CHICAGO — Raw Thrills/PlayMechanix reported that its online video tournament system for Big Buck Hunter Pro is expected to go live in this fall. A demonstration of the new system, called CoinUp Technology, was given to operators and distributors in a Las Vegas hotel suite during Amusement Showcase International.
CoinUp will offer operators the ability to create and administer local, regional and national proprietary tournaments for themselves and selected colleagues, as well as the chance to participate in national cash-prize tournaments sponsored by PlayMechanix.
Major adult beverage providers are expected to sponsor some of the tournaments. Additional sponsors may include makers of hunting and fishing equipment.
PlayMechanix said CoinUp will be offered to operators as part of an “aggressively priced” DVD-ROM-based upgrade kit that will also include a card reader for a magnetic player card. BBH cabinets already have brackets for installation of the card reader. Players will receive cards by entering their names and addresses into the game to create accounts; PlayMechanix will subsequently mail cards to their homes.
In addition to tournament software and online protocols, the kit will contain 20% new game content (adding caribou to the list of hunting choices, among other things) for existing units in the field.
CoinUp requires broadband connectivity. All BBH games ship with an Ethernet port, so existing units are already broadband capable, said PlayMechanix.
For locations where hardwired broadband connections are unavailable or impractical, PlayMechanix will offer a cellular modem option. Finally, a dialup option will be available for one-a-day communications to upload data from machines to the central server, but officials said this low grade of connection will not support the full range of CoinUp features.
CoinUp began testing in mid-April with an eight-day tournament, sponsored by Miller Brewing Co., which ran on BBHP units in a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Phoenix, AZ. The event featured a live playoff between top-scoring players and popular Nascar driver Kurt Busch.
Some 6,500 units of BBH were in the field at presstime. PlayMechanix launched the title over a year ago, and said sales are brisk.
The Phoenix test tournament was supported by operators Tom Yariel, J.R. Schmitz and Luke Nelson of Global Entertainment (Chandler) and by Betson Enterprises. Betson is the manufacturing and marketing ally of Raw Thrills and its wholly owned subsidiary, PlayMechanix.
Extensive nationwide testing and tweaking of the CoinUp system will occur this summer, with cooperation from leading U.S. operators. A graduated regional rollout of production units will follow this fall. Nationwide coverage is expected by year’s end.
PlayMechanix president George Petro and Mark Macy, co-designer and lead programmer of the Big Buck series, said the CoinUp Technology system will debut with this title, but is designed for potential application to the company’s other game lines.
Officials said their intent is to provide a versatile promotional system that will permit operators to set tournament parameters and select and combine play elements for proprietary tournaments with unique and customized appeal.
CoinUp will also offer operators the option to participate in national tournaments with cash prizes, and will enable the downloading of tournaments, advertising and promotional materials to games on location.
“National tournaments are nice; everyone likes cash,” said Macy. “But what tends to happen is a few professional players hog all the money. We saw this with the original tournament format for Golden Tee. We will focus on facilitating proprietary, custom tournaments for groups like Club Lucky LLC, because they understand what their locations and players want.”
Club Lucky LLC is an alliance of more than a dozen operators nationwide who cooperate to promote, fund and administer online videogame tournaments with attractive prizes and dedicated websites. Several similar alliances have been created in the last several months.
“Operators know their players and what motivates them,” said Macy. “Our idea was to create an online system with many components, including a totally customizable player experience, in order to enable operators to be creative and to change the players’ experience with each tournament.”
Remote management, monitoring and diagnostics are among the CoinUp system’s capabilities. “Anything an operator can do in terms of changing game settings when he is physically standing in front of the game, he can do remotely with CoinUp Technology,” Petro said.
Using a Web-based system, operators will be able to log on to accounts and view real-time updates on earnings of specific games on location, view collection and play histories and monitor a variety of game telemetries, including what, how and when people are playing, as well as fan speeds, temperatures inside critical component cases and more.
Operators will also be able to see diagnostic alerts regarding broken parts, malfunctions, switch functionality and other conditions online. In addition, the operator may elect to have the PlayMechanix server send automatic email notices to the their office PC, Blackberry or other device when such conditions arise.
The CoinUp system will result in PlayMechanix having data regarding operators’ location addresses and machine earnings. To address operator concerns about data integrity, Petro said the company will become a signatory to the industry’s Information Privacy and Security Policy.
IPSP, sponsored by the Amusement and Music Operators Association, is described by AMOA as a “guideline concerning the management and protection of information collected by manufacturers from operators who own and/or operate the manufacturers’ equipment, including, but not limited to, information collected electronically from networked coin-operated games and equipment at the operators’ locations, including any information collected via online communications.”
CoinUp will empower operators to create customized advertising for in-house tournaments as well as the proprietary tournaments themselves by utilizing tools available on the central website. Operators will be able to integrate their own graphics (such as logos, etc.) into “attract mode” promotional graphics and may also select generic graphics provided by PlayMechanix. Game elements may be customized for use in proprietary tournaments by integrating different types of bonus structures, animal targets and hunting environments into contests that are not normally combined in casual play.
After creating these programs, operators will then download the contest dates, rules, selected content, bonus structure, winner criteria and prize information, as well as promotional attract-mode materials for such contests, to selected games on location. Tournaments will then be automatically self-administered by the CoinUp program. After each contest ends, the list of winners’ names will automatically download to all participating machines.
“We know that games that are promoted earn better than games that are not,” said Petro. “We want to make it extremely easy for operators to send tournament promotions to their games in order to keep the appeal fresh and earnings strong.”
With a nod toward the burgeoning popularity of online communities like those facilitated by websites such as MySpace, PlayMechanix will create a dedicated area on the BBPH player site where players can form their own Hunting Clubs, with membership by invitation only.
“Players tend to feel more involved in competing with buddies they know,” said Macy. “With the Hunting Club feature, BBHP players will have their own Web presence that tells their own and others’ game stats, alerts them to contests running on machines they frequent and lets them opt in for email notification of local contests.”
A related feature called Hunting Party will enable any group of players to issue challenges to other Hunt Clubs through the website or through games on location. After setting up such player-driven competitions, whenever an eligible player logs into the system at a machine on location, the game will ask if they wish to participate in the Hunting Party contest.
“Building player communities is a major initiative of this system, because it means giving players reasons to go to the location and play the game,” said Macy. “We created this feature because we see much of Big Buck’s popularity is that people already enjoy challenging each other and having parties around the game.”
Macy said players post homemade videos on MySpace and YouTube that document player-driven competition.