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It Started as a Tweet. Now It Might Be a Sport. Meet #IDARB.

"In the span of a month, we developed a community, competitions and controversy."


That’s a common question in my house these days.


That’s a common response.

My roommates and I are not speaking another language. #IDARB is a free competitive video game, and it’s taking over my life.

I’ve spent hours playing it since it debuted in February. I’ve spent at least an hour more watching YouTube videos about it to get better. I dropped $120 on new Xbox One controllers specifically for the game. I’ve used in-game tools to design nearly 30 custom characters to play as. I even designed a semi-functional knockoff of #IDARB within one of my other video game obsessions, Minecraft.

Someone had to be held accountable for this — and it certainly wasn’t going to be me. So, I visited Other Ocean, the company that makes #IDARB, in Emeryville, Calif., to confront designer Mike Mika.

But first, here’s the for-dummies explanation of how #IDARB works: Up to eight players assign themselves to one of two teams. They’re then dropped into an arena full of platforms to run and jump on, and each team tries to score a ball in the other’s goal. The ball can be walked, thrown or bounced into the goal.

The game gets really interesting once players get the hang of that last bit — bouncing the ball. When it ricochets off a platform, or the edge of the goal, before it goes in, the score gets multiplied. So, while shooting the ball in at point-blank range nets only two points, standing in the right spot farther away and bouncing it just so might get you 20 points, or more.

And in case that’s not enough, #IDARB also has a strong social media hook. Viewers watching a match on Twitch and/or tweeting about it on Twitter can interfere, live, via a special hashtag called a “hashbomb.” These silly, sometimes intentionally frustrating interferences may, for example, turn the players into clowns (#clown) or summon a low-res Rick Astley of Rickroll fame (#ricky) to mumble-croon “Never Gonna Give You Up.”

Mika said the game owes a lot to Twitter. That’s where it was born, in January 2014.

“Usually, whenever I start a new game, I just draw a box and start to do things with it,” Mika said. “I stopped there, with a red box in the middle of the screen, and went to Twitter.”

He only had about 50 followers at the time, but the “it draws a red box” tweet blew up thanks to a boost from his friend Tim Schafer, the founder of Double Fine Productions. He used a Google spreadsheet to compile the responses, rating them by feasibility and humor.

“If it was funny, it stayed,” Mika said.

The game attracted the attention of Microsoft’s Chris Charla, who was heading up a new independent games initiative for Xbox. After a successful debut at that year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Other Ocean got a call about launching the game exclusively on Xbox One. #IDARB is currently free through Microsoft’s subscription service, Games With Gold, and will cost $15 starting in April.

After finishing the game in November, Other Ocean seeded preview codes out to 800 people, including magazines, fans who had contributed ideas and YouTube and Twitch video makers. The last group wound up being crucial.

“We were familiar with the community of game streamers, but we didn’t realize how powerful it would be to give them a game that their audience could participate in,” Mika said. “They [the audience] want to mess with the talent they follow, and it brought them closer together. It made [streamers] want to stream the game more, to more people, and those people wanted to get the game and do that for others.”

 One the many #IDARB characters I’ve created, Blinky from Pac-Man
One the many #IDARB characters I’ve created, Blinky from Pac-Man
Eric Johnson

Even though #IDARB debuted on Feb. 1, Super Bowl Sunday, it notched 600,000 unique gameplay sessions on that first day. Today, about 1.5 million people have downloaded it, and 150,000 play it every day.

But, of course, those are all freeloaders like me (not counting the $120 I spent on new controllers). To actually make money from the game, Other Ocean plans to offer paid downloadable content, including new hashbombs, special powers for characters and “reskinned” versions of the game’s arena.

The challenge, however, is that now Other Ocean may have accidentally invented a sport. Players took to Twitter and Reddit to self-organize tournaments, and the company hopes to standardize a set of eSports-style rules later this year. And even though #IDARB wants to be silly fun, players who come for a serious competition want a regulated, “balanced” game.

“In the span of a month, we developed a community, competitions and controversy,” Mika said.

At one of the earliest tournaments, for example, one player creamed the competition because he had discovered “fart-dashing,” a bug in the game that makes it possible to fly across the screen faster than any other means. Some players and viewers cried foul, but then when Mika aired the idea of updating the game to remove fart-dashing, they said no; by that point, they had all figured out how to do it and had become protective.

Mika said he wants to keep updating #IDARB “as long as we can,” saying he respected the way Minecraft developer Mojang (now owned by Microsoft) rolled out years of both free and paid updates.

“In many ways, it’s similar: It was just a fun little thing that started to grow and grow and grow,” he said. “I enjoy waiting for a Minecraft update, and I like how they listen to feedback and incorporate it. Not that we’ll ever achieve the success of Minecraft, but I think that model works really well for the way we develop.”

And after #IDARB? Other Ocean is already talking to Microsoft about a follow-up game that will take the sports-ish formula “to its next logical extreme.”

“It’s a little crazy, and it’s a little nuts,” Mika said. “But it’s something that’s in our DNA, so fingers crossed that that gets off the ground.”

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