You’re so pretty I forgive you

Imagine there’s a coffee shop that you go into every day. You love the wallpaper, you love the mugs, hell – you even love the chairs and table cloths! The members of staff look good, they smell good, they’re incredibly friendly and cool and offer all the different sorts of coffee you like (and you have some really weird tastes). You go in there so often that you get one of those loyalty card things and start building up a healthy tally of points that you (one day) plan to spend on something really worthwhile… like a hat. It gets to the point that you’re in there so often that you actually open a cash account with them so that rather than having to fumble around for notes every time you buy something you can now just pick and choose items willy-nilly and it comes straight out of your balance. Brilliant eh! What a smashing situation to be in; I’m happy because I’m getting the service I want and they’re happy because they know I love them to bits and will never be unfaithful enough to go into one of the 16 other coffee shops on the same street.

And then, one Friday morning, I trot up to the front door with a fancy for cinnamon latte dancing around my mouth… only to find the door is locked. In fact not only is it locked but it’s got wooden boards nailed across it, POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS tape wrapped around the planks and a few chains and padlocks thrown in for good measure. Oh, and there’s a note on the door from the FBI. YES, THE FRICKIN’ EFF… BEE… EYE!

“Sorry loser” it says, “It turns out that these cool, slick, smiling gits were actually weeing in your coffee and spitting on your muffins (this is not a euphemism). Oh and they’ve had away with all your money and also your loyalty points, not to mention all those little bonuses you accrued during your ten years with them. They’re all off on holiday now but said to say ‘so long and thanks for all the fish’.”

You sods. You vicious evil bastards. It’s not the thought of a hundred urine-tainted cappuccinos that hurts the most, nor – strangely enough – the thousands of dollars you nicked off me. Oh no, it was my hard-earned loyalty points and all my special tickets and magic vouchers I’d built up over the years. How could you do this to me? I thought we were friends?

And then… an email a year later. “Hello. Sorry about all that. We’re back! But fear not, we’re not the same bunch of sexy clowns as before, we’re from that slightly bigger coffee shop down the road. Oh and don’t worry, we kept the same table cloths.”
Now I’m sure you’re as tired of my metaphor as I am (it seemed like a ‘fun’ idea 484 words ago) but this is how it is for me. I joined Full Tilt early enough that there are no numbers in my screen name. I played on the site because I liked how they went about things and like how it looked – simple as that. And then, after many years of service, I found out I’d been taken for a patsy. I meant it when I said that the money hurt but the loss of my online identity and all my ‘toys’ hurt more. And then Full Tilt Poker returned (courtesy of a $731million intervention by PokerStars). I loaded it up, noticed a few ‘missing’ poker pro endorsements (grrr) but was also immediately returned to the warm luxury of a familiar latte (the metaphor’s back – RUN!)

Not only was I reintroduced to a lump of cash I thought I’d never see again, but there were my shiny medals, tokens and loyalty points all waiting to be lovingly converted into hats. But could I really just carry on? Why wasn’t I angrily reaching for the ‘cash out’ button? Well… because brands matter and this one is awfully pretty.

But what about the PokerStars coffee shop (the metaphor is crumbling now, but stick with it). Isn’t simultaneously running what was their most competitive brand alongside going to hurt them? Well apparently not: PokerScout (the online poker traffic monitor) estimates that 400,000 former Full Tilt players were added back to the global poker market in the first week of the site’s re-launch, but of the 8,500 average daily cash game players on Full Tilt (almost three times as many the #3 iPoker Network) only a quarter appear to have been poached from other sites. PokerStars, PartyPoker and iPoker lost on average just 5% of their cash game players to the new Full Tilt. This puts Tilt back in at number two.

When PokerStars ‘gave’ us back our Full Tilt-tinted/tainted money they affectively brought around $184 Million back into to the online poker community. They also gave us the option to choose which coffee house to sit in depending upon our preferred table cloths, only this time our marshmallows are safe, and for that I’m grateful and happy to let bygones be bygones. Cup of tea anyone?