The Near-Term Early-Access Beta Rollout Plan

I still do not have my $14.26 from PayPal

But, I have fixed most of the bugs that Jonathan Blow—the first official SpyParty Early-Access Beta invitee—found, so I guess I’m not going to wait for PayPal1 and hope things are working now.

There have been a lot of questions here on the blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook about how the beta rollout is going to work, and a few misunderstandings based on ambiguous statements I’ve made, so I figured I’d try to clear all that up in this post.

First, and most importantly, everybody who signed up will get invited into the beta, it just might take a while.  Just getting to the point where I could send a single invitation email was way more work than I thought it would be, so it is going to take some time to get things to where I can invite in all 11,147 people who have currently signed up (as of this blog post).

I can, however, say how the very near future of the next few weeks is going to go…

Near-Term

Today, I need to finish writing up some basic documentation, including the Welcome Message in the private beta forums, the How to Report Bugs post in the forums, the Beta Test FAQ, and I need to update the game’s README.txt.  Hopefully I will grind these out in the next few hours.

Then, this evening, I’m going to send out a small number of invitations to my hardest-core and longest-term playtesters, folks like Paul and IanThis will be sent to only about 8 friends, all of whom are game developers and who have played a lot of SpyParty already, and who are very comfortable playing with very early software.  This group’s job is to play a lot, to find more subtle bugs—especially if I’ve broken any tuning since I haven’t playtested since PAX West 2011—and to make sure all the new score ranking and player database stuff works.  I’ll be fixing the bugs they report and implementing the features they request on a daily basis, in addition to playing a lot myself so I can stay even remotely competitive in my own game.

While these folks are testing, I’m going to finish the Invite-a-Friend feature, so they can test that as well, which will mix a few more people into the beta.

At this point it’s probably around March 1st, and I’m hoping the extremely-low-hanging bug/feature fruit will be mostly picked and everybody will be having a fun time playing and I’ll be ready to invite some more people in, including people I don’t know personally.  Unfortunately, this is also when GDC hits, which means I lose a week of productivity, so I’m going to hold off on new invites until after that’s over.  I’ll be doing a little SpyParty press at GDC, but I’m going to keep it pretty mellow.  I also might set up the laptops at some parties again, not sure.

After GDC, or maybe just before GDC if I’m feeling really confident and things are going swimmingly, I’ll invite in a small group of the earliest and hardest-core fans from the invite list, the blog, Twitter, Facebook, GDC, and PAX, and a small hand-picked batch of press who’ve been covering the game closely since the beginning.

Then the real bulk invites will happen shortly after that.  I’ll start with 20 people from the beta sign up list, mostly in order from the beginning, but also probably randomizing 25% of them from the whole list so at least a few people won’t have to wait quite as long to get invited.  Then, once the dust settles from those 20, I’ll invite 50, and then 100, and so on.

Less-Near-Term

At some point, my server will start melting from too many simultaneous players, but I don’t expect that to happen until I’ve got 1000 or more people invited in, so this first group should get in pretty quickly.  I will look at the bottlenecks and optimize the server, and that might get me to 2000 invited, or around 200 simultaneous players.2  By that point I want to have my server infrastructure scalable and running in the cloud, but that’s going to be a significant chunk of programming, so there might be a delay at this point in getting more invites out.

Finally, once the backend is scalable, I can start inviting larger groups of people in at the same time.  When I can send out 2000 invitations and everything runs smoothly as those people sign up, download the game, and start playing, it will be time to invite the rest of the beta list in, shut down the list, and let people join the beta directly without an invite. I think I’ll probably have a couple week period where I invite all the confirmed signed up people in, but don’t allow new signups, as a way of saying Thank You for signing up.

But, that’s all months and months away.  The Near-Term section above should be reasonably accurate, but this part is mostly me making stuff up right now.


  1. Give me my $14.26, PayPal!  And yes, I am going to provide other payment provider options soon. []
  2. That is, if 10% is a reasonable estimate for peak concurrent users relative to registered users, which it seems to be. []

61 Comments

  1. @Haze2k1 says:

    *Patiently awaits invite*

  2. Adam says:

    Okay, where do we have to go to plead our case for being hardcore enough followers to get in that first group?

  3. justin says:

    I am the Hardest core fan here. I was with you from the begging!

  4. Wessel Stoop says:

    About 8 invites this evening… the ability to play the game in March… this is getting way more close than I thought! I’m hoping for new gameplay videos, or videos of these lucky people while playtesting :-).

  5. Quirken says:

    Sounds like a solid beta plan! Melting servers is always the bumpiest part of an early beta. Good luck!

  6. Martijn says:

    Sweet! progress!!
    Looking forward to get testing, so i’ll wait patiently for an invite :)

  7. James says:

    Finally checking this website tri-weekly has paid off. I never realized it was so close to the beta-date! 

    Thank you for being the best. 
    <3

  8. Original says:

    It’s SO Close :3. I’m glad I finally remembered to register a bit back. I’ve been following this since I’veheard about it and it’s probably the game I’m most excited for :D. Good luck and I hope bugs are few and far between! :3

  9. maarch says:

    Cant wait for the game to hit beta. Hopefully I was fast enough on that first day of invite to get in fast. 
    I’m starting to think, while waiting, that I should design you a logo for the game ( at least for the beta ).
    That could be a nice project to do on the side of my job ( ok not much of a change from my job which is… being a graphic designer, but still..)

    Anyway, gonna continue to check the website 3-4 times per week till I get in… which will then make me the website everyday lol

  10. Jon says:

    Great, cant wait! Really interesting to read about all the run up to the start of testing as well. I only wish PayPal wasn’t necessary (as it seems to be), I’ve had nothing but bad experiences with them. Good luck!

  11. Nocturna says:

    CANNOT WAIT!!!! I knew I should have followed you on twitter :( That’s not fair; I don’t have a twitter, or a facebook! I wanna play!!!!! I wanna play!!!!!!!!! GRHHG!!!! GRHHG!!! GRHHG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. Phil says:

    Hello Christopher this is your friend Jonathan Blow, my laptop crashed so I need a new copy of SpyParty. Also I have changed my email so please send me another beta invite to the email published with this comment thank you.

  13. Jordy says:

    Cannot wait for someone to stream this either!!

  14. Jaqenn says:

    I’m curious about something that I’m hoping you can shed some light on.

    When you’re figuring out who’s hardcore devoted enough to deserve a bump in line, why does willingness to pay extra money not enter into the discussion? If you’re mobbed by all these fans saying ‘I reaaaaaaly want in now!’, why is asking them ‘How bad? An extra $20 bad?’ not what happens?

    And it’s not just you. Look at Starcraft 2 – beta invites were selling on ebay for a few hundred dollars. Even evil ActiBlizzard apparently wasn’t interested in capturing that money by selling them directly.

    Is it that you don’t want to look greedy? I understand that I guess, but the economics nerd in me says that price, supply and demand are about fair distribution of limited resources. You’d invite everyone right now if you could, but since you can’t then lets quantify who deserves it more with dollars. And it’s not like the existing queue is particularly meritocratic, it just rewards the lucky people who happened to be reading video game news when you made the announcement.

    (Disclaimer: I’m very excited about the game, but probably wouldn’t pay to bump my position in line. I’m in around the first 20% position of the queue…not great but not bad either.)

    • jordy says:

      I sure do hope one of the factors is how often you check this site.. :S.

      As to your point, besides the fact that it’s taken from a purely economical point of view, you don’t want to over-charge people because it will lead to imago-damage in my opinion. Asking $20 so you can play a game a month or 2 earlier then otherwise, while the game itself will only cost $15 is quite a hefty charge for such a “service”.
      As for Starcraft 2, if they had actually capitalized on that opportunity, I think the likely imago-damage would have been far greater in terms of costs then what it would actually gain them.
      If it were to be beneficial for them to do capitalize on that opportunity from a economical point of view I think they would surely have done so, as I do no believe they will have any moral or ethical issues with it as a company unlike, I think, Chris would have.

    • keith says:

      Why should money enter into the equation?

      Chris talked a little bit about why he chose to do the two payment options the way he did (15 or 50+). Perhaps you can read that over and extrapolate a little from that. I think you’ll find at least a semi answer in there.

    • Quirken says:

      This isn’t like a MMO beta/early access where the game is functionally done and mostly bug-free and it’s more of a trial than anything else. Chances are there’ll be some serious bumps along the way. (Honestly, that’s half the excitement. I love looking at changelogs and seeing incremental improvements)

      It’s a beta. Yes, it’s a “paid beta” but that’s not the point. This isn’t about trying to capitalize on money; it’s about finding bugs and polishing the game. If you allow people to just buy in, you’ll get more people who pay a bunch of money, whine about how they’re in a paid beta (even though they knew it going in), whining about bugs or game balance, etc. Basically, it’s a huge headache and not what the beta is about.

      Sure, he’ll probably get some of that anyway. But at least he knows that people who get in have some patience and realize that it’s not a finished product yet.

    • Quirken says:

      In short: if people can buy their way in, there’s likely to be a corresponding sense of entitlement in some form. Something along the lines of “I donated more, so I should get to pick the direction development goes.”

    • jordy says:

      That’s one of the fears he outlined I believe, so if you donate, I think you should donate because you want to help out an indie-dev with an unique idea.

    • checker says:

      It’s a good question, and I’ve thought about it a bit.  The others commentors have touched on some of the thoughts that went into the decision for me, but I think there’s also a slightly more philosophical side to it, involving this:

      “lets quantify who deserves it more with dollars”

      I’m also a bit of an economics nerd, and I have to say I no longer agree with the idea that the invisible hand always results in a “fair distribution” by any reasonable definition of fair (no, I am not interested in discussing this view on this blog :).  There are lots of ways of quantifying “who deserves it”, all of which would have some error, and money would definitely be one way of doing it, but so would the way I’m doing it, which is order of signup–it’s a clearly defined monotonically increasing integer. However, I think there’s a pretty coherent argument that the order of signup is more “fair” than an auction for beta slots by most reasonable definitions, especially for an indie project like SpyParty that has and needs a lot of grass roots word-of-mouth.  You are totally right that the order of signup is not perfectly fair, in that there is some amount of “who was reading game news at the right time”, but overall, I’d say it’s an okay approximation of the attention people were paying to the game at the time, and over the past few months.

      I am almost certainly leaving some short term money on the table by not auctioning off beta invites, but with a player-skill game like SpyParty, the perception of fairness is incredibly important, and so even taking a hardcore only-business attitude towards it, it’s not a clear win financially in the long term due to the damage it could inflict on the game’s image, as Jordy says.  My guess is it would be a loss, in fact, although it’s impossible to tell.

      I think the psychology here gets really complicated and subtle.

    • Jon says:

      I agree and I think it’s great that you actually think about these things. Many indie devs seem to be either doing great or not by pure chance and are suprised when they suddenly alienate their communities.

    • checker says:

      I’m certain I’ll also be surprised when I suddently alienate my community, don’t worry.  :)

    • Jaqenn says:

      Thanks for your reasoned response. When you took more than the trademark 90 seconds to reply I figured I had asked something hard. :)

      I’m fine with the way you’re doing things, by the way. I was chatting with a friend over last weekend about that I didn’t understand why ActiBlizzard wasn’t doing those beta auctions themselves, and on the way to work yesterday I realized that I knew someone in the same situation that I could just ask, and they would give a straight answer.

      Thanks for taking time to interact with the community, and I look forward to giving you my money.

    • Derek says:

      I signed up for the beta a while back, but had forgotten when exactly you were opening it up until I saw Northernlion’s great preview Let’s Play this past week. Well this got my jazzed up again for the beta, but also presented me with a conundrum. I can’t get in the beta but by golly I want to play the beta.

      My first (desperate) thought was email checker and offer like $30 to get in! But let’s be honest that’s kinda just douchy. Then I see your post, and you’re right auctioning off invites is going to degrade the beta’s image…unless…(dun dun duhhhh)…it’s for charity! I’ve never been part of a software company, but I’m guessing your marginal costs are quite low so you’re not losing out on too much. A number of your most ardent early adopter fans get both what they want while feeling all warm and fuzzy over their generosity (plus a bit write-off). And of course most importantly the charity of your (or their?) choice gets what I would guess is a sizable chunk of change.

      The real question here would be when to offer it… *I had started to write a sentence theorizing when to do it, but being a fellow econ nerd it can be condensed to three words: Supply Vs. Demand*

      I don’t know if I’d have to the type of cash to bid on such a thing, but it’d do some good and (hopefully) get you even more support. Anyways cheers on what looks to be a great game, and see ya in the beta soon!

    • checker says:

      I’ll probably do more crazy stuff like that later in the beta.  Right now, I need to focus on bugs and scalability.  :)

  15. dan says:

    I signed up what seems like FOREVER ago lol. When can I play!

  16. Christopher says:

    I’ve been waiting since last May (2011!) and would love it if you took pity on me by begging… please?

  17. Cody says:

    Signed up a day or two ago, just happened to stumble on this incredible idea for a game while reading some news.. I can’t wait to get an invite, and I’m assuming I’m a long way down that list.. Just wondering what a relatively reasonable estimate would be for my wait, I’m dying already!

    • checker says:

      It’ll be a while before the in-order invites get to you, but I do about 40% random from the entire list, so you might get lucky. I really hope to have everybody invited in by the end of the summer.

  18. KM says:

    Just wondering if there’s any way of finding out where I am in the queue… I got my confirmation back on 5/11, so I should be fairly close to getting in?

  19. Eli says:

    Watching youtube vids of this game to tide me over as I wait for summer to end so that I too may join the ranks of beta testers. I cannot wait.

  20. Kirk says:

    Hi Chris,

    Signed up in October of 2011. Hopefully I’m still on the list for a beta. Would love to play and have been following your progress. Know you are busy with a ton of stuff. Best to you.

  21. Cian Connolly says:

    Trying to be patient but I did sign up a full year ago…

  22. wilddog73 says:

    I’ll pay you the $15 myself if I can just play already!

  23. Eli says:

    I guess I’ll just keep on waiting then. this soon must be soon I guess.

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