Friday, June 24, 2011

BANG! Video Game: A Look at Consumer and Developer Interaction

BANG! Video Game


BANG! the Official Video Game, developed by Palzoun and Spinvector, has been out for about six months now. The initial release had no character abilities, no expansions, no multiplayer, and tons of problems (see my initial review here). In general, it was a buggy wretch. Most people who invested in it were likely die-hard fans who had hope that something great would come from it. The developer's ambition to become the first multicross platform video game was compelling, and if pulled off would not only create a great gaming community for BANG!, but also potentially pave a new way of approaching multiplayer (and multilingual) gaming in the industry for the future. A lofty goal, indeed.

Since the "release," some updates have been made to include character abilities, and more challenge AI, and bug-fixes, as well as expand the BANG! game to more platforms (Nokia and Playstation Vita the most recent). So there is proof the developers have been doing something. Nonetheless, the rate of development has been the problem. It has been six months and still there is no multiplayer for any platform and no expansions. Sure, there is the pass-and-play feature, but any board/card game fan knows this is a confusing and uninteresting way to play, especially with 5+ players. Since almost every action in BANG! likely requires a reaction, the passing gets a little obscene. Furthermore, BANG! is known as a great party game, a game to bring to a campout, and as a fun family Sunday activity. The fun is clearly focused on the people, and for the video game this is actualized in the multiplayer feature. Single player does not cut it for BANG! Without this feature being added soon, the video game will not go out with a BANG!, but a whimper.

What I want to focus on in this post is how the developers have interacted with their consumers and fan base in the past 3 months. Given that the multiplayer feature, which was anticipated to be added to the game quite soon has not appeared, it is no surprise that many fans have been upset. What has Palzoun done to assuage these complaints? The official website has posted its news and comments almost exclusively through Facebook, although they have sporadically used their corporate blog a couple times as well. They have around 1250 likes on Facebook, and customer interaction, which they have encouraged, has been decently high. The questions I want to ask and attempt to answer about the last 3 months of interaction are:
  1. How have the developers communicated the development of BANG! with their customers and fan base?

  2. What have the customers and fan base communicated to the developers, and how have the developers responded?

  3. What are the potential reasons for why the developers have responded and communicated as they have?

  4. What are possibly better ways for developers to communicate their delays and development progress in the future?

To answer the first two items, I will be looking exclusively at the remarks made on Facebook. The last items will be broached mainly out of personal speculation. I hope that it will provide some worthy thoughts regarding consumer-developer expectations and relationships, and stimulate discussion about Palzoun and Spinvector’s ambitious project.

Item 1: How have the developers communicated the development of BANG! with their customers and fan base? The best way to answer this question I think is to create a table of comments and then discuss the data.

DateTopic of Communication
March 31Ipad Review of Game
April 8Bug-fix for iPhone
April 8Customers are told comments are to be written in English
April 8Multilingual update for PC
April 8E-mail procedures regarding update order
April 23Game featured on Ovi Nokia store
April 28Review on Ovi Gaming
May 2Spam problems with e-mail update system
May 5Italian comment on claims about continuing development
June 1Launch of BANG! on Nokia, claims that multicross multiplayer available in Summer 2011
June 23Claims of following comments daily and that they are working hard


The majority of the comments are regarding reviews/features, minor updates (bug fix regarding random black screen, language options), and their updating procedures. However, my favorite of these updates was the April 8 comment that the fans were to write in English, "so to share information with as many players as possible" coupled with the May 5 comment on the game's development given completely in Italian. A close second is the developer commenting that BANG! was available on a Nokia Store on April 23 and a PR announcement that is available on Nokia Symbian-3 phones on June 1, while a customer talked about seeing it in the Ovi store on April 7 (poor PR). The table also shows a rapid drop in developer involvement after April. And while the table doesn't show this, most of the developer comments are devoid of content. While links to reviews are given, the promises from the developers do not show pictures, video, or explain the details on their developmental phases. They do not explain what part of a certain feature they are working on, what the challenges are, and thus the comments seem quite hollow.

Item 2: What have the customers and fan base communicated to the developers, and how have the developers responded? I will again use a table and discuss the data. This table will be organized slightly differently.

Comment Type# Of# Dev. ResponsesResponse TypeCustomer Response
Platform wait11Is availableSatisfied
Price question11Discrepancy explanationSatisfied
Language wait11Is availableSatisfied
Billing problem11Use support formSatisfied
PC Update wait51Download procedural problemDissatisfied, some satisfied
150 Edition PC42No demo availableDissatisfied
Pass-and-play PC10n/an/a
Multiplayer Wait232Announce when availableDissatisfied, want time table
Available on Facebook11Won't happenn/a
PC Update wait 253Mocks customer, justification of development, available soonDissatisfied, some satisfied
Download problem11Contact supportn/a
Nokia version on Ovi11Is availablen/a
Symbian 1 version31Won't happenSatisfied
Post-update Crashes41Contact supportn/a
Want expansions140n/an/a
Android version80n/an/a
Distribution complaint82Use support form, check spamDissatisfied
Mac version31Not for monthsn/a
Console versions21Can't saySatisfied
Bug with new update21Asks about system versionn/a
No response from support12Wait, support person ill, complain more and get removedDissatisfied and irritated
iPod card update10n/an/a
Multiplayer update news302It is hard work, working on itDissatisfied
Want refund21Contact supportn/a
Nokia version issues21Use support formn/a
Developers don't respond60n/an/a
Customer loyalty problem20n/an/a
How to play BANG!30n/an/a


This table shows some interesting things. First, the developers generally do quite well regarding answering questions about platform availability (Android is an exception) and price questions. With technical issues, they rightfully point people to contacting support and using the support forms provided online. However, they have been quite poor in addressing fans' questions and comments regarding multiplayer updates, expansion and card updates, general news on their progress, and the desire for a time table. The developers are also a little touchy with the more rash customers, tending to respond negatively back, mocking them a couple times (although they admittedly try to rein it in afterwards). You get the impression that on the whole, the relationship with many of their customers is tense. Sadly, although this table does not show it well, the loyal fans that defended the developers from criticism started to become critics themselves over time when the developers ceased to respond on the whole to custom comments in mid-May nigh to the present. At the moment, it appears that the interactive customers are mostly frustrated with the product.

Item 3: What are the potential reasons for why the developers have responded and communicated as they have? Of course, we can point to the developers being busy: they are working on their product, trying to get things done. However, this is not a sufficient reason. Clearly, they should have a person(s) whose focus is entirely in marketing. They should have the time to respond to almost all customer comments. And these comments should be more than an acknowledgement. So far, on the tougher questions the developers seem to believe that simply stating "we are working on it," "it's hard work," and "soon" will satiate customers. However, it just hasn't done that. They need meatier responses than they have been giving. Do they not have a person who focuses on marketing (especially social media)? If so, this is huge fail for their marketing strategy. And if they do have such a person, perhaps the problem is that they have not drawn out a cohesive social media strategy. The result is a patchy, hit-or-miss approach.

Another challenge they seem to have is a language barrier. While the developers claim that customers should communicate in English as much as possible, it is clear from their comments that they are not native English speakers themselves. A lot of the grammar is incorrect, making customers wonder if the developers are communicating with the public via Google Translate. If so, we can see why communicating with the wider BANG! community is a challenge for them. But why don't they hire at least 1 native English speaker to do this?

The impression might be that their budget is tight: they don't have the money to spend on PR and marketing. Many companies have had to make cuts in these areas in the current economic depression, and Palzoun and Spinvector may be among them. But if this is true, how can they afford to try something as ambitious as multicross, multiplayer, multilingual gaming? The shoe doesn't fit.

The last possibility I can think of is that they just don't care. BANG! will get developed, and all these customer comments are just nuisances in the way. The people who want to buy the game, will buy the game. Dissatisfied customers can just go away, we don't need them. Unfortunately, this seems to cut drastically on the amount of customers they have (both actual and potential, including myself). I hope this is not the case.

Item 4: What are possibly better ways for developers to communicate their delays and development progress in the future? I have thought about this some, and I think the developers could make a significant improvement to their customer relationships by doing the following:
  • Give meatier feedback. Saying "we're working on it" can work for a couple months. But eventually, people want evidence. Why don't they have screenshots, videos, interviews, or other forms of media (eye candy) showing that they have been making development progress? They could show gameplay where they have added new cards or characters to satisfy those wanting an expansion update, for instance. They could give a video of 2 BANG! players doing multiplayer on 2 different devices (say PC and iPad). This would show customers asking for a multiplayer update that real work is being done. While the video would clearly require a more tech-savvy marketing person, the screenshots do not. Most people can figure out how to work the Print Screen button, and then paste/crop the screenshot in MS Paint. Even textual additions could be useful here. You could have status bars for various items for the next update. Each developmental category could have a changing % bar showing how much of that category is complete. Or a table of game characters to be added could be listed and a check box placed next to them to show if they are done or not.

  • Catalogue the developmental process. Even where features are not close to being complete, the developers could talk about the difficulty of finishing some project. Many actual and potential customers are interested in multicross platform gaming, and would interested to hear an interview (text, audio, or video) about challenges that appear as they try to make this goal a reality. What devices are particularly difficult in getting to interact? Why? Why hasn't the gaming industry accomplished this earlier? What attempts have been made in the past? Why did they fail? Have any succeeded?

  • Set a time table for marketing communications. Instead of providing updates sporadically, they could provide some developer news on a consistent basis each week on a specified day. Fans would then know when to check in. The developers could discuss what they have worked on that week, what success they have had, and what challenges have come up. People would check it and be significantly more pleased about the incomplete product they paid for.

  • Provide clearer content. Several customers asked for a more set time on the implementation of the multiplayer feature in BANG! In one developer news comment, they gave such a general time (Summer 2011). However, this time was embedded in the middle of a blog post on BANG! the Official Video Game being made available on the Nokia phone. Given that this "news" was not in fact news (the announcement coming 2 months after the fact), why would BANG! fans check out this post and find that nugget of information buried amongst the rest? With so many fans asking about the time of implementation, they should have communicated this message in a separate comment.

These questions have made me further wonder, has the development process for the multicross feature been executed well? As ambitious as a project Palzoun and Spinvector have set for themselves, have they taken the right approach? This question has been very difficult for me to answer due to their lack of transparency about the process. In their last post, they stated, "Many of you would prefear multicross with less platforms now, then later with more” (aside: this shows their language barrier). It seems that they are aware of other people's opinions, but they nonetheless disagree. Consumers seem to be thinking: Why are you trying to bring this game to so many platforms before instituting multiplayer? Why not focus on the core of your (both potential and actual) customers and work on getting multiplayer to work for them (PC, iPhone/iPad) first? You could get multiplayer to work for them separately and then get those more important devices to interact cross platform. Then add in the less important platforms. You can see the consumer's line of thinking here. I imagine that the developers' response is that this is too much of a headache in terms of time and money. It is easier (for us developers) to have the multicross platform multiplayer work from the beginning. Otherwise, the multiplayer we develop for each platform will have to be redesigned to work with other platforms, perhaps even each time we add a new platform. We don't want to have to do that, so no consumers, we won't do it your way. But there is an implied question in this whole debate: do consumers really care that much about having multicross multiplayer? Multiplayer in gaming has been fine so far, so why should they care that they can play with others across platforms so much? The lesson may be that multiplayer for most board game apps is essential; multicross is just an added bonus. Perhaps what Palzoun and Spinvector are trying to pull off is out of touch with their consumers’ wants.

Finally, the way it was released was a bit strange. Is it that common for developers to release their product in the state they did to essentially collect funds? Does this approach tend to work well? I think most BANG! players would have been pleased to wait without committing cash, than go through the slow, tedious developmental process that the video game has undergone. What do you think about the BANG! Video Game, and the interaction between the game's consumers and developers?

6 comments:

  1. The "pre-release" is a strategy to get money. Pure and simple. "Hey, lets get this thing basically working and see if people will buy it" kind of a tactic. Worked for MINECRAFT. I can't really knock it because what they've done is solid, but it's literally about 25% of what the game should/could be. I'm so sick of squaring off against Bill Noface, Pixie Pete, and Paul Regret. Give me variety! How hard can this be to program, seriously?

    Also, their poor English translations make me cringe. I'm an English major, and have considered contacting them, and re-translating their posts because it's actually embarrassing to read them as a BANG! supporter.

    At the end of the day, I'm glad I have some of a great game rather than no game at all, but this is taking quite a bit of time. Get a solid game, make it work with more characters and expansions, and THEN work on bringing it to other platforms. I still want it on my mac, but I'll wait if they can just get the PC/iPhone version(s) working.

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  2. I agree with you that the pre-release definitely looks like a money gimick; I guess that's business (good or bad is up for debate). I think that programming the expansions and the basic game isn't that difficult either; but the multicross being something so new, could be mindnumbingly difficult. You are right, of course, about the poor English translations. Even in the card game a lot of the wording is awkward.

    I am pleased to see that they have released some screenshots of the multiplayer beta, and that PC users can sign up for the beta now. It is supposed to start in a few weeks.

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  3. Yes, I'll definitely be interested to see what they come up with in beta. Here's hoping we'll get a crack at a few more characters, too. Perhaps I'm being overly optimistic...

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  4. I understand how it will that way at this point. It would make since for them to focus on player to player (and platform to platform interaction) before adding the new characters, though.

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  5. I released a web/online clone of Bang! It's open source.
    http://174.94.63.5/bang/

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