In which I don't bother to asssign a subtitle.
I have to admit, when I was initially thinking about writing this post, I was split. I wasn’t sure whether the post should be “Spymaster – Twitter’s version of an annoying Facebook app” or “Spymaster – Cool Game.” Then I had my mind made up for me. As of approximately 0200 hours on Mon. Jun 01 I’ve completed my first Spymaster war. As a result, I’ve been thinking about what I would change or add, if I was heading up The Directorate.
Previously… on Twitter:
- iList’s Eston Bond, Chris Abad, Albert Choi and Ben Myles launched their Twitter-based game Spymaster on May 28. The game allowed you to execute spy-like activities and assassinate your Twitter friends. Attack and Defensive power was a numeral determined by a combination of your number of followers and the equipment you purchased thanks to your illicit activities. Friends you converted into spymaster by getting them to join the game gave extra power.
- The game, previously in beta, wracked up hundreds, probably thousands, of users and gained the top trending spot in Twitter Search, staying on the list for at least a day more.
- Backlash ensued, Twitter spymasters using the game would automatically tweet their spy activities through the game, using the #spymaster hashtag. While some didn’t seem to care, a few big bloggers went very public about considering the game’s communiqués spam.
- Most Spymasters quieted down, the game falling out of the trending slot.
- And yet… the game continued…
The following events occurred between 1 and 2 a.m.:
The day before I had noticed that Spymaster @luxuryluke had attacked me. I returned fire with a few attempted assassinations myself. After he had taken me for over 84,000 pounds in game money (I had joined the MI6 team), I fired back. The game scales wins to risk, which meant that as a much lower level player, he had won big. Though I was able to beat him a few times (and lost a few others), my wins were not as large.
LuxuryLuke was sitting at my door, and attempted a number of assassinations. Then, I retaliated. Suddenly, there was another spy in play. Spymaster @mediapeople began his own campaign of small cuts. As my health got chipped away I found myself almost entirely unable to strike back, so I called in the cavalry via direct messages.
Through both public and private messages I called on fellow members of my spy-ring to target and assassinate the two players who had come after me.
Just like any war, it didn’t take long for things to escalate.
@Mediapeople was a lower level player but had a huge advantage in terms of the number of his followers, which meant that he was able to strike with impunity. With a little help from his friends, @Mediapeople was able to finally fully assassinate me, stealing away a savings of over £200,000 by the end of the night, and leaving me in Spymaster purgatory, unable to act until I had been resuscitated by the game. (Which took about ten minutes.)
What about my spy skills?
I discovered a big flaw here. Simply that being an upper level character is in fact a disadvantage. You have more to loose and an inability to get money back stolen from you by lower level spys. Without the ability to properly retaliate and recapture some of my funds, low level spies could take me down with impunity, especially if they have a higher follower count than I.
The way this should work is that if I’m attacked, I can declare all out war against my assassin and get my money back. The other big issue here is balance. A high level should act as a balance against high follower low level characters. Right now, having a low level character is in fact a huge advantage. See the problem?
Ok, ignoring that problem and others that have come up and sometimes dealt with since my first Spymaster war, the game has a lot of potential if we can apply some serious game theory.
So, for the duration of this article, let’s see if Spymaster got game.
A Tactical Triangle of spies.
The tactical triangle is what gamers say when they don’t want to call their method of game balance what it is, Rocks, Paper, Scissors, at least initially. So, does Spymaster have a Rocks, Paper, and Scissors? Assuming you are not cheating, here’s the breakdown that I see, you may notice they map pretty closely to the various directorate (CIA, MI6 and FSB) specialties. I’m also going to propose what roles they should be taking, especially if Spymaster decides to initiate a greater focus on teams in the future.
Base Commandant (Defensive Class, aka Tank)
- Has an especially high defensive rating.
- Very public status poster, daring people to attack him and loose their money.
- Invested in serious defensive equipment.
- Role: Provide protection to others in the ring.
Saboteur (Earning Class aka Healer)
- Has a continual high level of capital, allowing money “laundering” through Swiss Bank accounts.
- Has a lower defensive and attack rating because she doesn’t waste money on anything but the bare minimum of equipment.
- A higher level character.
- Serious experience in tasks.
- Owns many safe houses.
- Role: Generate and manipulate capital to “heal” offensive and defensive team members by allowing them constant access to equipment and protection for their funds through Swiss Bank transfers.
Assassin (Offensive class aka Damage)
- Has an especially high attack rating and relatively normal defensive rating.
- Owns a significant cache of equipment
- Stays fairly undercover until he comes out and kills you.
- Role: Assassinate enemy spies.
While this is what I’ve seen, the three roles tend to blend together out of necessity, you have to keep your defense high to prevent people from stealing your stuff and upper level tasks require expensive equipment, necessitating an investment in more defensive equipment over safe houses to keep it from being stolen. Further, the lack of support for real team play means that playing a support role leaves you in the unwise position of ‘depending on the kindness of strangers.’
How to resolve this?
Put yourself somewhere safe.
Image by inju via Flickr
Right now the whole point of safe houses is that, in some nebulous way, they provide a regular stream of money, even when not performing tasks. However, to really create and effective and long lasting game, we need to give purpose to the name and make Safe Houses usable objects.
Let’s say that you can actually go into a safe house, what advantage would it give?
When in a safe house you cannot do anything other than wait. You must stay in a safe house for at least 10 minutes and you cannot retreat to a safe house without two subsequent turns not under attack. While in a safe house you pay money to the owner of the safe house, if you own your own safe house it stops earning money for you while you hide in it. Safe house attributes are multiplied by those of their owners. While in a safe house, no one can use that safe house and no one can use any of your safe houses. Safe house attributes are added to the defense attribute for the person in it.
The values each safe house adds to those hiding out in it should be calculated by compounding a base and owner value. Each safe house should have a defensive value on it’s own. Then a percentage of the owner’s defense is added to that base value. That final number is added to the defensive value of anyone hiding in the safe house. I know this sounds like it may create an invulnerability situation, but we’ll get to resolving that in a bit.
First, an increased support for Spy Cells, organized groups or guilds of spies. Allow spies in cells to call in support, retaliation strikes and request private handoffs of money outside of the Swiss Banking system, this would allow a greater level of discrimination, pushing more towards character “classes.” Rewarding different play styles is essential for keeping people playing. Further, by creating formalized allegiances, it allows people to further specialize, creating the opportunity for expansion of the tactical triangle.
Further, joining a cell should boost a players statistics through allegiance.
Infiltrator (Research class aka Artillery)
- Relatively low levels of Attack and Defense
- Medium size weapons cache
- Medium number of safe houses.
- Experience with “Analysis” tasks (initial rating determined by retweets perhaps?)
- Role: Discover intelligence and lay groundwork for assassinations by performing tasks that uncover information about targets.
Freedom Fighter (Bunker Buster class aka Anti-Tank)
- Extremely high attack class at the expense of an especially low defensive class.
- Experience with bomb making tasks.
- Must spend money on explosive (one-time use) materials.
- Role: Eliminating enemy safe houses.
These are the resulting specialty tasks that spies could accomplish in order to train up the new skills and look at future tasks. Each of these specialty tasks increases the specialty Bomb and Analysis skills.
- Rig car bomb
Never let them drive away.
- Disrupt communications
Loose lips sink ships.
- Disrupt power flow
Who turned out the lights?
- Destroy supply lines.
Enemies can’t act when they can’t eat.
- Incite panic
Sometimes you’ve just got to go for the big boom.
- Encode communiqué
Keep it secret.
- Hack civilian system.
They don’t know what they’re dealing with.
- Hack bank system.
At least they’re not Swiss.
- Hack military system.
How many tanks does it take do get to the center of a rouge nation?
- Uncover information
Some secrets are meant to be known.
To accomplish some of these new specialty tasks, you are going to need specialty items.
Bomb items (one time use)
- C-4 Explosive
- Timed detonator
- Remote detonator
- One time key (one time use)
- Decoding system
- Specialized laptop
With the expansion of classes and safe houses, this creates some additional tasks that can be associated with assassinations.
- Steal target dossier.
- Uncovers player info
- Requires a low to medium analysis rating depending on target(much like attack and defense ratings).
- If failed player is notified that someone is looking into him and can retreat to a safe house.
- Infiltrate enemy cell
- Uncover the last allies the player interacted with or find out some of the cell’s members.
- Requires a high analysis rating.
- If failed entire cell is notified of attempt.
- Uncover recruiter
- Discover who sent the spy invites.
- Requires a low analysis rating.
- If failed, both the spy and his recruiter is notified.
- Uncover recruited.
- Discover who the spy sent invites to.
- Requires a medium to high analysis rating.
- If failed, the spy and all the people who he sent invites to are notified.
- Uncover safe houses owned by spy.
- Find out where the spy owns safe houses, this task allows you to uncover one at a time.
- High analysis rating required.
- If failed, the spy is notified of your attempt.
- Destroy identified safe house.
- Once a friend uncovers a safe house, bomb it off the face of the planet
- Requires a high bomb rating.
- If failed, the spy is notified of your attempt.
- Destroy spy’s refuge safe house.
- Someone lost an attack to a spy in a safe house, now they know he’s hiding out. Let’s flush him out.
- Requires a very high bomb rating.
- If failed the safe house’s owner and the spy taking refuge in it are notified.
In order to really throw in more team play, spies should be able to post tasks for others to accomplish on their behalf, this could increase the team play. There would be a global board, which people would have to spend money to post tasks on and then spend again to pay off whoever accomplishes the task. Formal cells would have private boards (perhaps they could build them using forum systems themselves), that members would not have to pay to post on.
Player post-able tasks
- Any type of special assassination task
- Kill order
- Alliance proposal
- Request to document player’s cell.
Finally, we get to one of the biggest and coolest possibilities to think about. We are half-way to an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) with Spymaster already, why not take it all the way? The last game to try this was pretty cool but didn’t succeed for a number of reasons, the biggest being that right after they launched, 9/11 happened and no one wanted to receive fake calls about terrorists and spies after that.
Provide a running story, encase secrets in random websites, recruit spies to help set up real-life clue hunting events and more. Here’s some ideas on tasks to drive the story forward.
- Retrieve task information.
- Enter encoded information
- When you find information in a site or IRL location, enter it into the game.
- Decode information
- Take found codes and run an in-game decryption.
- Retrieve database key.
- Find out clues where to go for more information.
- Read database file.
- Find out more secrets.
- Hack Fourth Directorate.
- The enemy is out there, find out a few big secrets.
I know, I know, we’re getting into a pipe dream area here, but a guy can hope right? You got to dream big. Obviously this increased activity means increased cost. What can the Directorate do to make some money?
Micropayments may be a big possibility, allowing people to pay in for extra content, or infusions of cash without experience could be a way to make some money. A subscription cost to access higher level content would be a possibility, as much as I hate the idea. However, is this really the audience that would pay such a thing?
Obviously, when it comes to making money beyond display ads, the topic requires some though. Who knows what possibilities are to come for the game? I just like being a Twitter spy and it would be great if I could keep on playing, instead of getting bored.
This is one spy, signing out.