There’s something meta around the thought of gamifying a game. But that’s exactly what one Singapore startup is doing.
Ballr is preparing to launch its new app this month. The goal is to attract non traditional gamers to a fantasy game platform. In order to do that, Kevin O’Neill and his partners set out to simplify the process. To gamify it.
“We were looking at fantasy sports and thinking ‘This is way to complex.'” says O’Neill, who is based out of Melbourne and serves as the company’s CTO.
“There’s this great thing going on in fantasy sports where you are able to interact as an individual with a live sporting match. But we saw that the platform can literally take hours to set up, and you need a lot of knowledge of the sport. It just isn’t for the casual player. So we started talking about something that was more akin to Candy Crush or Age of Fires, as opposed to traditional fantasy sports.”
Gamification is taking the mechanics and design techniques from a game and using them to motivate users to achieve goals.
Ballr achieves this by providing tokens that players can use to play with, and gives them the opportunity to win or buy more tokens. According to O’Neill, most fantasy sports platforms require a basic level of knowledge that can scare some people away.
“We started to come up with games that you could play in the pub, with one hand, whilst watching the TV and drinking a beer. We’re reducing fantasy sports to that level,” he says.
“Basically, fantasy sports attracts more hard-core gamers than we are targeting. The games we’re designing will be for three blokes at a pub who say to one another ‘I reckon I can do better than you.'”
To achieve this goal, O’Neill sat down and wrote a disruptive chart for daily fantasy sports. He looked at the strengths of the platforms and figured out what were the opposite of those strengths. And then he determined whether those were marketable.
The first thing he landed upon was time commitment and depth of knowledge. O’Neill likes to point out that setting up a normal fantasy team can take a lot of time. And fantasy players who know the ins and outs of a sport start with a big advantage. O’Neill wanted to turn those on their heads.
“I want zero time commitment. I don’t want you to have to follow 30 players. If you’re watching the game on the TV and you hear the commentator say ‘I think this player is out next’, that should be enough.”
O’Neill says it’s about targeting the midlevel fan.
“Ironically, I’ve worked in sports apps for the last five or six years and I’m not a sports fan. If I will play the game, then we’ve probably got the market right.”
And for O’Neill, one of the biggest nuisances was taking the time to set up your fantasy team. Ballr is betting that is one thing that scares away many potential players.
“If you just guess the upcoming gameplay, then you’re going to have some chance. If you apply knowledge to predict the upcoming gameplay, then you have a better chance. But having the knowledge doesn’t invalidate the chance of a guess turning out right.
“If you use a traditional fantasy sports platform, you’ve got to have a certain level of knowledge, such as which player is better than another. How do I figure that out if I don’t know already? It’s very complex. And the simple act of setting up a team can take half an hour. We’re hoping that players can be in and playing a game within 30 seconds.”
The next thing they struck upon was how many opportunities a gamer had to play in a day. In a game like Candy Crush, the user can play as many times a day as the like. But fantasy sports are usually restricted to the number of games per day. Tackling that problem actually led to some design innovations that O’Neill is quite excited about.
“We’re sport-bound and event-bound, so we had to think of ways to create the maximum number of gaming opportunities within an event-bound timeframe. This is where our games start to look significantly different,” he says.
There were a few things the team tried to get away from as well. Fixed-odds betting would have created more problems for the team than it was worth.
“Because it’s very easy to end up doing some sort of fixed-odds game where you’re betting against the player effectively.”
Building Your Team
Setting up your fantasy team wasn’t the only thing on O’Neill’s mind though.
O’Neill sat down with co-founder Sam Jones in January to discuss what would eventually become Ballr.
“Well, we don’t sit around,” he likes to joke.
And not being ones to sit around, O’Neill did not look fondly on the idea of spending time recruiting a development team.
“I’m sitting there talking about assembling a team, and thinking ‘It’s going to take me three-to-six months just to complete recruiting.'”
Melbourne is a hot area for IT and mobile development. It’s also a place where big companies like to throw around money. That means some of the best talent is usually unavailable when you start building your team. Enter Gigster.
“I’d just finished recruiting 20 people, and that took me six months,” says O’Neill. He remembered reading about Gigster somewhere, and decided to look at their model further.
“It wasn’t a difficult choice. I think the Gigster proposition is fairly unique,” he says.
A Sticky Wicket
Fantasy sports is very popular in many markets around the world. According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, 56.8 million people in the United States and Canada played fantasy sports in 2015. That’s 15 million more than played it in 2014, and twice the number of players there were in 2009 and a significant jump from the 41 million who played last year.
American football is the overwhelming favorite, taking up 73 per cent of the field. And according to the FTSA, the average player spends US$465 a year on all sports.
So breaking into the market creates a unique problem.
The solution that Ballr found is similar to their other methods. They looked at the problem and flipped it on its head. Instead of going after the big guns of American football or baseball, they’re looking somewhere else first: They’re bringing fantasy sports to India and the cricket pitch.
Cricket is massive in India. Massive. In a country of 1.3 billion people cricket is by far the most celebrated sport. When the country’s national team plays a big game, an estimated 400 million people are watching. And according to some studies, cricket is three-times as popular as the FIFA World Cup.
So it’s with good reason that Ballr is setting its sights initially at the Indian market. They’re beginning with a half-dozen games based around cricket.
From there they plan to add games centered around soccer and basketball. They’ll take those games to China where both sports are very popular.
Reaching into these markets creates other technical problems that have influenced how Ballr went about building their platform.
“Initially we’re only rolling out android because that’s the bigger platform in India,” says O’Neill. Though he is quick to add that the team is building on React Native, which will allow them to quickly expand to iOS before they launch in China.
Ballr will launch in India in May with it’s cricket games, from there it will roll into football and basketball. In the following months they have plans to expand into other sports, namely tennis or golf.
Within 12 months the company plans on expanding into the United States and Europe.
No Money, No Problems
One of the issues that appears with the Indian and Chinese markets, especially as it relates to fantasy sports, is money.
O’Neill says both markets are very sensitive to anything that could be confused with gambling. Fortunately there are no entry fees or money prizes so it’s clearly a game just like any other.
“We don’t allow people to win money. Only prizes. But our top prizes are things like motorbikes,” he says excitedly.
Ballr’s games are built around a token system. No one pays to play. So it’s like lives in Candy Crush. Players are given a number of free tokens when they sign up and they use those with no risk. They have the opportunity to win additional tokens or buy more.
For O’Neill, this aspect of the game makes it more inclusive. He admits with a laugh that he’s worked in the sports application arena for the last five or six years, but that he isn’t actually a sports fan. So making sure the game works for players at all levels is important.
Playing the games gives people the chance to win prizes through a combination of skill and guessing. Ballr will concentrate on what O’Neill calls “experiential prizes.”
“If you’re given $1,000, you take it and spend it and once it’s gone there may be no memory of it. But if you’re given the opportunity to sit in a box with somebody for an IPL final, that’s an experience you can have with you for the rest of your life,” he says.
For Ballr, the best part about sports is the opportunity to play. And now they’ve built the game to help people do just that.
To contact Ballr email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking to gamify your own idea? Gigster can put together the perfect team to help you accomplish your goals.