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What Does a BBO Competitor Look Like?

I’ve been a loyal user and supporter of BBO from (almost) the beginning. However, over the past year or two, I’ve started to get rather frustrated with changes that I have seen in the playing environment; culminating in a bunch of decisions that are being made in response to the COVID-19 crisis. As a result, I’m starting to wonder whether BBO / FunBridge’s positions as a near monopoly in the world of online bridge is actually all that beneficial to the various end users. Coupled with this, I am wondering whether there might be an opportunity for a new entrant into the market to differentiate themselves and create some competition. So, the question for the peanut gallery is: Suppose that you wanted to create a competitor to BBO – What would you be doing differently and why?

From my perspective, BBO’s biggest weakness is its Bots. Bot based tournaments appear to be one of the most popular features on BBO. And, associated with this, I think that they are driving a lot of the company’s revenue stream. At the same time, the Bot that BBO is using (GIB) is archaic. 25 years ago, GIB was cutting edge, however, since then its been far surpassed both in terms of playing ability and support for various options like support for different bidding systems. I can’t help but believe that there would be a real opportunity to partner with a number of the teams that are currently developing stand alone bridge programs and create a platform that these developers can use to rent / sell their programs to end users. Imagine a world in which your tournament fee included the option to “rent” a bot of your choice for the duration of that event. (Perhaps this fee is waived entirely if you have purchased a license a given program)

A second really major short coming with the existing BBO implementation is difficulty in finding games. BBO works decently for

  1. Groups of four people who know each other and want to play some hands
  2. Pairs who want to compete in a tournament
  3. Individuals who are willing to play in a robot events

It’s much less useful for

  1. An individual who wants to play some hands against other people
  2. A pair that wants to play against another pair
  3. Individuals / pairs / teams of four that want to get added into a team game

Building a variety of matching services into the system should provide significant value to end users. As a practical example, in the past I have suggested a permanent Indy type ladder that individuals could drop into / drop out of… In a similar vein, it would be nice if people could form a team of four and then get matched with another team looking for a match. Or four pairs could get matched into a team game. Here, once again, you probably want to give people an option to include some bots into the mix, both as a way to provide folks with options to fill out a game and as a revenue making opportunity.

It feels like it might be worth trying to build in a better on-ramp for new players. I imagine a simplified version of the site that

  1. Starts with very basic lessons regarding the rules of the game (You must follow suit, high card wins)
  2. Progresses into using BridgeMaster to teach how to play a hand
  3. Has an app designed to help people choose contract
  4. Finishes with an option option to play minibridge against bots / peoples

Once all this is done, you can move people over the real site and let them practice bidding with robots.

I’m torn about whether or not it makes sense to try and develop a customize version of the system designed for online play for major tournaments like the Bermuda Bowl and the like. My gut says that there’s already a lot of good work going on in this area and that, rather than developing a GUI for this, it would be better to provide an interface that – for example – the solution that the Hungarians are developing can link into for VuGraph.

Curious what areas other folks would focus on…

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