Unibet Took the Road Less Traveled By, And That Made All the Difference
After six years of operating in a declining poker market, Unibet was facing a decision. With issues concerning legalisation in every other country and no sight of a looming second poker boom, Unibet had the option to continue on the path they had chosen, or do something entirely different.
The easy and obvious choice was to keep investments low by running the client like it always had; leaving software development to the poker network, accompanied by a promotion every now and then. It would have been like giving up on a child prodigy that had never come to fruition, poker looked so promising once, but those times had gone.
Making that decision wouldn't be a hard sell, it was what just about every other party in the industry was doing at the time.
The poker team at Unibet didn't walk that path, though. They weren't convinced poker was not to be saved and refused to throw in the towel simply blaming everything on external factors. Part of that attitude may have come from the fact the entire poker team consisted of former poker players. As suits had taken over control of most of the competition, Unibet had again decided to take the other road and put former poker professionals at the helm of it all. Those former players decided it was time for something completely different, something not seen before in the industry.
The New Unibet Poker
Two and a half years ago, during their flagship Unibet Open event in Copenhagen, Unibet soft launched their standalone client and broke away from the Microgaming network. With that, they were on their own. The break from Microgaming meant it was leaving behind an environment the poker team at Unibet described as predatory and unfriendly to recreational players. The new Unibet client had no chat and no option for people to run tracking software. It felt more like a video game than a traditional poker client really.
The pros that had called Unibet home showed were angry over the changes, but in return, Unibet found new love from recreational players. Poker at Unibet has been growing ever since at an unprecedented pace. While PokerStars has started implementing all sorts of changes to cater to more casual players just recently, Unibet made that unorthodox choice two and a half years ago and it has paid in spades.
The platform proved so popular that Unibet soon found limitations of Adobe Air, the software platform they had built their client on. Air had been selected because, at the time, it was the only platform that would let them run their client on Windows, Mac OSX, and iOS and Android tablets. However, it wasn't as stable as hoped and the software kept crashing if the team tried to implement new features. The poker team had to make changes to the software to increase the stability, but with it, they had to make big concessions.
Again the team sat down facing a tough decision and again they chose the harder of the two options. Instead of trying to fix the existing software, the team and their software partner Relax Gaming decided to start all over and built the fundamentals of the client from the ground up. With software now at hand that could cater to all platforms without crashing, development of the new client started. Unibet 2.0 was in the making, built in mostly HTML5 this time.
Last week, during the Unibet Open Copenhagen, members of the press got a sneak peek at the new software. As Unibet Head of Poker Andrew West and poker product manager Christophe Level presented the software, more and more became clear the Unibet poker 2.0 was, even more, a poker client focused on a different type of player than its predecessor. Especially different compared to all the other poker rooms online.
As West and Level opened the client, it felt more like they were firing up a game of League of Legends or Hearthstone, not like they were about to play real money poker. And that, it turned out, was exactly what they were after.
While PokerStars reportedly has a team of 500 software developers and partypoker famously had a 1,000-strong team back in their heydays, Unibet has built the client with a team of just a dozen or so developers. Mostly built in HTML5, operating in containers, the new software is one of the smoothest you'll find, and easiest to understand for new players. Big buttons, clear instructions and a gamy-vibe must guarantee an easy first acquaintance. Unibet wants their players at the table instead of having to worry about settings and finding specific opponents, and it's succeeding in doing that.
From a technical standpoint, the biggest improvement is the fact the client is as stable as they come. While the old client seemed to eat away your computer's RAM, putting an infamously resource heavy program like Google Chrome to shame, the new client seemed to pass the tests without any problems.
"It's ready for the future", stressed West as he described the new client as a 10-story tall building, strong enough to have another 100 floors built on top of it if needed.
Besides a set of improvements under the hood, visually the client has changed considerably as well. The cartoony avatars are more noticeable than ever and choosing a poker game to play is easier than ever before with a clean and crisp lobby.
On top of the visual changes, a slate of new features is added. A hand history replayer is finally available and the client will run on iPhones and Android phones for the first time.
Something completely new is the introduction of new rebuy tournaments, a first since Unibet's stand alone client. On top of that, the challenges and missions are more prominent featured in the lobby, continuing the trend of gamification of poker with easy to follow progress animations.
The final new feature is called the 'Hall of Fame', for now, and is set to be introduced at years end. The lobby feature will keep track of stats like the total amount of players you knocked out of tournaments, the biggest cash game pots you ever played and the biggest MTT wins of your career. It just may become a new standard feature for every poker client around, when it proves as popular as the Unibet team predicts.
Programs like Hold'em Manager and Poker Tracker 4 will still not work, but multi-tabling will become easier with the introduction of 'Unibet Tiles'. The grid can be custom filled with Unibet related content like poker tables, casino games and the lobby and, in time, a Unibet live stream you're watching.
Closed beta testing has begun with a select group of players. The Unibet team aims for a October 3rd launch to the general public.