From High Stakes to High-Tech: The David Pomroy Transformation
Gaming Eminence had the privilege of sitting down with David Pomroy, Head of Product at Replay Gaming. David, a professional poker player turned product developer, shares his invaluable insights on the synergy between his poker background and product development, underlining the significance of understanding variance and the separation of decisions from outcomes. Throughout the conversation, he reflects on his journey of expertise growth in the industry while also shedding light on the challenges of balancing recreational and competitive gameplay. Moreover, he offers a glimpse into his strategies for both attracting new players to Replay Poker and retaining their existing user base. Finally, David discusses some eagerly anticipated product developments at Replay Poker and their potential to positively impact the platform and its vibrant community of players.
GE) With your rich history in poker as a professional player could you share specific moments or lessons from your poker-playing days that have significantly influenced your product development philosophy?
DP) I believe there are valuable lessons that poker imparts, which are applicable to various aspects of life, including product development. One of the most significant lessons, I would say, is the ability to develop an appreciation for variance, both when it's in your favour and when it goes against you. It's crucial to be able to separate the decisions you make from the eventual outcome. In our day-to-day lives, it's easy to congratulate ourselves when things turn out positively and equally easy to criticise ourselves when things go awry. However, in poker, the frequent disconnect between the expected outcome and the actual outcome provides ample opportunity to focus on the soundness of the decision-making process and not let the outcome overly influence your future decisions.
Similarly, in product development, especially in product management, you will constantly need to make decisions on behalf of the product and the team. Many of these decisions may yield unfavourable outcomes, often with unclear reasons. Different segments of the user base or the team may advocate for different decisions. If you can't discern the difference between outcomes due to poor decision-making and those influenced by variance, it's easy to find yourself in situations where your future decisions become tainted or irrational.
GE) Throughout the last decade, as you've been actively engaged in the industry from a product development perspective, I'm interested in hearing about the growth of your expertise in this area. Could you also discuss some noteworthy personal advancements and learning experiences that have contributed to your professional journey?
DP) A decade ago, I didn't know that I wanted to work in product management, but I have been quite fortunate to have been exposed to that field at opportune moments in my career. Back then, I was running my own small company, which gave me exposure to different functions and stakeholders in product development. At that time, I envisioned either continuing as a business owner or ending up in a marketing role. My initial roles, working for someone else in the gaming industry, were in operations and marketing. However, through a series of events, I ended up leading a cross-functional department and gained a lot more exposure to day-to-day product development. It was then that I realised product management was where I found the most personal satisfaction.
From that point on, many of my learning experiences were a result of being put in positions where I was forced to confront how much I didn't know. I took on a role as a Head of Product, even though I had a strong understanding of the industry and what constituted a successful online poker platform from a user perspective. I was woefully under-qualified, lacking a technical background and sufficient experience working with a broad range of internal functions. It felt very much like a 'sink or swim' situation, and I relied heavily on soft skills, business strategy, general industry knowledge, and a desire to learn more to avoid failure. I left after 13 months, having clearly not excelled as a Head of Product, but I was determined to improve.
I then accepted a role as a Product Manager in an adjacent industry (Casino instead of Poker) at a senior level, due to my previous roles. Again, I would say I was under-qualified in the beginning, but I had the benefit of working with a great Studio Head who mentored me. The most significant learning experience in that role, and probably the most significant in my career so far, was having direct day-to-day exposure to and conversations with high-quality producers, data scientists, engineers, solutions architects, QA, and DevOps teams for a company that conducted thorough work, had abundant resources, and aimed to become #1 in their industry.
One last thing I would like to add is that when I look back on the last decade, I can see certain traits or characteristics in myself that I suspect gave me the opportunity to continue learning even when I felt under-qualified for the role I was in at that moment in time. I have taken that knowledge as a more universal learning experience. If anyone reading this finds themselves in similar scenarios or simply wants to fast-track their own learning experience, I would offer the following advice:
1) Assess and develop your soft skills, try to become a pleasure to work with and when you don't know something say "I don't know". People will give you a lot more slack, will involve you more often and will trust in you a lot more.
2) Find good mentors and/or coaches, try to get a clear understanding of what you currently don't know but at the same time try to develop genuine self-confidence.
3) Try to get exposure to difficult or high-pressure situations and ideally have a strong support circle at work to soundboard with and fall back on.
4) Learn Game Theory and start consciously gaming out some of your own decision-making trees.
GE) One of Replay Poker's objectives is to be the home of recreational poker online. What are some of the unique challenges you face in maintaining a balance between a recreational experience and competitive gameplay? How do you ensure both aspects coexist harmoniously in your product development strategy?
DP) One of the biggest misconceptions among poker players is that recreational or play-money players care less about the game and their own skill level. We have a free-to-play platform where the general skill level is relatively high, and the players take the game seriously. In fact, one of the most common complaints we hear from our user base is that new players don't take their free chips seriously enough and go all-in too easily. Obviously, satisfying our existing user base and being able to reach out to an ever-larger pool of potential new users are both highly important to us. Therefore, ensuring that both types of players can get what they want from the product is often our top priority.
In terms of how we approach this, there are several ways. Replay has historically been a free-to-play site that aims to capture the feel of a real-money site. Over time, this led to a product that worked well for existing poker players but was too daunting or simply not compelling enough for new users. Our product roadmap now focuses on strengthening the foundations of the platform and the top of our funnels, and doubling down in areas where we see the highest positive impact on engagement or retention. This often results in development that primarily benefits new or recreational users. We've received feedback in the past from our existing user base that many of the iterative or quality-of-life improvements they've requested aren't being developed quickly enough. Therefore, we now allocate a portion of our development resources to work on a list of initiatives that cater to the existing user base. While these improvements may not noticeably impact key metrics in the short term, they reassure our core user base that we still care about them and help prevent natural decay in retention. This has also led us to the decision to make more of our product roadmap public in the future.
There's a strong temptation to test mechanics that have proven effective in other freemium games, but it's crucial that we do so without affecting someone else's experience. For example, we might want to add Missions or Consumable Items to our product, but it must be done in a way where only the user choosing to engage with that feature has their experience altered, not the other players at the table. We want to use poker as the engine that powers other aspects of our site, but in our quest for a larger user base, we need to be careful not to turn it into an entirely different game.
GE) To stay relevant and maintain growth in the industry, what strategies have you implemented to attract new players to Replay Poker while retaining your existing user base? How do you address the evolving preferences and expectations of players?
DP) So as mentioned above, we've made a conscious effort to focus on top of funnel metrics and to iterate further where we see significant changes to engagement or retention. Replay has been (and still is to a degree) driven by English-speaking markets but we've taken the opportunity in recent years to expand the localisation of our offering in order to be able to reach and retain users in other markets, especially as increasing real-money regulation has increased friction and barrier to entry to real-money games for users in more markets than ever. We're also constantly evaluating our marketing strategy and channels, and testing new channels as they arise. Long-gone are the days where you could run a TV campaign and expect to reach a wide audience as people are spread out more and more thinly over an ever-increasing number of entertainment platforms where we might reach potential new users. I've seen mostly negative outcomes in the past with trying to reach new users via streaming platforms, but we've experimented here again recently and are seeing very positive results.
We've also experimented with a number of strategic partnerships in recent years and are keen to continue to explore that area - if anyone is reading who thinks there could be a good synergy between Replay and their business, please feel free to reach out!
GE) Can you shed light on any new and exciting product developments or innovations that are currently in the pipeline for Replay Poker? How do you foresee these developments positively impacting the platform and its community of players?
DP) We've become highly data-driven in recent years, and I'm certain this has led to improved choice and impact of new product developments. We're almost near completion of a rewrite of our entire front-end codebase, which should lead to significant improvements in site and SEO performance, although it might not be the most exciting change we are making for our users! We're eager to transition to a new engine for our poker table and to perform a complete redesign of the table elements in 2024, which, in turn, will open up more options for future development in that area. We're also constantly looking at ways to expand the meta within our product but outside of the core game itself; poker is rich in strategic choices and gives the user a great feeling of empowerment, but we'd like to expand further on that and give users more ways to see accomplishment, build social interactions, and ultimately get what they want out of the game. A move towards further personalisation of will also be key to that and to our efforts to improve retention in general.
About our contributor:
David is Head of Product at Replay Poker (previously at Product Madness, Playtech and Kindred). He began playing poker professionally straight out of college in 2001, eventually founding his own poker training & staking site in 2011 before beginning work for gaming operators a few years later. Visit: https://www.replaypoker.com/