As you may remember, I planned to try to emphasize SpyParty‘s gameplay depth at PAX West 2011 by setting up the booth with three playtest stations (six computers total), each with a different rule for what kind of players could sit down and play. My booth was a tiny 10×10, so I knew it was going to be jam packed…here’s the diagram I used to plan out all the placements and cables:
So, how did the experiment in depth-based-playtesting-at-a-tradeshow go?
I think it went pretty well, and as you can see from the pictures below, it seems like the attendees agreed. We had people playing at the “unlimited playtest station” for well over an hour without getting up, and a small community of regulars—including a bunch from last year, see if you can spot them—camping the station and helping others learn the advanced game.
I think it really helped people get a feel for the deeper game that is hard to experience in that kind of environment, and I think I’ll do it again, maybe at PAX East. The one problem I noticed has an online equivalent: matchmaking is hard! Often a single player would come up and want to play, but there wouldn’t be anybody else at their skill level available, so they had to wait a bit for another single to show up. This problem lessened over the course of PAX as more players became experienced and started hanging around the unlimited station, but I think next time I’ll have announced times when players can come and make a date with somebody for later in the day. So, maybe at 11am and 3pm unlimited players can come and make arrangements with other unlimited players, or something like that. Manual matchmaking, indie style!
Here were the three signs I made for the different stations:
One other flaw with the depth based testing was I didn’t have any way for players to log in and use a persistent username, so I couldn’t track metrics for each player. I’ll post the metrics from all the PAX games soon, but they’re just going to be a jumble of every game played, which is fine when everybody just gets to play two matches, but I really wanted to track longer term data on the unlimited station. I thought about a lot of different ways to do this, but they were all clumsy and error prone. Then Matt Gilgenbach from 24 Caret Games stopped by to chat and told me about what they did for their Retro/Grade leader boards: card readers! Hardcore players were given a magnetic strip card like a credit card, and they could swipe this to log in before they played. So quick and easy and tradeshow-floor-compatible! Matt said they got the card readers for cheap on ebay. I’m totally stealing this idea for next time.
Before I go any farther, I have to thank all the folks who helped me with the booth this year, they were amazing! First off, Sean Willoughby, the PAX Enforcer assigned to the SpyParty booth, went way above and beyond the call of duty in helping me set up. You can see him in the pics below helping me make signs! He was an incredible help. GDC volunteer Roger Hanna returned and did an awesome job of saving my bacon yet again. He was joined by some game industry friends from the Spore days, Thomas Vu, Steven Lim, and their friend Tony Lee (who I’d never even met before he showed up out of the blue with Thomas and Slim and then proceeded to rock booth duty like a seasoned pro!) . Paul Sottosanti, who you may recognize as one of my elite playtesters, and who has recently gone indie himself, also helped a bunch, as did Marc ten Bosch, creator of Miegakure.
Speaking of other indie games and helping each other out, I had planned on having Carbon Games show off their new game AirMech, and Marc show off Miegakure, but the Carbon guys ended up getting a fulltime booth at the last minute through some friends, so we had Miegakure set up both weekend mornings. You can see it mixed in with the pictures below. People had a great time playing it for an hour, and I let some real hardcores play until well past lunch since they were having such a great time! I really want to thank the Carbon folks, and especially James Green and Ken Klopp, for being so cool…they lent me a big screen tv and stand even though they ended up not showing at my booth. I owe them bigtime. Indies rock!
Okay, on to the pictures, and thanks a ton to all the people who came and played!