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Why Doesn’t the MPN Talk to Players?

  • Alex 

This blog was originally published in May 2014, when I was Head of Poker at Microgaming.

It was one of the first things that I asked after joining the MPN in 2013. We were making some changes to tournaments, and I wanted to get feedback from players as to what they liked and what they didn’t.

The question was ‘why don’t I post in the forums and get some feedback on this’?

I’m sure I’m not the only person who has wondered why we don’t do this, or why we don’t meet players or survey them, especially when many poker operators are doing so.

Forums in particular can be a great tool for a poker manager. In my previous roles in the industry, I’ve dealt with forums on a regular basis. I’ve found that, especially if you post in an official capacity, you’re almost guaranteed to get extensive feedback. Plus, posting publicly helps boost the image of your brand by showing that you care about players’ opinions, and it helps you to get a feel for what drives and concerns real people.

Forums have their downsides of course. They tend to be frequented by more serious players, and consequently many of the suggestions you get benefit this small minority, rather than the majority of casual players. Plus, when things are going badly, forums can be a harsh and unforgiving place. Many a poker manager has damaged their brand’s reputation by dealing with negative feedback in an unprofessional way. Plus, although I can read and understand a few European languages, I can only write competently in English. Posting only in English means that you miss out on the chance to communicate with a huge proportion of today’s poker players.

But I would love to post in forums. Overall, the benefits far outweigh the downsides. But I can’t, and here’s why:

You are not my customer.

Let me elaborate on that a little. Poker players are not the MPN’s customers. Our customers are poker operators, to whom we provide software and related services.  Poker players are a step further removed – they are our operator’s customers.

The MPN doesn’t register players. We don’t hold players’ money (ever, even for a second). For many operators, we are one of a number of suppliers, who provide products and services – of which ours is poker.

An operator’s player database is one of the most valuable things they own – maybe even the most valuable, since they can’t do business without it. Every player who has signed up with an operator is an asset, with a value (which can be quite low in the case of a long-inactive play money player, or very high in the case of an active high roller). Operators are very protective about their player database because it would be extremely valuable to their competitors.
Operators don’t share much information about their customers with the MPN. We get the information that we need to prevent cheating and fraud, but nothing personally identifiable like a name or an email address. Not only would sharing this information create some issues with Data Protection law, but operators don’t want to share this information with anyone unless absolutely necessary. We also don’t have access to operators’ back-end systems, so we have no way of getting this data unless we ask the operator and they agree to share it.
This means that we don’t have the ability to deal with routine customer enquiries. If you were to ask us how much money was in your account – we wouldn’t know. If you were to ask us how long it was going to take to unlock your pending bonus – we couldn’t answer. Almost every customer query couldn’t be answered by us. Operators have the information, but we don’t.
This would make posting on a forum very difficult. Even if boundaries were clearly defined, some posters would still expect us to be able to answer questions about their accounts.

An operator’s brand is also very important to them. We have a selection of brands from around the world – well-known international operators, local operators who are focused on a single region, and boutique operators catering to specialist tastes. Each of them has a different style and a different way of interacting with their customers.

To put it bluntly, operators don’t want us to mess this up. They don’t want me to go on a forum and promise something they can’t deliver, or be the one apologising for their mistake (or taking credit for their success). Operators want to control the way their brand is exposed to the public, who communicates on their behalf, and what tone that person uses. This would make posting on forums almost impossible, because every operator would have to approve and comment on every post.

So to summarise, operators don’t want us to communicate directly with their customers, and even if we were to do so, we wouldn’t have the information available to us to answer even the simplest of queries.

Which brings me to the reason for starting this blog. Because we’re not posting in the forums, and because we don’t have two-way communication with players, it’s easy for people to forget that we are human, or to think that the reason we’re not communicating in the common ways is because we don’t care.

Well, I do care – very much in fact. I’m a poker player myself, and I truly love the game. I’ve been playing for fifteen years and I’ve worked in the industry for the last nine. I’ve even written a book about poker strategy. Along with my colleagues here at the MPN, I want to change the game of poker for the better.

This blog is our way of sharing the team’s thoughts and ideas with the poker community. It may be one-way communication, but surely that’s better than no communication at all. With any luck, this blog will generate some discussion, and that will help us to improve our product and the game offering that we offer to operators’ customers.

If you like to post in the forums, that’s great. We’re watching and listening, and we read all the feedback we can. In fact, if you raise an interesting topic, maybe we’ll talk about it here on this blog someday.

Thank you for reading.