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GDC - BANG! Howdy 28

I do so love Three Rings. Last year's GDC talk was about Puzzle Pirates. This year they're here talking about their Western-themed title 'BANG! Howdy'. Spiced Rum was the liquor passed around last year, while Jim Bean was the drink of choice here. Patent bribery is always appreciated. Read on for notes from their talk about their upcoming Wild West strategy title.
They originally thought this would be a postmortem, but their title is still a WIP. 'BANG! Howdy' is composed of "Chess + Mario Kart + Real Time/ Turn-Based + SteamPunk Westerns + Secret Sauce".

Microcurrency on Puzzle Pirates has turned out more lucrative than a subscriber system (a pay-for-items model). They wanted to self-publish, despite their encounter with Ubisoft. They've 'sworn off publishers'. The goal was for a coherent experience for the new game, rather than a game that's never 'quite' finished.

The development process started with the idea of doing a game about Bugs. The gameplay was fun but the bugs were proving to be nonsensical. That became a more typical 'war' strategy game, with a mix of real-time and turn-based. The title "BANG! Howdy" is from the movie "The Party", a scene with Peter Sellers. They took the game to a 3D level (can't focus on midwest housewives all the time).

Their development tools consist mostly of their self-developed tools (now open-sourced), more traditional open-sourced resources (MySQL, etc.), and a little bit of commercial tool use. More than half of the tools used on BANG! Howdy are open-sourced. The game has an online multiplayer component, and they spent a considerable amount of time on the backend server stuff.

Release Plans: 1. Collect underpants. 2. ? 3. Profit

An alpha testing period will follow GDC, with a full-on public Beta test starting up sometime next month. The game will be free, with certain elements of the game available for-pay. There are two kinds of currency in the game: Soft and Hard currency. You can earn soft currency in game and transfer that to hard. They'll be selling the hard currency after the game 'launches'. The game is organized into a series of towns. Everything is modular, so they'll be adding new content all the time.

Demo of the game ensues. You can buy packs of collectable trading cards, and fancy hats. Lots of revenue for Puzzle Pirates comes from customizing avatars. Annd the demo crashes when they try to get to the actual game. They're running the client and the server on the same little Linux-running laptop, so it's understandable.

They switch over to talking about Puzzle Pirates and the virtual item sale model. They feel it's not only more lucrative per customer but more attractive as well. Make em' pay for stuff, not for playing. Their free-play/pay for stuff servers are their most popular. They are peaking at about 2000 people per server for concurrency, with about 4500 people across all the 'oceans' at at time.

Growth in the Booty! A revenue per day graph. They're bringing in about $7,000 / $8,000 per day with their pay-for-items business model. Their subscription growth has definitely leveled off, with the money brought in by the 'doubloon' model is continuing to grow in spades. They generalize their subscribers by taking their total profit and dividing by 8 (the amount they make from a subscriber). With that rule of thumb, they've got about 35,000 subscribers.

What's the money being spent on? While some money is spent on housing and basic stuff, most is spent on badges and items. Badges give you in-game privileges (like allowing you to be a captain), but have a limited timespan. Items wear out. Thus, they're mimicking the subscription model by having reoccurring fees.

There are a ton of people, given their graphs, who do not pay the company but still generate money for the company. They're making items, which paying customers fork over doubloons for, and thus pay the company. They estimate that players sell their time for about $.25 per hour. They have had some problems with fraud, but have put in fraud control. They had one kid wrack up $1200 in doubloons. He sees this as a more honest business than subscription: Subscriptions require no effort and thus trawl in money. If they're buying stuff, they're actively playing the game.

They try once again to fire up their new game while they answer some questions. One question is a blunt "How much are you making?" Cost of goods, server depreciation and server bandwidth ($7k-$10k per month) and customer service are their real expenses. Everything else is paying the employees. Their profit margin is between 75-80%. Three Rings has been profitable for about three months. (Congrats!) They've gone up to about 32 total employees between office workers and at home. They are editing code on the screen in order to make the demo work. One of their keys is allowing as many revenue streams as possible (including SMS in Europe). The mention Habbo Hotel as an inspiration.

The demo almost works, and then fails again. More editing of code, followed by the resurrection of the game. "Two Ponds" board, with some claims to jump. Each unit has a timer, and you move the unit across a set of squares. A 'semi-realtime' feel. The object here is to eliminate opponents and collect gold. (Claim Jumping) Bonuses within the gameworld try to balance the current match. Whoever is behind is most likely to get a bonus dropped by them. Trying to balance the title ala Mario Kart DS. Gameplay is quite fast, it seems. Besides the claim-jumping, there's also a 'cow-branding' mode. You brand cows, and your opponent can brand cows back. Sort of a 'node-holding' type of title. 'Gold Rush' is like claim jumping, with players going for gold nuggets, but is more of a race to get your loot back to your claim. Each new town will introduce new unit types and new gameplay types. You win soft money by winning games.

They round out the session with some more Q&A. They chose a downloadable client to go for a more tech-sophisticated audience. They're also working on a Flash game, to go for the other extreme of the market. The engineers are frustrated with ActionScript, but it's "almost" a real programming language. Always an interesting presentation from the swashbuckling crewe at Three Rings.

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GDC - BANG! Howdy

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  • Who else... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Vo0k ( 760020 ) on Thursday March 23, 2006 @06:58AM (#14979499) Journal
    Who else thinks Zonk is drunk?
    • The game sounds interesting but the title and front page description sure left me wondering wtf was going on. Maybe it's just too early in the morning for me.
      • Re:Who else... (Score:3, Informative)

        by Vo0k ( 760020 )
        No, it isn't. Have you read the rest of the description? The next 3 paragraphs after the intro sound readable but then it's getting worse, Zonk is zonking out. Maybe these are quickly scribbled notes from a live transmission, but if so, they haven't been edited in any way, just thought shortcuts understandable only to the speaker. "Release Plans: 1. Collect underpants. 2. ? 3. Profit" wtf?
        Either it's too late in the morning for Zonk or he's got really drunk (or both).
    • This would have to be the worst piece of writing I have ever seen on the Internet outside of MySpace. While I understand and spelling and grammar are optional for Slashdot editors, this is disgraceful Zonk.

      Perhaps it's time that the Slashdot crew thought about why there are so many comments of late that are derogatory of the editors - I certainly never thought I'd make one. (Mainly through laziness, but hey...)

      From what I can tell after deciphering the article, it's about some MMORPG where you can buy item
      • This would have to be the worst piece of writing I have ever seen on the Internet outside of MySpace.

        Nonsense. Clearly Zonk wrote a nuanced story in the style of James Joyce.

    • Well, if he's been consuming "Jim Bean", who knows? Is Jim Bean a man? Is it a bean-shaped candy? Is it some kind of bean-flavored drink?
  • I don't think it was mentioned in the review, but if you're wondering what GDC is (like I was), it's the Game Developers Conference [gdconf.com].

    It boggles my mind why the wouldn't have links to BANG! Howdy! [banghowdy.com] or reviews of it [ign.com].
  • (blink) (Score:3, Funny)

    by ceeam ( 39911 ) on Thursday March 23, 2006 @07:14AM (#14979533)
    Wow... There are bigger nerds than anime otakus.
    • Wow... There are bigger nerds than anime otakus.

      For instance, the grammar Nazis. On which note, we're otaku, not otakus. It's like with sheep - which is, come to think of it, really quite appropriate ^_^

  • by Vo0k ( 760020 ) on Thursday March 23, 2006 @07:22AM (#14979551) Journal
    1. Zonk writes review.
    2. ???
    3. WTF?!
  • Does it come with a Big Mac or something?

    Thats the only way I know how to get the secret sauce..
  • Background info (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Scarblac ( 122480 ) <slashdot@gerlich.nl> on Thursday March 23, 2006 @08:05AM (#14979668) Homepage

    There exists a pirate MMORPG (MMOArrrrPG) named Puzzle Pirates [puzzlepirates.com]. It's fun and addictive and different, and in a survey a while back it turned out they had almost exactly 50/50 men and women playing it, that must be pretty unique in online games. It's an MMO not based on killing things for xp, but running ships cooperatively, with everybody doing a puzzle that does something the ship needs, and a player driven economy that also runs on people doing puzzle games.

    The company behind PP is named Three Rings; the article is about a presentation about their upcoming new game, Bang! Howdy, which is in some ways completely different and in some ways similar.

    One of the interesting things they did with PP was their micropayment system. They have a few different servers, named "oceans". Initially, they had only servers in which you had a week or so free trial, with limited options, and after that you needed to subscribe, for about $10 a month. An all or nothing model.

    Then they made "doubloon" servers - you can play without limit for free, but you need to unlock stuff in the game with doubloons you can buy (about $0.25 per doubloon, I think?). You can pick the stuff you want - if you want to be captain, you need an expensive captain badge (that disappears after 30 days of playing, days you don't login don't count), if you're happy being a lowly cabin person, you don't need to spend money. Items like clothes and houses that you buy also have a doubloon cost added to the normal in game money they already cost.

    An interesting thing is that you can also trade doubloons with other players for in game money - so kids with too much spare time but no real life money can play all day, and sell their in game money to busy people with wallets. No need for eBay here. You can't turn doubloons into real life money, but you can play for free and do everything, if you want to spend the playing time.

    It turns out that the doubloon model servers make them more money than the subscription model servers, they're much more popular. So Bang! Howdy is going to use a similar micropayment method.

    I didn't notice anything odd about Zonk's review at all and thought it was very interesting... then I realized that I know a bit more than people who haven't been addicted =)

  • Jim Bean? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by zerOnIne ( 128186 ) on Thursday March 23, 2006 @10:03AM (#14980281) Homepage
    Dude, it's Jim Beam. You should at least know the name of what it is that's making you so very, very drunk.

    It's also good on ham, by the way.
  • "BANG! Howdy."

    The hard to find porn flick that Howdy Doodie [indianranch.com] made early in his career.

  • ADD (Score:4, Funny)

    by Lord_Dweomer ( 648696 ) on Thursday March 23, 2006 @11:20AM (#14980916) Homepage
    Its like several people with ADD all tried to write the review...simultaneously...

    • yeah, instead of an actual review, we just get his real-time scribblings. of course they're not going to make sense to anyone but the writer; they were never meant to. have you ever tried to read lecture notes from someone who payed some amount of attention to a class? they gloss over things they already know, they overemphasize things that are new to them, and the whole bit gets jumbled together so that their thoughts don't make any narrative sense.

      way to confuse the snot out of readers expecting a cohesiv
  • ...or does this not make sense?

    The demo almost works, and then fails again. More editing of code, followed by the resurrection of the game. "Two Ponds" board, with some claims to jump. Each unit has a timer, and you move the unit across a set of squares. A 'semi-realtime' feel. The object here is to eliminate opponents and collect gold. (Claim Jumping) Bonuses within the gameworld try to balance the current match. Whoever is behind is most likely to get a bonus dropped by them. Trying to balance the title

It's a poor workman who blames his tools.