CHICAGO -- Competition for the second annual Big Buck Hunter Pro World Championship tournament gets underway in August, and it will run alongside a second title contest on Big Buck Safari, the latest installment in the popular coin-op videogame series. This year, two championship titles and $60,000 in prizes will double the competitive stakes amid Big Buck's rising pop-culture status and player base.
Competitive shooting begins on Aug. 1, with online qualifying tournaments in eight regions. These matches will be conducted on games connected to CoinUp, the networking system developed by Big Buck creators Play Mechanix and Raw Thrills.
For operators, getting Hunter Pro and Safari machines connected to CoinUp before the tournament begins could pay off. The online championship qualifiers generated the highest play activity for individual machines during 2008, and with the prize pool tripled, this year's tournament is expected to increase coin drop even more.
"This year we are hosting two world championships, which includes the first for Big Buck Safari," said Play Mechanix's CoinUp manager Dave Snipes. "The tournaments will run at the same time, except for the championship rounds. They will run almost exactly the same as last year's Pro tour, and players are invited to compete in both."
Following the online qualifiers in August, the tournament will transition into "live body" regional contests, featuring head-to-head play in "shootout" mode throughout September. From there, the top three players from each region will head to the championship shootouts in Chicago, Play Mechanix's hometown, to compete for the titles of "greatest videogame hunters" and two $10,000 grand prizes. The final matches are slated for Oct. 17.
Screens on CoinUp-enabled games will begin promoting the online qualifiers for the championship tournament in mid-July. Player newsletters and websites -- bigbuckhunter.com and bigbucksafari.com -- began promoting the event a month ago. Players enter the tournament at an online game and can compete during August's qualifiers as many times as they wish.
Last year's live body regional events were spectacles that illustrated Big Buck's diverse player base. In the liberal stronghold of Manhattan, fans like to say, with some comic effect and fact, that "animal-loving vegans" (many of them young women) love the thrill of the kill. In 2008, the highest grossing Big Buck Hunter games were placed in Midtown Manhattan's Black Bear Lodge, the site of this year's Northeast regional.
In planning this year's synchronized events, Snipes said the CoinUp team envisioned the "live" regional finals occurring on side-by-side Hunter Pro and Safari machines. During the world championship match, he explained, early rounds are likely to take place concurrently and the later hunting bouts will then switch off, round by round, between the two game versions.
"In other words, when we get to round three," he said, "we will run it for Big Buck Hunter Pro, and when it is finished we'll run round three for Safari. That way, all of the final rounds could be seen; and if there are players participating in both, this arrangement will allow them a small break."
The second tournament combined with the growing number of online games and greater player interest is expected to draw significantly more players than 2008's event. Last year's live body regionals were managed by Snipes and Ryan Cravens, Play Mechanix's CoinUp sales and promotion specialist. To accommodate the expanded tournament player base, the CoinUp team will add a third field representative.
"It will be more work, but we're looking forward to the challenge," Snipes told VT. "Last year, Ryan and I traveled to all of the regions and ran the events. When we returned and shared stories and pictures, our Play Mechanix colleagues were jealous and had wished they were part of the action."
The CoinUp manager predicted equal turnout on both Big Buck versions. "Even though Safari hasn't been out as long, it has a strong and loyal following," he said. "Some of these players may be new to the game and may have never even played Big Buck Hunter Pro."
Play Mechanix runs Hunter Pro and Safari national tournaments every month, and Snipes reported that player registration for each title is similar. "We expect the same ratio for the world championships," he said.
GEOGRAPHIC AND WILDCARD FACTORS
The tournaments' geographic organization has been expanded to eight regions from four in 2008. This year's regions are the Northeast, Southeast, mid-Atlantic, South, Midwest, North, Southwest and Northwest. Each will have its own leaderboard.
Regional finalists will be invited to play in locations in New York City, Orlando, FL, Washington, DC, Dallas, Niles, MI, Inver Grove Heights, MN, Denver and Portland, OR.
Each regional contest will have 25 players competing on Big Buck Hunter Pro and another 25 on Big Buck Safari. In total, there could be up to 400 players vying for the top spots. The top three from each region -- per game title -- will advance to the world championships.
"That's a total of 24 players, the same as last year, which had 4 regions x 5 players + 4 buy-in open spots," Snipes calculated. "But this year the world championship event's field will consist of 32 players on each game title." A wildcard system and international players, who might include one Australian for Safari and possibly a few Canadians, will fill the extra spots.
After the online qualifying tournament is over, the eight leaderboards will be combined into one national leaderboard that ranks players by score, Snipes explained. Remaining players have a chance at the wildcard spots.
"The wildcard feature is new this year and we're really excited about it," he said. "It's a great second-chance opportunity for players that put in the time and did well during the online qualifying rounds."
To be eligible for a wildcard spot, a player need only show up to the regional final and compete. Winning wildcard players for Safari and Hunter Pro will be invited to play in the world championship matches.
"The wildcard system encourages a player to do well in the online qualifying round because if he or she has a bad night at their regional final, there is still a chance of making it to the world championships," Snipes observed.
CUMULATIVE KILLS = MORE THRILLS, MORE COIN
A new tournament mode will be available during this year's world Safari tour. Cumulative Kills tallies all bucks shot by a player during the tournament period. "The CoinUp system keeps track of the number of bucks that you shoot and adds that to a player's current total," Snipes explained. "At the end of the tournament, the winners will be the players who shot the most total bucks throughout the duration of the tournament."
Cumulative Kills tests endurance, he said. "Players not only have to be accurate and shoot every buck onscreen, but they must be able to outperform their opponents by staying a few steps ahead of them. And score does matter -- it's the deciding factor in the event of a tiebreaker."
The new mode begins during the world championship's qualifying tournaments in August on networked Safari videogames. Big Buck Hunter Pros may soon support the feature.
"The beauty of the 'most bucks killed tournament' is that there is no limit to the number of bucks that can be shot over the duration of the tournament," Snipes said. "It rewards players who make an effort, and it is completely different in the sense that a player can't just play once, put up a high score and win. This type of tournament is about dedication, hard work and loyalty ... all qualities that a world champion should possess."
The Cumulative Kills mode also adds variety to the simultaneous tournaments, challenging players to think differently about each contest. "There will be many players who want to qualify in both tournaments," Snipes noted, "and if the qualification process is the same for both tournaments, then players would become robotic. They would move between games, put up a high score and qualify. We want to challenge players and give them something different. Some players may be better at one type of qualification over the other."
BIGGER DRAW, BIGGER PRIZES
Snipes underscored the size of this year's upcoming Big Buck Hunter Pro and Safari world championships in terms of projected participation and prize pools.
"This year everything will be bigger: the number of regions, the number of online games, the number of players and the number of prizes," he enthused. There will also be two world championship titles at stake.
The combined tournaments will award $60,000 in prizes and cash, compared with $22,000 last year. All participants will win a little cash this year, and prizes for the top four players increase: 1st place wins $10,000; 2nd, $5,000; 3rd, $2,000; and 4th place, $1,000.
During last year's online qualifying rounds, Play Mechanix's CoinUp network recorded a spike in player participation. Last August, "unique plays," or the total number of plays logged during a tournament period, increased more than 70% compared with the national tournament the month prior. The number of "unique players" increased more than 80% compared with the previous month.
"The data on the network show that players came out in droves to compete in 2008's world championship," Snipes observed. "Since then we have put many more games online and expect the numbers to be even larger this year. This is a great opportunity for operators to take advantage of CoinUp by getting games ready for the online qualifying tournament."
Snipes forecast greater play for 2009's qualifiers compared with last August, when play nearly doubled. He pointed out that in addition to increased traffic, operators make an extra 50¢ a play during a CoinUp tournament event.
The Cumulative Kills format, the CoinUp manager predicted, will considerably increase revenue for operators. "Players have to keep playing in order to stay on the leaderboard," Snipes said. "We've seen with hunting parties alone players dumping in a bunch of money to online games just to become the group with the highest count of bucks killed for a given month."
Players can form groups known as "hunting parties" on the Big Buck Hunter Pro website, where they choose a name, slogan and logo for their group. This concept was applied to Safari's new tournament mode, and will be a key revenue driver during the 2009 championship tournament, Snipes said.
Play Mechanix was founded by George Petro in 1995 and has since created more than 30 games for the arcade, street and casino markets. For coin-op, these include best-selling hunting videos Big Buck Hunter and the new Big Buck Safari, and Deal or No Deal. Play Mechanix recently merged with Raw Thrills, a development studio founded by former Midway Games designer Eugene Jarvis in 2001.Betson Enterprises, the nation's largest equipment distributor, is the marketing arm for the game developers' products.