Monday, July 28, 2008

Ghost Patrol -- We're In!

With 47 applications for 20 slots, I feel quite privileged that coed astronomy made it in. We put a ton of effort into our app, and while I thought it turned out well, it's difficult to really judge one's own work. Our video is funny to us because we know what we were going for, but you never know if it'll fall flat with a real audience.

There's been much discussion on the_game mailing list about how to handle the popularity that games have been facing lately. The two main suggestions--encourage the running of more games by weighing GC work heavily in the app process, and run games over two weekends--really fall flat for me. The first seems somewhat infeasible to me, and the second really cheapens the parts of the game that I like.

BANG died because everyone who wanted to run one did. Despite a tremendous growth in popularity, the number of people who wanted to run BANGs simply did not scale linearly with the number of people interested in playing in them. I fear it is the same or worse with big games. Planning a game usually takes a year or more, and most of the people "hardcore" enough to do that have already been playing in games. Trying to force people to run games will only result in a bunch of crappy games. You have to be really dedicated and interested to stick it out.

Where I think we can pick up new teams who would run games is the fresh-out-of-college/grad student crowd. coed astronomy and XX-Rated both fell into this category when we started. Both teams were willing to run both BANGs and big games, and the likely reason we weren't on this bandwagon a lot earlier was that we were undergraduates/not in the bay area/too busy with school/etc. To give props to a friend, Jesse Young's team CRANEA is one of the teams I'd put into this category. It's unfortunate they didn't make it into Ghost Patrol because I think it just prolongs the time before Jesse inevitably runs some sort of game (be it BANG, a day game, a puzzle hunt, or whatever).

The problem with simply running more games is that every team wants to play in every game. And to do that, you need to accept more teams or run each game twice. Neither is particularly appealing to me. A lot of the charm and the magic of the game for me comes from the clues and clue sites that place the biggest restrictions on the number of people. The entirety of Hogwarts (my favorite game of all time, even though I only playtested it) would never have worked with 30+ teams. And frankly, I don't know many people who have the stamina to run an all-weekend game more than once.

So what do we do about this? I don't really know, and that's why I tried to kick off discussion on the mailing list. The real innovation in the game happens when people run one, however, so I hope to be pleasantly surprised sometime next summer when some team steps up with a game format which attempts to solve these problems. Even in the short few years that coed astronomy has been around, we've seen some pretty big changes in how games are run, so I'm quite hopeful for the future. =)

10 comments:

Greg F said...

So what if we make a puzzlehunt Drake Equation? (Not that I have much credibility in doing so: I'm mostly an observer, did a few events at MS last year, at Google now during the summer drought)

n_t: The number of teams in the community
f_gc: The proportion of teams that run Games
p_g: The average number of Games that a team that runs any Games will run in a year.
p_tg: The number of teams that can compete in a given Game.

If a team expects to be able to compete in an average of n_e games per year, then everyone's happy as long as:
n_t * f_gc * p_g * p_tg >= n_t * n_e

If a team expects to be able to compete in proportion p_e of all games run, then everyone's happy as long as:
p_tg >= n_t * p_e

If people are unhappy, you have to raise the numbers on the left or lower the numbers on the right; your post covers a few of the options already, but the other ones are:
Raise f_gc: How many teams are there that play a lot but don't host? Why don't they host?
Raise p_g: It's difficult to raise the output of teams that've already committed to host. BANG tried to do more, shorter, games; are hosting teams burning out?
Lower n_t: Would involve dividing or shrinking the community somehow. The only way I can see that happening would be supporting a significant enough Seattle community that there isn't as much demand from them to join Bay Area games.
Lower n_e or p_e: Make teams expect less. Seems tough to do without a cultural shift, and that's harder to change than something that can be tweaked by individual GCs.

The real expectation of teams is probably somewhere in between, but the parameters in the first equations seem a lot easier to tweak. Especially since n_t cancels in the first equation but can't in the second, though it probably has some nonlinear effects on the others, I'd be tempted to say that if it's true that every team wants to play in every game, that's a big part of the problem.

Dale Neal said...

"BANG tried to do more, shorter, games; are hosting teams burning out?"

Check out the list of past BANGS. 4 BANGS in 2003, 5 in 2004, 5 in 2005, 3 in 2006, 1 in 2007, 0 (so far) in 2008. Very few teams run more than one BANG--Blood and Bones, Desert Taxi, Burninators, and coed astronomy (sort of, if the whole Iron Puzzler BANG happens). People can't just assume that some magical "hosting teams" will provide indefinite BANGs for them; if a team has played in a few and wants there to be more, they have to stup up to the challenge and run one themself. BANG is not a spectator sport.


"The only way I can see that happening would be supporting a significant enough Seattle community that there isn't as much demand from them to join Bay Area games."

The Seattle community is made up of teams from Microsoft. Not to make a crass Windows monoculture joke, but when you restrict your community to people from a single company, you get 5-7 teams, which does not a game community make. Hopefully through SNAP and other external games they can grow the larger Seattle community, but as far as I can tell, their main focus is generally on internal Microsoft games/puzzlehunts which do not contribute to the larger game community.


More comments on the math later when I've had time to digest.

Greg F said...

Very few teams run more than one BANG--Blood and Bones, Desert Taxi, Burninators, and coed astronomy (sort of, if the whole Iron Puzzler BANG happens). People can't just assume that some magical "hosting teams" will provide indefinite BANGs for them; if a team has played in a few and wants there to be more, they have to stup up to the challenge and run one themself. BANG is not a spectator sport.

If there are teams that have played a few BANGs and want there to be more but aren't running them, that seems like an addressable problem. Find out why, and there should be something the community can do about it. (Time, experienced GCs setting the bar too high, not enough info/support for teams starting hosting, the idea that every good puzzle's been done...)

And if teams only run a finite number of games in their existence but expect to be playing longer than that, the math in my first comment breaks down; my first guess would be that there'd actually need to be a very high growth rate to keep running games for the oldbie teams.

Not to make a crass Windows monoculture joke, but when you restrict your community to people from a single company, you get 5-7 teams, which does not a game community make.

The last SNAP had more than 20, didn't it? (And no/fewer fly-ins from the Bay Area because the event was being run there too)

Hopefully through SNAP and other external games they can grow the larger Seattle community, but as far as I can tell, their main focus is generally on internal Microsoft games/puzzlehunts which do not contribute to the larger game community.

I'll agree that the MS internal stuff is where most of the energy that can run stuff up there is going- but three of the five approximately annual internal events can have non-MS people on a team, so that could support a community that extends beyond the company. No idea if they have enough manpower to do anything else up there, though.

But if nothing else, the regularity of the MS events can give Bay Area types something to shoot for. I think they've got bigger staffs overall, but when 15-20 core people plus the usual assorted volunteers can put together a weekend Game every single year, they've got to be doing something right. (But for all I know, Bay Area and MS GCs are already sharing info. If not, they really should be, since the MS Intern Game's been coming up with interesting solutions to problems that affect Games everywhere)

Linnsey said...

"...three of the five approximately annual internal events can have non-MS people on a team, so that could support a community that extends beyond the company."

Having a few non-MS people on teams is largely irrelevant. It's still a private event, not open to the public. It contributes nothing for teams outside the Microsoft community.


"But if nothing else, the regularity of the MS events can give Bay Area types something to shoot for. I think they've got bigger staffs overall, but when 15-20 core people plus the usual assorted volunteers can put together a weekend Game every single year, they've got to be doing something right."

These games are puzzle hunts correct? That's quite different, and easier to host and test than the location-driven driving games the SF area runs. They also have corporate sponsorship. It's pretty hard to compare that and pat MS on the back for producing games faster than our teams are.

Personally I don't like puzzle hunts, and I would be very sad to see the games in our area move in that direction.


"The last SNAP had more than 20, didn't it? (And no/fewer fly-ins from the Bay Area because the event was being run there too)"

The clues were designed for Coed's SF game and reused as SNAP 3. This represents another viable solution - find Seattle teams fantastic enough to be willing to host, and export SF games to Seattle.

Greg f said...

These games are puzzle hunts correct? That's quite different, and easier to host and test than the location-driven driving games the SF area runs. They also have corporate sponsorship. It's pretty hard to compare that and pat MS on the back for producing games faster than our teams are.

Some are. The one I was referring to in that comment is a 30+ hour location-based driving game. It's targetted towards MS interns, so the puzzle difficulty is lower, but otherwise it seems similar to what's run in the Bay Area. (With the caveat that I've done that one and none of the Bay Area weekend Games) The other four are more or less conference room puzzle hunts- one's Iron Puzzler, one's designed as a full-weekend event, one's an eight-hour hunt for interns, and one's a bit of a hybrid.

I don't know how much they get from MS other than money and facilities. (And for the weekend Game, that only goes to subsidize the entry fee) But if the limiting factor is time and initiative, corporate sponsorship can only do so much for you.

Dale Neal said...

And if teams only run a finite number of games in their existence but expect to be playing longer than that, the math in my first comment breaks down; my first guess would be that there'd actually need to be a very high growth rate to keep running games for the oldbie teams.

coed astronomy's SF Minigame (known as SNAP3 up north) had something like 40 teams over 2 weekends and still had 5-10 ish teams on the waitlist if I remember correctly. Thus we can put a minimum bound on n_t at 45-50. Assuming that BANG is essentially dead and no new teams are stepping up to run one, 11 teams run games, putting f_gc = 0.2-0.25. To support BANG's heyday of ~5 games per year, each team would have to put on a game every 2 years, which is a litte much to ask, given that many of these teams are the same ones running many of the bigger puzzle events here (griffiths collection, paparazzi, taz, no more secrets, google puzzle hunt, etc.).

If even half of the teams who wanted to play in BANGs ran one every 5 years, we'd have 5/year, but I just don't think there are 14 more teams out there willing to run one.


three of the five approximately annual internal events can have non-MS people on a team, so that could support a community that extends beyond the company.

This assumes that people who want to play have a friend at MS. For me, much of the fun of the game is the camraderie of playing with some of my closest friends. If I had to play with random people simply because my team is not made up of X% Microsofties, I'd probably not play.

Note that I'm not saying MS-centric events are bad, just that I think they severely limit the potential audience for a game.


The last SNAP had more than 20, didn't it?

And as I said, I hope they continue to run SNAPs to grow their community.


But if nothing else, the regularity of the MS events can give Bay Area types some thing to shoot for.

To prefix this, I was an intern an Microsoft a number of years ago and had a wonderful time in the intern game. However, I think the regularity of this game works because nobody plays in it year after year.

Not that I think it's repetitive, but I really like the variety of the Bay Area, where every big game is completely a one-off, and all elements of puzzles, hinting, theme, plot, flow, and sites are totally up in the air. A Burninator's game is a completely different beast from a Snout game, and I like them both for different reasons.

Having few restrictions on who can run a game or what format the game will be in leads to a lot of variety and creativity, and hopefully, innovation.

Jesse Young said...

Hey Dale,

I just randomly typed your name into Google and all of a sudden i was reading about me. Weird.

Around the time when we were excitedly applying for Ghost Patrol, the CRANEA crew was talking about how we'd like to host a Game in a couple of years (i.e. one of the weekend-long ones with the canonical Game community; we've basically already been GCing the novice-level Roble Game since 2005). But we would want to play one or two of them first, obviously. Not making Ghost Patrol hurt those plans a bit. I'm not sure whether we'll be as excited and motivated the next time one of these applications rolls around...

CRANEA also might be up for hosting a BANG, but we would want to play in one first, which is difficult since apparently everybody else has already hosted one, so nobody wants to. So it's a bit of a Catch-22.

-Jesse

Dale Neal said...

Hey Jesse,

Is CRANEA playing in the Iron Puzzler BANG? We're also re-instituting the winner-must-run-a-BANG rule, so that means there will definitely be another one to play in, too.

Actually, in somewhat heartening news, I've talked with two other people who have mentioned that they're considering running a BANG but would like just a little more experience playing in them.

As for the weekend games, I guess I'd just say don't get too discouraged over Ghost Patrol. The community as a whole is going through some growing pains, but I feel like we'll find some way to support more teams or run more games or something to help the issue.

-Dale

Jesse Young said...

Hey Dale,

Yep, a few of the CRANEA crew are playing in the IP BANG this weekend. (I had to recuse myself because I played with Coed Astronomy in February's Iron Puzzler.)

-Jesse

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