Sunday, June 11, 2006

Networks, Skins and Stand-Alone Sites: Gauging the Breadth of Online Poker

Have you ever been playing at an online poker table, chatting about this or that or the next, perhaps comparing the pros and cons of various networks while you play? Except for the Prima Poker Network (soon to be rebranded as Microgaming), where the chat police clamp down on mentions of any other poker site, such conversations are a dime a dozen.

It brings to mind a question that I've had posed to me a dozen times in recent months. While the answer is both simple and obvious to the old hands among us, it's amazingly how many people really don't have any idea as to the breadth and depth of online poker. The question, you ask? Just this: "What's a skin?"

Well, in golf it means winning the hole over your match-play opponent, and in a more general sense it means that organ of touch and sense that also prevents our innards from becoming our outtards, but in online poker a "skin" is the name given to a site that provides only a brand name, marketing presence and user interface to its players. A skin is separate from the core gaming engine that drives the poker play and which forms the heart of any online network, and this is what actually defines the skin itself. (If the user interface and the gaming engine are wholly integrated as one business, such as with Poker Stars, then the term "skin" is meaningless.) In the case of a skin, the brand-name interface is a package of design schemes and over-the-top programming interfaces that interact between the core software network on one hand and the player on the other. The brand-name interface is what you see, fitting over the top of the software that drives play.

Chances are very high that you already know this, because if you're reading this blog, you're likely not a poker newbie. However, simple questions often lead to more detailed and interesting topics, so bear with me and we'll take this beastie to another level.

I was over at Lou Krieger's blog the other day, and read his virtual shaking-of-the-head-in-wonder at a release from PokerRoomReview.com, stating that they now had reviews on that site of over 250 different online poker rooms. My thoughts echoed Lou's on this one, when he said, "But what really astounded me was the fact that there are more than 250 poker websites. Even if many of these sites are parts of larger networks, that’s still a big number."

Indeed. I'd also seen the initial release when it hit the 'Net last Tuesday, but on my first visit to the site I couldn't locate the complete list of reviewed sites. Yet I remained curious, and as there were some other items and useful tools that deserved mention in a post of this nature, I decided to try again. My return trip was more successful, so you'll get the benefit of the search --- if you're curious yourself --- by clicking here.

Interesting stuff, if you're as anal about these things as I am. I'm not going to comment much on the grades that PokerRoomReview assigns, although that "A+" for Pacific Poker just has to be a purchased rating. Bluntly stated, that's the way the business world works. I wonder what reaction Lou has when he sees that the site for which he serves as host, Royal Vegas Poker, gets a "C+", especially since the top of the review page includes this disclaimer: "Poker Room Review advises players to choose pokerrooms with a minimum rating of B."

Ooops. Sorry about that one, Lou. But in reading the review I noticed that much of the reviewer's problems with RVP dealt with the Prima/Microgaming software instead; the reviewer even started his piece with, "Royal Vegas is the best of the rooms in the Prima Network." Which says volumes about the Prima Network, in the eyes of the unnamed reviewer.

It's difficult for a reviewer --- any reviewer --- to completely separate the skin from the gaming backbone when doing a review... one of the reasons why reviews of this type are so subjective in the first place. I'm not here to sing Royal Vegas Poker's praises, either, though they are the best of the several Prima skins I've sampled. In other words, take the grades you'll see here with a grain of salt. As with my own site reviews, such as the one linked to at the top, they are one person's opinion.

Let's get away from reviews and return to the press release itself, the announcement that more than 250 different online poker sites have now been reviewed. I checked the list, and there's at least a couple of dozen in there that are defunct or doing imitations of same. However, reviews aren't milk; they don't come with expiration dates. 250 is reasonable, even if at most only 220 or so of those you'll see listed might still be in play. Besides, how many us can say that we've played (and reviewed) Holy Cow Poker, Jonny Texas Poker, Thanks for the Action Poker, Francite Poker and Hog Poker?

Better yet, all those sites got C's. As for the stuff down in the "F" range, has anybody ever played on JillAnn Poker?

Apart from the belly-busting laughs, here's the shocker --- I now believe there's wa-a-a-y more than 250 online poker rooms available today. There could be as many as 500, even if a bunch of them are the JillAnn Pokers of the world. For instance, Poker Heaven (which we reviewed ourselves recently, here) isn't even listed, nor is much else from the St. Minver Ltd. poker network that includes Poker Heaven and many other players. The B2B network is underrepresented as well, as is Prima. I jumped over to the B2BPoker site, which lists all of their poker "partners" (the network skins), and here's what seems to be the most current list:

(PREMIUM PARTNERS)

24hPoker (www.24hpoker.com)
Betbutler (www.betbutler.com)
Bet and Game (www.betandgame.com)
i4Poker (www.i4poker.com)
No1Gaming (www.no1gaming.com)
Potraiser (www.potraiser.com)
Redbet (www.redbet.com)
Sunderlands (www.sunderlands.eu)
Unibet Group Plc (www.unibet.com)

(OTHERS)

4assiPoker (www.4assi.com)
4Kings (www.4kings.com)
66 Poker (www.66poker.com)
727 Poker(www.727poker.com)
Aha Poker (www.ahapoker.com)
AHOY Poker (www.ahoypoker.com)
Asteria Poker (www.asteriapoker.com)
Backroom Poker(www.thebackroompoker.com)
Bamba Poker (www.bambapoker.com)
Best Poker (www.bestpoker.com)
Bet4E (www.bet4e.com)
Betlads (www.betlads.com)
Black Card Poker (www.blackcardpoker.com)
Caliber Poker (www.caliberpoker.com)
Cap Bet Poker (www.capbet.com)
Cool Poker (www.coolpoker.com)
DLP (www.deniselopezpoker.com)
Dreamland Poker (www.dreamlandpoker.com)
ePokerKing (www.epokerking.com)
HorsesBet (www.horsesbet.com)
Equal Chance Poker (www.equalchancepoker.com)
Farsi Poker (www.farsipoker.com)
Fitzwilliam Poker (www.24hcashier.com/fitzwilliam)
Glocal Poker (www.glocalpoker.com)
Go Play (www.goplay.ru)
Goodguys Poker (www.goodguyspoker.com)
Gutshot.com (www.gutshot.com)
Heypoker (www.heypoker.com)
Irish Eyes Poker (www.irisheyespoker.com)
JetBet Poker (www.jetbetpoker.com)
Major Poker (www.majorpoker.com)
Martins Poker (www2.martinspoker.com)
Metelitsa Poker (www.metelistapoker.ru)
Metropokeri (www.metropokeri.com)
MetroPokker (www.metropokker.com)
Montreal Poker (www.24hcashier.com/montreal)
Norpoker (www.norpoker.com)
Piraya Poker (www.pirayapoker.com)
Point Poker (www.pointpoker.com)
PokerAnts (www.pokerants.com)
Poker Club Europe (ww.pokerclubeurope.com)
Poker Dandy (www.pokerdandy.com)
Pokerdassi (www.pokerdassi.com)
Pokerihuone (www.pokerihuone.com)
Pokerium (www.pokerium.com)
PokerKKK (www.pokerkkk.com)
PokernBets (www.pokernbets.com)
Poker Plaza (www.pokerplaza.com)
Poker Polska (www.pokerpolska.com)
Poker Zon (www.pokerzon.com)
Rival Poker (www.rivalpoker.com)
Royal Card Room (www.royalcardroom.com)
Sense Poker (www.sensepoker.com)
Skandia Bet (www.skandiabet.com)
Staffpoker (www.staffpoker.com)
Stingbet (www.stingbet.com)
Tip-Ex (www.tipexpoker.com)
Tipsnyttpoker (www.tipsnyttpoker.com)
Top Ranked Poker (www.toprankedpoker.com)
Topstakes (www.topstakes.com)
U2Poker (www.u2poker.com)
UvsPoker (www.uvspoker.com)
Vision Game (www.visiongame.com)
VSPoker (www.vspoker.com)
Wall Street sport betting (www.wallstreetsportsbetting.com)
Wasa Poker (www.wasapoker.com)
Wass Poker (www.wasspoker.com)
Winning 365 (www.winning365.com)

Besides the fact that Tipsnyttpoker just jumps out at me and begs to be visited, the point is that this is just one network; Prima's is almost as large. So 250? Yeah, that's on the low side. There's a whole lotta poker out there.

So how does one determine which sites are the biggies, which aren't, and what numbers can be trusted? One of the most useful site tools I've seen recently is the real-time player-count tracker available at Poker Site Scout. Iggy mentioned this site a few weeks back and I've visited it several times since; you'll find a couple of other neat functions there as well. This site tracks the total number of cash players by network, even though not all the networks are listed. It has most of the biggees, though, and is probably the best real-time comparison of current action that I've encountered.

If you visit the site you'll notice that the numbers seem low, compared to what the sites' own login screens and table menus tell you themselves. That's because Poker Site Scout's counts don't include multiple occurrences for all the multi-table players, nor does it factor in the multitudes at the play tables. It's a strict count of cash-gamers, only.

The numbers also differ from what you'll see elsewhere in how they match up to each other. One big-name bonus listings site claims that Party's "market share" is 37%, whereas Stars' share is 11%, but figures such as these are meaningless without an explanation of what those numbers mean. For this reason the Poker Site Scout number seems a more accurate gauge. It typically shows Party outsizing Stars by something between 2:1 and 3:2, in terms of total "real" action, and that's in line with what I see when I visit.

Time to wrap things up. A true, complete listing of all the current online poker sites in existence is something of a Holy Grail expedition, but if I ever find or build such a list, you'll be the first to know. Until then, it's off to the tables. At least those I know.

3 comments:

Lou Krieger said...

Their rating system is inconsistent to say the least. While they said Royal Vegas Poker is the best of the Prima (Microgaming) Rooms, they rated Poker Time -- which is owned by the folks that own Royal Vegas -- higher. While Poker Time is almost identical to Royal Vegas, it gets a B rating, instead of the C+ rating received by Royal Vegas. It's interesting to note that Royal Vegas and Poker Time share the same customer base, software and functionality, the same customer service teams, and the same back end support.

The only difference is the look of the table, and that's not much different at all.

I'm actually at a loss to understand why one is rated differently than the other, though I'm not really motivated enough to check it out.

Lou Krieger

Haley (a.k.a. "Cawt") said...

I saw that, too, Lou. I suspect there's not a lot of back-checking at pokersitereview.com to see what's been said (or graded) in previous reviews. Also, the dissing seems to be aimed at the Prima engine rather than the Royal Vegas skin itself, which is exactly -why- I pointed that out.

Still, there's a bit of the "ya dance with who brung ya" to be considered. The majority of end users don't care about the mechanics involved; they just grade their overall experience. Royal Vegas made the decision to launch on Prima, so they will be associated in large part with what the Prima engine offers, for better or worse.

I noticed the Poker Time ranking, too. My bad for not pointing it out. Other people reading this should note that there are actually three skins in the Royal Vegas family; 7 Sultans, I believe, is the third.

I noticed some recognizable sites that are down in the "D" range, too. Among those with grades from D+ to D- (according to this site's reviews) are Martin's Poker, Superior Poker and PokerHost.

My read on this is that it's HIGHLY subjective. Maybe worth about two grains of salt, or a longish post in the "Looky what I found here!" category on a Sunday night when no other topics come to mind, but no more.

Anonymous said...

Dan at PokerSiteScout here. Thank you for the kind words about our site. I wanted to let you know that we're working on a comprehensive list of all poker sites and networks. You can see it at http://www.pokersitescout.com/pokersites.asp

Your estimate of 500 seems to be pretty accurate. So far we've got over 480 sites/skins listed, and we're still adding a site here and there. We'd be interested to get your feedback on the list.