace, my feelings are not hurt. But I am not about to get punched in the face and respond “well thats your right sir,” and neither should any of you.
Ansky is offline   Reply With Quote