This feels a little out of place, but the thought crossed my mind, and once the dominoes start falling it’s hard to get them to stop.
I was thinking about where SpyParty, as a game, and to some degree as a community, will eventually land after (or perhaps during) it’s beta phase in regards to eSports, serious competition, and things in that vein.
Games like SC2, CS:GO, and DoTA2 are special games that seem to either gotten lucky, or were hand-crafted to be serious, eSports kinds of games. I know Chris Hecker’s goal for SpyParty, on some level, was to allow for this amount of play, and to even encourage it, but I guess what I am asking is – Does SpyParty have what it takes to be a real contender in the world of MLGs and Dreamhacks?
This was prompted by this question I asked QuantumPope, one of the Ams in our ProAm, who has a fair amount of experience in the larger eSports community. His answer is a bit more grim than I would have hoped in some ways, although I am quite pleased he thinks we’ll remain loyal to this game.
I don’t mean to say that I feel that SpyParty doesn’t have what it takes to get there, but I want to think this through and try to consider both sides here: Either it will be come a skill-intensive game with teams and sponsors, or it won’t. One thing we definitely have going for us is that Chris Hecker wants to make this work, and besides his own child, SpyParty is his glistening beautiful only child. So he wants to care for it, and make it as great as it possibly can be, meaning when he says he wants dossiers – he probably has some amazing ideas for it that might very well win over all the naysayers in the forums. And when he’s working on art with Cimino or spit-balling ideas with Zero, while they might be having a good time, he wants, deep down, to make this thing happen in the way that fulfills its fullest potential.
One thing that might be holding us back, and note this is a “for now” issue, but it’s still an issue, is the tutorial system in SpyParty. As of this writing, I have over 14k games played, so you can be damned sure I’ve read the manual, and I even own a physical copy from PAX ’12. Yet, SpyParty is the only game in recent memory where I bothered, entirely due to the understanding the game is so different than other games. Not everybody is that intrigued by the concept, and I’m sure many of us have seen people pop in the lobby, excited and anxious, only to get battered against the wall by someone who wants to mentor because our new player didn’t bother to read the manual. I know that Chris is using a depth first/accessibility later approach, and I like that actually, but I worry it can alienate many adopters of games like this when they are hard to learn, and scary to try out. I got lucky and found another newbie when I starting playing, but not everybody gets that, and I’d wager most people who don’t find another newer player to start with quit much more often than players who do. Sadly SpyParty isn’t an easy game to teach, and I think once we have a real tutorial mode rapid growth might occur, if it’s done right. I primarily feel like this stifles people initial interest in SpyParty, and can lead to negative feelings at worst due to poor communication and misunderstandings, which I believe can/does have a real impact of the likelihood of us getting somewhere in the eSports world.
A surprisingly positive thing that has risen from Chris Hecker’s initial ideas for this game is the aspect of luck and skill in tandem. A fair number of people have compared SpyParty to poker for a few reasons, and without going too deep into how close that analogy actually is I think it strikes a great balance where it’s at now. The game rewards you for your skills (green ATs, knowing anti-tells, learning AI behavior, etc) it also can come down to luck to a degree, which makes game after game interesting. You might get lucky on Balcony and get a super friendly seduction target, but occasionally you really have to work for it while not getting shot, and although Balcony is a bit of odd example considering how luck can play a larger role in it than larger maps, the idea that you can get lucky with the party definitely happens elsewhere. I feel this is a boon to the game overall, keeping things different, but not too different. It allows for an element of randomness that is to be expected, and that we can play around with (should I frame the weird AI? or maybe do my missions while the sniper is distracted by it?) and learn from.
My last point is a bit strange, and I’m not sure which side it lands on – The community. We love SpyParty, that’s why we’re here. In almost any other discussion, this would be a positive hands down end of story, but here’s where it gets, uh, different. You see, in most competitive gaming communities, things are a bit more negative, with more mean-spirited trolling and the like. I am no expert in this area, but I have wondered what impact this has on if something gets big, or perhaps if that will always happen to large games as a result of their size, ignoring the initial communities that surrounded them. I feel like SC2 has done a fairly decent job of being a more positive group than most, but it’s an older group with much more history than these new-fangled games we’re seeing pop up. I want to say that it’s a good thing we all want SpyParty to be the best game it can be, but maybe I’m wrong and this is a case of opposites attracting (good games + bad players)? I honestly don’t know, but I lean towards it can only help SpyParty as it grows.
Hopefully this long post can spark some discussion, I am curious regarding your thoughts,