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Running it Again

Where to begin…

I suppose the last time I wrote to you here is as good a time as any. It was over a year ago – October of 2020. I had just detailed our new offering: SNG Select 

It was an exciting time here at RIO Poker! Not only were we launching a game we were extremely proud of, we were doing so during a very eventful year for us (and the world, of course).

2020 began a couple of months after we’d launched our Legends rewards program, which was very successful for us, increasing volume dramatically towards the end of 2019. The first Galfond Challenge started in January and was also a hit – the Run It Once Poker platform was being seen by many more people than ever before. Those things, undoubtedly pushed further along by worldwide lockdowns, led to far and away the best traffic trends we’d ever seen at RIO Poker.

As you may know, a poker platform’s product is significantly improved simply by having more games available. The more players you have, the better the user experience is, and the more new players you attract (and keep). So, as we put the finishing touches on SNG Select, we were optimistic about reaching a tipping point in our volume where we’d no longer be fighting as much of an uphill battle. 

Though SNG players and cash players don’t have massive overlap, I was hopeful that a new game type would bring more and more players into the Run It Once Poker ecosystem, and the rising tide would lift our cash games even further.

The Launch

We launched SNG Select to rave reviews. As we’d hoped, people loved them.

We are such a design and product-focused company that it really gets us pumped when people see and appreciate all of the thought and effort that goes into creating the user experience that we’d want as players. We were thrilled!

I remember, despite being extremely busy with RIO work and poker, pulling up Twitch to watch our streamRs play SNG Select almost every day. It’s funny rooting for people to win a big jackpot when it essentially comes out of your pocket, but that’s what I was doing.

Players were having fun, and the feedback was great. 

That said, games didn’t pick up as much as I’d hoped, and new sign-ups weren’t at all what I expected.

Despite the fact that our growth began months before the pandemic, the ease of lockdown restrictions began to knock us back down.

With few new signups, our SNG traffic was underwhelming, and our cash game traffic levels began to fall. With a break in the Galfond Challenges and our SNG Select campaigns falling short, among other things, our player acquisition efforts weren’t enough to outpace churn. Along with the world opening back up and the compounding effect of liquidity on itself, the decline in traffic accelerated. We were right back to where we started in late 2019.

A Realization

With traffic having dwindled below pre-pandemic levels after all of the progress we’d made, it became clear to me that we weren’t going to break through and reach the volume we needed to just by completing our platform and doing a bit more marketing. The hill was too steep. It was going to take a lot more.

If we wanted Run It Once Poker to survive so that it could hopefully, one day, thrive, we needed to do something differently. I hear that in business, they call this a pivot!

I won’t be getting into too much detail now, but I can tell you that we thoroughly explored a number of (very) different options over the past year+.

There were some exciting opportunities for growth and for our business that didn’t pan out. Chasing these meant making sacrifices elsewhere.

I don’t necessarily have regrets here – sometimes you call with the right pot odds and miss your draw – but this played a very big role in our continued traffic decline in 2021.

We’ve poured our hearts, minds, and souls into Run It Once Poker.

It has been an all-consuming process, which is why, other than finishing my challenge against Chance Kornuth at the start of the year and playing a very short one against Brandon Adams, you haven’t seen me play any poker this year.

I’m writing this to you today because, after all that time, we’ve finally settled on a direction.

Looking Ahead

As mentioned above, I’m holding back some of the finer details for the time being (I’ll have more to share in the next few months!), but the bottom line is this: Run It Once Poker is now headed down a path to enter the legal & regulated US market.

This has been a dream of mine since well before we first launched. I didn’t initially think it would be an option for us for another half-decade, so I’m very excited to be on our way to achieving it!

The very unexciting part of this news is that, in order to head in that direction, we’re shutting down our Rest of World operations and focusing fully on getting our platform complete and prepared to operate in the US regulated environment.

My goal when we started this was to become a major competitor in the markets we launched in, and then work towards getting into the US. While we’re on our way to half of that, it makes me sad that we didn’t first achieve the other half.

For many reasons, I wish that we could continue operating across the world as we worked our way towards the US, but, also for many reasons, it’s clearly not the right path forward.

We’ll be sending out emails to our players with all of the relevant information, but here are some of the key details:

  • Gameplay will stop on January 3rd, 2022.
  • You will be able to withdraw your account balances from the client anytime from now until April 3rd, 2022.
  • If for some reason you’re unable to login and/or withdraw, please email support and the team will help you resolve it! 
  • For further detail, click here.

We have had a very loyal player base, many who’ve helped grow our brand by streaming, who’ve helped us improve the product by offering detailed feedback and ideas, and (even though many got back more rake than they paid!) helped grow our business by getting and keeping games running.

From the bottom of my (our) heart(s), thank you. We worked very hard to make it an enjoyable experience for you, and I very much hope that it was.

Looking Back

Looking back on the past several years, I feel a mix of disappointment and pride. I’m impressed with what we’ve been able to accomplish, but at the same time, I made a lot of mistakes.

Our initial tech leadership, which I put into place, came nowhere remotely close to their targets. Part of that was on them, but part was on us, too – not communicating early and clearly enough that we weren’t looking to launch a cookie-cutter poker site. We wanted to innovate at every turn. We planned around their estimates, including hiring operational staff long before we were able to launch, costing us money that we could’ve used to increase our marketing efforts post-launch.

Even when we put the right tech team into place, later on, we’d been set back so far that completing our platform was no easy task.

I also vastly underestimated just how sticky players would be when it came to playing on new sites (especially with low liquidity). Of course, I knew we’d be fighting an uphill battle there, but I was very surprised by how few future-RIO-players (people excited about RIO Poker and eager to play once games picked up) wanted to play now. Playing on new software, dealing with the requisite KYC hurdles, splitting funds across multiple poker sites, along with a number of other factors, clearly made players want to be sure they’d be moving decent playing volume over before making the jump.

Needless to say, I have learned a lot, and I’d have done a number of things differently if I had it to do over.  This is something I’m particularly excited about – getting the chance to start over, in a way, with all of the experience we’ve gained.

If we wanted Run It Once Poker to survive so that it could hopefully, one day, thrive, we needed to do something differently.

In spite of my missteps, RIO Poker has accomplished some truly incredible things.

With a team of designers and developers dwarfed by many of our competitors, we’ve created a platform that, in my humble opinion, is the most beautiful in the online poker industry, and is at the top of the list in user experience.

Pound for pound, nobody has come remotely close to us when it comes to innovation, with creations like Splash The Pot, Dynamic Avatars, SNG Select, along with a number of smaller features and policies that we firmly believe improve the quality and longevity of online poker games.

And those innovations didn’t just stick to our platform! Several poker sites have implemented ideas that we came up with, which means that our impact on the industry was much larger than the size we grew to. (Though I’m sad that we won’t be able to make a direct impact on the non-US poker market in the same way I’d hoped, I’m optimistic that we can lead by example in a way that continues to impact players all over the world.)

We launched the Galfond Challenge, providing entertainment to so many during worldwide lockdowns, and reinvigorating high-stakes Heads Up battles. I hope to continue playing these in the coming years (if I can find some willing opponents)!

I’m also extremely proud of the way we treated our players, through our policies, promotions, and community, as well as through our excellent customer support team. These, along with the design and progression of our platform, and the overall operation of the business, are mostly things that I can’t take any credit for. The Run It Once Poker team is truly fantastic.

Had I not made the mistakes I did, perhaps we’d have been able to grow large enough to stay in the Rest of World markets and head towards the US – I’ll never know. I do have some regrets, but more than anything, now that I can add our experience to everything we already did well, I’m feeling very optimistic about what we’ll be able to accomplish this time around.

We’ve poured our hearts, minds, and souls into Run It Once Poker. We didn’t accomplish everything that we set out to, but we’re far from finished.

Long Live Poker.