FanDuel's NBA InPlay
A real-time mobile fantasy game that you can play live during NBA action
FanDuel’s NBA InPlay is an at-home game that fans can play while watching NBA games. Users play real-time fantasy basketball (picking players, earning points, and competing to win prizes) against friends, co-workers, or other fans across the country.
After the success of our first collaboration on a similar app, FanDuel came to Small Planet with a mission: enhance and improve engagement for home viewers with a colorful, compelling experience that directly connects pro basketball fans to what’s happening on their screens.
NBA InPlay players sync their device to the audio of a particular NBA game in order to play along with it live
“This is Where the Fun Begins”
NBA InPlay is based on a single regularly scheduled game. Players sync their device to the audio of a particular NBA game in order to play along with it live. You can join a public or private game, and choose one of the teams in the match-up, then draft an athlete each quarter from that team. While watching the game, each InPlay player will see their score change in correlation with actions done by the athlete they drafted for the active quarter — including baskets, rebounds, steals, blocks, assists and, sadly, turnovers as well.
FanDuel wanted to bring a heightened strategic element to the gameplay, and directed our team of developers and designers to add the “Turbo” feature. This is where the fun begins. When the user decides there's an opportune time to activate a Turbo, they earn points for all players from their selected team on the court, plus a multiplier for their drafted player. The user is given four Turbo boosts every quarter, and after activation each Turbo lasts 48 seconds in which to rack up points. This time-sensitive feature engages users in a way that keeps them involved through the entire game (even if the score is lopsided).
Not Your Typical Play Test
Our biggest learning curve was figuring out how we could cut down on the latency between the devices and the TV. Responsiveness is key. The audio sync technology used for NBA InPlay is brand new, and the time-stamped watermarks contained in the broadcast signal needed to be vetted in a variety of environments. How would a personal device sync to the broadcast source in a crowded family room or small apartment? Or public space like a bar, commons area, or office?
So, there was a ton of play testing to improve the latency...and not just your ordinary, garden-variety testing either. It had to be live, mainly at night (since that’s when most games are played), and we had to follow the games in real time versus “our” time. No DVR pausing, replays, phone calls, or extended absences that push past a standard commercial break.
Over 100 hours of live testing led to a LOT of comments from friends and significant others about how watching basketball all the time — on occasion in a bar or restaurant setting — counted as “work.” Our response was simple: we do whatever it takes.
A Rich, Seamless Experience
Total turnaround on NBA InPlay was four months (the project started in August) with a very hard deadline. Christmas Day to be exact, one of the biggest basketball viewership days of the year. That meant design, development, quality assurance, final approvals and submission in a little under 16 weeks.
The result was a rich, seamless gaming experience that met with tremendous response on December 25th (and many days after). Built in Unity and set in a dynamic environment, the app looks spectacular, incorporating player photographs, team colors, and content into the design.
Additional features include a leaderboard to see how users are doing against others in the same game, as well as prizing for public games. Eventually NBA InPlay will feature longer-term contests, so we've added Facebook integration in order to maintain user stats long term.