I’m not an economist, so I could be completely wrong here, but I don’t think games (or works in any art and entertainment form, whether film, music, books, whatever) really compete against each other in the usual sense of the term “compete”. Yes, if you ship on the exact same day as a big hit, you’re hosed, but in general, I don’t think even games as similar as Halo and Gears of War compete in the same way Honda and Toyota compete. Ignoring the hardcore fanboy zealots, if you buy and enjoy Halo, you’ll probably buy and enjoy Gears, and vice versa. My guess is the overlap between the owners of those two games is pretty high. Here is an article about purchase intent for the two games, which says slightly over 50% of the people who buy one intend to buy the other1.
By contrast, few people buy more than one car every few years, so if somebody is in the market for a car, the auto companies really are competing for that one sale.
With games, I think the most important thing is to make the game you feel passionate about making, and not worry too much about what other developers are doing.
That said, it is still important to keep abreast of what’s going on in the industry, and to keep tabs on what games have come out or are coming out that are related to yours in some way. It’s good for inspiration, motivation, and education.
I went to E3 this year with a list of spy games, mystery games, and games that looked like they could have some subtle social interactions to check out, and here’s how it went:
- Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, Wanted Mode Multiplayer
I felt like Ubisoft’s ACB was the most important game for me to check out, and I got to play it for a while on the show floor. I had heard about the “Wanted” multiplayer mode before I went to E3, and how it was similar to The Ship, an older game on Steam that’s been mentioned whenever people talk about SpyParty. Here’s a good video explaining the Wanted mode:
Like The Ship, it’s basically the old college campus game, Assassin, where each player has a known target, but doesn’t know who has them as a target. Both are much more symmetric than SpyParty, in that everyone is basically playing the same game. As you can see in the video, there’s not actually a lot of “hiding in plain sight” or “acting normal” going on, especially since there’s a giant radar on the screen, you can climb all over buildings but the NPCs don’t, and you have various super powers. In my playtests, it tended to degenerate into running around, climbing on things, and trying to get quick kills. The game ships in November, so I’ll be interested to see if they change the mode at all by then. I hope they remove the radar, and tune it so people actually try to blend in more and it becomes more about behavior. If they do that, there will be some useful lessons to learn from watching it in the wild.
- Guilty Party
This Disney game for the Wii has a few content-oriented things in common with SpyParty, including the settings and characters, not to mention the name similarity, so I thought I’d check it out. Here is a brief video of the developers talking about it:
The game has quite nice stylized art direction and characters, but the gameplay itself is pretty much pure deductive reasoning, kind of like the board games Clue(do) or Guess Who?. You gather explicit clues to narrow down the suspects until you can prove somebody’s the guilty party. I want to have some deductive reasoning aspects to the Sniper side of SpyParty, because the practice of narrowing down your suspects is fulfilling and interesting and helps you focus your attention, but I want the majority of the game on the Sniper side to be about perception, observing subtle human behavior, and making decisions with incomplete information. I don’t want you to be able to brute force figure out who the Spy is by deduction.
- The Agency
This is a Sony Online Entertainment “FPS MMO”. Besides the spy fiction theme, there’s not a lot of overlap here, and even the theme is pretty different, with The Agency being some kind of future scifi spy world. The game is mostly a First Person Shooter with some persistent RPG elements. Here’s an interview where they talk about the various aspects of the game they were showing at E3, and it’s mostly shooter stuff. This video talks a bit about some less shootery things, but it’s all in cutscenes in the video, so it’s hard to see whether they’ve got that stuff working in gameplay. They’re also doing some sort of more casual Facebooky thing to go along with it, and here’s the trailer for that. Edit: although, this ballroom image looks interesting.
The three games I wanted to see but that weren’t anywhere on the show floor or even behind closed doors (that I could determine) were:
- Bloody Good Time
This is the spiritual sequel to The Ship, by some of the same developers. Ubisoft bought or absorbed some or all of Outerlight, the developers of The Ship, and they’re working on Bloody Good Time for XBLA. From the sounds of it via ESRB filings, it’s going even farther away from the subtle social stuff, which is too bad, but it will be interesting to see when it’s finished.
Very little is known about this Rockstar game, but there’s a bit of info out there. The fact that they’re calling it “the ultimate action game” implies it’s not going for the subtle stuff, but who knows. I’m assuming it will it be Grand Theft Espionage like Red Dead Redemption was Grand Theft Western, which could be pretty cool, but very different from SpyParty, but we’ll have to wait and see!
No sign of Hitman 5 that I could find. Some news has come out since then, but nothing very interesting yet.
One of the more interesting games I heard about at E3 was described to me by my friend and colleague Eric Zimmerman. He told me about playing Love’s Labor’s Lost at Come Out and Play 2010, which was a live action game with a lot of subtle behavioral interactions and hidden information.
Anyway, that’s it for the SpyParty-centric E3 roundup. My review of E3 in general is: “wow, that’s a lot of shooters.”
Post a comment or send me email if you know anything more about the games above, or any other games I should be keeping an eye on.
- I wonder if there are numbers out there about actual purchases rather than intent. [↩]