It’s been over a year since I posted this message and took a leave of absence from the SpyParty community. Now, I find myself drawn back to both the game and its still-welcoming community. Some things are different. Some things aren’t.
I think I’m in a unique position to comment on the evolution of the community, for a few reasons. Without trying to sound pretentious (as if I need to try to sound pretentious), I started playing around the same time as many great, highly influential players: virifaux, KCMmmmm, zeroTKA, and slappydavis to name a few. And the community was small enough that I was streaming earlier and more often than anyone, which gave me more influence on the game and the community than I had expected (KrazyCaley first found the game watching my streams, and lthummus was introduced to higher level strategy through them). I was privileged to host many players regularly who are now among the best in the world, like bloom and canadianbacon. All of this was by accident: I thought streaming would be fun, and no one was doing it, so I did it.
These are the kinds of things I find myself thinking about more after taking some time off. I find myself asking: what’s different? What isn’t? What’d I miss?
The most significant change is probably the introduction of the SCL (SpyParty Competitive League). It’s the most sustained and successful attempt thus far at formalizing competitive play. The increase of activity in the lobby is noticeable, and anecdotally it seems like new players are climbing the skill curve faster than ever. It remains under-promoted in formal channels, however, and it’s fair to say the streams, while greatly improved over season one, are still finding their footing.
We’ve had a large influx of players, which has been fantastic. Seeing all these newer players getting really into the game, being driven with such a sense of competition and community has been glorious to watch. Even in the short time that I’ve been back and interacted with these people, they remind me of why I enjoy our community so much, as well as being people I am looking at to be the next big ambassadors of the game – Sure, we have our virifauxs and zeroTKAs who’ve been here forever, but we can’t rely on a handful of passionate players; we need an army of passionate players to spread the word, or else we’re leaving the future of our beloved game to chance. The role the speedrunning community has played (a few prominent speedrunners have found the game through KrazyCaley) as of late cannot be overstated.
The way people talk about the game is different, thanks to the SCL. When I took a break a year ago, many players were commenting that there wasn’t a lot to do after reaching a certain point in the skill curve. The positive side effect of this was that most of the games were casual and fun. The downside is that there weren’t as many being played. Today, it’s the opposite: we’re missing those fun, casual games, but we have lots of more serious matches. Trying to have both may be impossible, but at minimum we can look at the upsides and downsides of both. The upside of the SCL, in addition to the increased activity mentioned earlier, is a corresponding uptick in high-level strategy discussion and analysis. It’s also led to a highly encouraging increase in the number of third-party tools, from lthummus’ SpyParty Draft Tool, to sgnurf’s SCL match database. SpyParty‘s community has always been filled with independent, self-starting, technically-inclined people, so none of this comes as a surprise, but even so, this group has risen to the occasions to fill these needs.
The downsides, apart from pulling the game into a more competitive, high-stress format, is that it standardizes certain game modes through its mere existence. This is probably inevitable, and probably worth it, but it’s part of the trade off.
What’s the Same
The game still isn’t on Steam, still doesn’t have a new UI, and we still don’t have dossiers or recommendations. The first item might be more understandable than the last, because it’s a one-time event from which there’s no going back. And obviously, the new UI has to precede the Steam launch. For better or worse, the state of the game and the community when it launches on Steam is going to have an outsized impact on how it’s perceived going forward. If it seems like I’m being pedantic in talking about the lack of casual games, that’s why: this is one of the biggest inflection points for the mood and tenor of the community.
While we’ve definitely seen a swelling in ranks, the number of regular posts on the forums seems to have not changed at all. I know what you want to say: “What about the Competitions Subforum, Drawn?” It’s true, the SCL itself has led to a lot of forum activity, but it’s segregated: the Competitions subforum feels much like the old Zendo thread that got to over 100 pages; it’s interesting to people involved and mostly ignored by everyone else. Either you’re interacting with it, or you’re not: there is no middle ground. There’s a big, glowing line between those who participate in the SCL, and those who don’t.
I think this is an area where the community has been, unfortunately, pretty stagnant. KrazyCaley and elvisnake are the only regular streamers that come to mind. Beyond them, they happen here and there. I had hoped that, when I stopped streaming regularly, someone (or even several people) would fill that gap, but I’ll be the first to admit it’s difficult to find a stable time to stream day in and day out. It’s even harder when you’re playing what’s still a niche game.
Where Are We
Overall, I’m still happy with the state of the SpyParty house. It is, after all, still standing, and most of the rooms look better than when I left it. The structure is still pretty much the same, and that’s largely a good thing. But it’s just about time to hold the big Open House that is Steam. It’s time to show the rest of the world what this game is about.
If you have any comments, whether regarding how poor my writing style is, or perhaps on why you agree with me so much ( ), feel free to post a comment here, hit me up on twitter, or even shoot me a PM on the SpyParty forums.
Thanks for reading,
DRAWN back eh
“Today, it’s the opposite: we’re missing those fun, casual games, but we have lots of more serious matches. ”
I very strongly disagree. If anything, I would argue that the existence of SCL even increases the casual games. Mostly because one needs or usually one at least thinks one needs a high amount of practice and/or learning playing the game, which mostly only increases the level of games played. Yes, those casual matches might be different because of SCL, because you might not want to play players who are significantly less experienced than you and what have you, but this potential problem is facilitated by a rather wide spread of experience for players within SCL (ranging from KrazyCaley with close to 16000 games to some players in Challenger division with less than 1000 games played).
I’ll give a bit more specific example: I joined SpyParty in the middle of December 2015. Since then, until May 1st, I played 2139 games (averaging 475 per month or 16 per day). In May alone (and there are still couple days left, but whatever) I played 1208 (averaging at 40 per day) – i.e., in one month I played half of what I played in four and a half months before. And yes, I am in SCL as well. And even though above I argued that SCL makes you play more games – a lot of these May games were not because of SCL. They were because I love playing the game or I love playing those opponents I did. So even if it’s not SCL’s ‘fault’ for increasing casual games, SCL is certainly not diminishing their number either.
Like you mentioned in this post, we have couple regular and a few non-regular streamers – surely they’re not streaming just their SCL games. Which surely means they are playing quite a bit outside SCL as well. As for the streamers – I think it’s natural for a person to play/stream more than one and the same game, no matter how awesome it is. And I actually think it might even add a little to the new inflow, because others will come for the other games and discover SpyParty. For example, we got quite a few players from FearfulFerret’s followers community, while SpyParty in itself is definitely not a speedrunnable game (rushes don’t count), and I myself found it as a result of watching LtHummus for KTANE.
TL;DR: while I agree that there are still gaps that need to be filled or opportunities that need to be used, I don’t think it’s as gloomy as you described.
Damn, I forgot about that Zendo thread.
I’m hemming and hawing about the casual games idea, but I’m fairly convinced to Drawn’s POV on this particular statement:
“The downsides, apart from pulling the game into a more competitive, high-stress format, is that it standardizes certain game modes through its mere existence. This is probably inevitable, and probably worth it, but it’s part of the trade off.”
I agree with both that those are clear downsides, but that it’s probably still a good thing. In my mind, even though I strongly dislike the crystallization of game modes, our focus should be retention to keep the game as healthy as it can be pre-steam launch.
I can say with 100% certainty that without the SCL, I wouldn’t play nearly any spyparty outside of when viri randomly challenges me to some weird mode (Or when I incidentally play spyparty while helping at PAX/DotD booths). Even then, I don’t play any games except those SCL games.
Re: what casual games are, I think strictly speaking you are correct catnip that we have more non-competitive games, but those non-competitive games seem to be mostly practicing “standard” game modes for the sake of competitive games. Rather than experimentation.
What I’m not sure of is whether that number is the SCL’s fault or not. Because without the SCL, we might have even fewer casual games because no one would play. I’d be more inclined to blame the SCL if I saw more people in the lobby asking for silly games, and finding no one that wants to practice non-standard games.
Essentially, I think the SCL has clearly increased the number of games played, while the effect on the casual number of games is unclear (though in that time, that number has certainly gone down, but possibly only through attrition?).
Totally agree with this:
Can’t really be overstated: the single biggest threat to SpyParty’s long-term success is the size and activity of the player base. A lot of things can be fixed after the fact if you have a busy community, even things which have a tendency to calcify, like standardized game modes. There’s no real fix if the lobby is dead for long stretches, post-release/post-Steam.