Online poker giant PokerStars will aim to improve player experience and put additional emphasis on the fun and social elements of online poker with a wide-ranging overhaul of its offering, due to begin in January 2016 and continue throughout the year.

This will see the operator look to preserve cash game and tournament integrity with new restrictions on the use of third-party software, as well as attracting new players and retaining existing users with a revamped loyalty programme and new marketing campaigns.

It has also embarked on a major research and development drive to offer players some innovative new takes on standard poker games, with a number of new features and gameplay methods to go live over the course of 2016.

The operator said that the changes to the loyalty programme are the most significant, with the VIP Steps programme and a simplified rewards mechanism, in the form of StarsCoin, to be introduced.

This will allow players to follow their progress through the different stages of the rewards programme, moving from BronzeStar to GoldStar. It aims to encourage competitive, rather than high-volume, play offering the majority of players significantly improved rewards.

PokerStars explained that with the highest reward levels having become so exciting, people have altered the way they play. It said that in order to ensure a more balanced ecosystem and to reward skill rather than playing for volume this has to be changed, meaning a minority of players may see their rewards decline sharply.

This will be supported by new restrictions on the use of third-party software. The operator has already reduced data mining in Zoom! games, restricted the use of heads-up displays and limited the use of Spin&Go seating scripts.

“Our intention is to expand these restrictions through major changes within our own software that we will communicate in more detail through 2016,” PokerStars explained. “PokerStars wants to offer fun, fair and competitive games of poker globally. These changes aim to help us achieve that goal.”

“Technology can aid, but it shouldn't take over,” the company added.

The relaunched loyalty programme and third-party restrictions will be supported by a new marketing campaign featuring high-profile brand ambassadors Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar Jr. The pair have already been involved in some of PokerStars’ most successful promotions to date, and will feature in what the operator described as the biggest global consumer marketing campaign in its history.

This will be used to promote a major investment in new features, games and products that will be launched early next year, including a standalone branded PokerStars app that the company says will “bring a new twist to poker.”

“Later in the year we're planning an even more bold take on poker that we believe will be very exciting,” PokerStars added. “We are confident that these changes will improve the playing experience for all PokerStars players and will drive increased play and more players to the ecosystem.”