Antoine: “We focused all of our resources on building the most fun poker software in the world”

G&M News presents an exclusive and unmissable interview with one of the most relevant voices in poker internationally: Jean-Christophe Antoine, Head of GGPoker Network. In this Q&A, he speaks about absolutely every subject: his conception of online poker, the importance of payment solutions, the dominance of the iPoker market in 2020, the benefits of aligning closely with the WSOP, and why the product was built from the beginning with a gamer mentality.

The interviewee anticipates a lot of specific new partnerships in Latin America for 2021.
The interviewee anticipates a lot of specific new partnerships in Latin America for 2021.

By Alejandro Caminos, journalist, screenwriter and G&M News’ collaborator.

What were your learning outcomes in more than 10 years of experience in the gaming industry?

One of the key things I have learnt over these past 12 years in the online gambling industry is that online poker is the hardest, most complex vertical to run. It is also the one bringing in the least money when you compare it to online casino or sportsbook. Therefore, many companies abandon (or never launch) their poker vertical, fewer people have online poker experience and it’s difficult to find good staff. Only a few operators who really care about poker can survive and thrive. Even though partners are needed in several aspects of the business, the old school poker network model with several sportsbook/casino skins is doomed to fail if there is no locomotive to push everyone in the right direction, carrying everyone and investing. If we go to more general topics, I will mention the crucial importance of payment solutions. If players cannot easily deposit or withdraw, then nothing can happen. Sure, product and innovation are big factors, but if customers cannot access the software or games because they cannot have their payments handled swiftly, then they are rendered useless. Finally, regulation, which is of course needed, lengthens development time and forces developers to focus on every different jurisdictions’ requirements. Poker is a numbers game, so every time a country (or a state in a country) regulates differently (or worse, chooses to ring-fence their liquidity), it is another hurdle that needs to be handled efficiently.

According to a study by Pokerfuse, GGPoker has 33% of the global online poker market share. How do you explain this huge growth of the network in 2020? Which aspects would you choose to establish GGP differences between other platforms such as PokerStars?

The short answer is: WE CARE ABOUT POKER! Before the first quarter of 2020, we did not really do anything probative in marketing, except maybe signing Daniel Negreanu at the end of last year. Why? Because we focused all of our resources on building the most fun poker software in the world. That’s what set us up apart from the competition. Just this morning, I was interviewing a potential new employee and he was just telling me how enthusiastic he was that we made poker fun again. There are a plethora of features I could list here, but, for example, we were one of the first real money sites to offer the Vertical/Portrait view on mobile, our staking platform integrated in the client is unrivaled, our Snapcam is very fun… With that solid base, we hired skillful and dedicated people then sealed several big partnerships in markets we had not yet ventured in, like Olybet (Battle of Malta), Kings Casino, WSOP and more.

How did the relationship between GGPoker and the WSOP start? What advantages and benefits did this alliance bring to your company?

We met WSOP people last year in Las Vegas. But what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, so I won’t be able to tell you more behind-the-curtains secrets. What I can tell you is that we strongly believed that pairing the best product with the premier poker brand in the world would produce big results. And well, it did. Aligning closely with the WSOP brought us a new level of exposure that we were grateful and ready for. The timing was right and we are all looking towards a bright future.

What is your point of view on the Latin American poker market and players? How is your company working to increase its influence among online LatAm players?

We know Latin Americans can be deadly poker players. From Damian Salas, who won the WSOP Main Event International leg this month, to all the Brazilian MTT professionals who are constantly crushing our tournaments, we know Latin American players are passionate about the game. You can expect a lot of specific new partnerships in Latin America in 2021. We started in 2020 with Felipe Ramos for Brazil, but have been working with a lot of affiliates and casinos, and will continue building our presence in all the Spanish-speaking countries as well.

How can current generations of players, more interested in video games and Esports, be attracted to online poker?

GGPoker had the advantage of coming into the market at a time when Esports was really taking off. Our product was built from the beginning with a gamer mentality and view. It’s developed to appeal to that generation. We actively created a poker experience fully at home online and optimized for all of the devices people use. We also offer unique game types that don’t have roots in live poker rooms. In fact, some games are so fast-paced and innovative that they simply couldn’t work live. The GGPoker experience is designed for digital natives. We understand that many new players are not interested in spending half a day on each poker session, and that some will prefer quick games on their mobile devices over anything else.

How do you envision the future of poker after the COVID-19 crisis is over? Do you think players will return in masse to the live poker tables, or will the number of online players continue to rise? What plans do you have to try to anticipate any of these scenarios?

It’s hard to predict how COVID-19 will impact poker in the long-term. However, more people either discovered or rediscovered their love for the game during this time. We don’t expect that to simply just go away. If players go back to brick and mortar establishments to play again in masse, that’s great. But we are building something special here, and we hope that playing on GGPoker can be a (close) substitute to playing live. We want as many people as possible playing poker. Whatever happens we will adapt, anyway.