It’s a Blackout!
(Early Pictures of Blackout Rugby.)
Blackout Rugby is a text based rugby union management game that you can play on-line for free. Once you register you are assigned a team of lower league players with basic training facilities and a small stadium. It is up to you, the user, to manage your team well and bring success to your club. You can do this by using the transfer market, developing home grown players or using both methods. There is not one sure fire way to be successful as there are many ways to play and enjoy the game. Along with club rugby you have the opportunity to become involved with international teams and there are plenty to choose from. There is a vibrant community there that is more than happy to help new users fit right in, all you have to do is come and say hello. Everything can seem a little daunting and a bit confusing at first, but the community is there to help you along the way. The Raging Potato has an account on Blackout Rugby and we can certainly vouch for the quality of the game provided by Jeremy and everyone else who has contributed along the way. Luckily, Jeremy took some time out of his busy schedule to talk a little bit about the game.
- How and why did you decide to create Blackout Rugby? Was it a drunken idea?
I was still studying at the time at the University of Waikato and a friend of mine Matthew Scoble was really enjoying a new cricket game called Battrick. I don’t think we were drunk at the time of the initial proposal, but I’m sure we discussed it over some drinks at multiple points along the way. He told me about Battrick and said we should make a rugby version. There was already a game called Rugbymania based out of France which is still there I believe. But we felt we could build something better for English speaking users due to the creators of Rugbymania having english as a secondary language which was obvious throughout their game. I initially declined matt as I was working on a different business idea and viewed game development as out of my ‘league’ 😉 A few months later though, after Matt convinced me to play Battrick for a while I realised a rugby game could be achieved.
- Who else was involved?
Mainly Matt and I in terms of the ‘on paper’ business. We had a 3rd partner at first who later dropped out to follow other endeavors. Matt’s wife was quite involved too as we would meet at their place each week to work on it and she would not only tolerate us but also provide late night supplies. She’s an awesome person and very supportive of Matt. There were also plenty of other guys which Matt had met through other games who put their hands up to help with various things like coming up with all of the player skill levels words, player names, etc. We had guys who modded the forums even far before the game actually launched. We had a real-life professional referee who helped with the match engine too.
- How many people are now involved in the running of Blackout Rugby?
It depends what you mean, in some respects it’s just me, and in other respects, every member of the community who has ever made a suggestion or reported a bug is involved. To be specific, I’m the only person who works on it full-time as a day job. Matt has become more of a silent partner as his real-life job and family commitments have taken priority. At the next level I have Pantherus and GDBFC99. Pantherus is the bugs manager, and is always on hand via Google chat when I need to discuss almost anything related to the game. GD is my main staff manager and main translator for the French version of the game. After that we have a few dozen staff who contribute in various areas from modding forums, enforcing the rules, marketing, social/fb team, translators for 4 other primary languages (new content is being added all the time), discussing core game issues and development, suggestions managers, documentation maintainers, commentary writers, etc. The list goes on.
(Matt and Jeremy.)
- What were the initial challenges in setting the game up? How many testing phases did you have to go through?
The biggest issues to tackle were scaling. Handling the amount of matches that needed to be run was very difficult and provided a lot of stress. It was also my first big project on next to no experience so my initial code was extremely inefficient in many areas. Plus, of course we were running on very little revenue so could only afford so much computing power. The site would grind to a halt even when there were no matches being run, and I had no idea why, and no idea where to look. I did A LOT of googling and fast learning during that phase. Much of this happened before cloud computing too, so it wasn’t just as easy as launching a new virtual server to try things out for $0.10 an hour. If I needed more power, it was a case of upgrading to a new dedicated server at twice the price with no in-between. Having a slow site also brought new issues to the table: angry members and criticism, and in turn extra stress and emotional hardening. As for test phases, we had one main beta phase however this turned out to be near pointless because being only beta, nothing was permanent and people didn’t really play the game at too much depth thus not many issues were found and ironed out. Once the real game launched I remember feeling unbelievably overwhelmed with bugs coming in faster than I could fix them. I naively thought during development that when the game was done I’d be able to chill, and let the community just play it for a while. How wrong I was. There were multiple bugs per day for months, and even to this day we get pretty close to an average of 1 new bug reported each day. In creating something like this, there’s no such thing as ‘done’.
- Did you ever feel that the game would have grown in popularity in the way that it has?
Yes, and no. Yes we knew there was a demand and people would play. We knew this from the first night we released registration. Just registration. Nothing else, just the ability for someone to register a team name. We posted about it in the Battrick forums, and we had 50 registrations within a couple of hours. We were ecstatic. What I didn’t realise though was that it would actually grow and become a pretty solid community. It’s not making anyone rich, but it’s making enough to pay me a full-time wage. Even though the game is in a bit of a decline right now, I know that it’s yet to see it’s best days, especially once I’ve revamped the site with better support for tablets and mobiles.
- What is it like to co-own/co-create a game and keep it going? Many people don’t understand what is fully involved with an idea like this.
It took 2 years to make, near full-time. Every spare hour to build it. Many meetings and late nights of planning. I would call Matt multiple times, every single day even while he was at work to make decisions I couldn’t make myself. And like I said above, this was just the start. Once the game was launched, the responsibility and workload only increased – at least at first. Scaling with the growth was a huge challenge and I literally spent the first 2 years after launch solving that problem. Keeping it going started off taking a huge amount of time handling emails, bugs, new features, etc. But now that the staff have settled into a good rhythm, bugs are largely reduced, and the game is quite stable overall it’s much easier. Every day involves answering a few emails, a few in-game mails, checking up on the bugs lounge and fixing any new ones. Then moving onto whatever new development is on at present. I’m on call 24/7 too, in case the site goes down I’m the only person who can fix it. At least for now. My biggest goal right now, going forward is to lift revenue to the point where I can hire a second developer full-time to take some of the responsibility off my shoulders. Then I could go camping without worry! haha.
- How pleased are you with the match engine at the moment?
I’m pretty happy with where it’s at. In terms of running a game of rugby it does it’s job very well. Obviously there are some other features I’d like to add at some point. But it will never be done. There will always be more features requested, more, more, more, no matter how much work I do on it. Right now the focus is on growth of the game, brought about by adding support for mobile and tablets.
- What impact do you believe the introduction of affiliates has had on the game overall?
A few extra farm teams, though they weren’t exactly non-existent before. A bit of extra revenue, though not a huge amount since previously there were many multi’s who were paying full price for premium. I also believe some of the decrease in member numbers has been a result of affiliate clubs being merged into one developer account.
(There is no place we can’t work!)
- What are your thoughts on the number of countries that have been introduced into the game? Too many too soon?
Possibly. But there will always be demand for new countries since it’s a blank slate for new teams to reach division 1. Even now I get requests for new countries. More countries mean more opportunities for national managers too.
- Any plans to develop the financial model further? Or are you happy with the way it has been designed?
There have been some new ideas proposed to me including micro-payments. But the current model is working really well so and the new options have too many draw-backs so there’s nothing that’s really taken hold so far. The only change that is likely to happen is to separate ad-removal into it’s own subscription so that normal premium subscriptions will still include non-online ads.
- Any future developments planned for Blackout Rugby? Rumour has it that a site re-design is on its way?
Yes, a major revamp has been in the works for a long time now. However, recently I had to somewhat start over due to the realisation of how fast the demand for mobile and tablets was growing.
- Do you have any development for the brand that is Blackout? I.e. Cricket, Soccer
The plan has always been, and remains to be to move onto other sports once the redesign is complete. Though BR still takes so much time, and I’m only one guy, and revenue is limited, so we’ll see. I’m currently working on some other ventures both in the game industry and in other industries as well since I feel it would be unwise for me personally to have all of my eggs in one basket going forwards.
(The good old student days.)
If you would like to try Blackout Rugby and we really suggest that you do! Please click on the link below;
You can also like and interact with the community via their Facebook page below;
Or if you are an avid Twitter user you can keep up to date with Blackout Rugby via their Twitter page;
(Copyright belongs to The Raging Potato. Any pictures and additional information are used with Jeremy’s permission.)