Brain Surgery and Stand-Up - Fire Hose Games Interview, Part One
Cat asks Sean Baptiste, Let’s Quip! Project Lead, about the game that brings comedy and competition together, the brain surgery that led to their new title, and the predatory price structure of FaceBook games.
CAT: Let’s Quip! is a bite-sized debate simulator - explain the game for those unfamiliar?
SEAN: Let's Quip is competitive comedy in debate form! Basically two players enter a match and are each given a word from a list we curated. So you end up with matches like Nic Cage vs Bees or Teflon vs Oedipus Complex - completely random ,wacky matchups. Each player then has to write a 140 character or fewer argument in favor of their word over their opponent's. But this isn't high school debate club - logic will not win the day. You're trying to be funny, you're trying to be clever, you're trying to be the next Oscar Wilde or Dorothy Parker because when both arguments are submitted it goes out to all the other players to have a chance to vote on it.
CAT: So, Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde - could those two be a match in and of themselves?
SEAN: Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde are amongst the 2000+ words, so it is statistically possible that they will face one another some day. I bet Dorothy Parker comes out on top though. I've been pretty blatant about her being the patron saint of this game! If I could get a time machine I would absolutely make a match between them happen. It'd be the first thing I do.
CAT: …and its [Let’s Quip!’s] nerdy origins?
SEAN: Ha! A few years ago I had a number of brain surgeries that left me with some lingering issues with my memory. As part of my rehab I decided to try doing something I had wanted to try all my life - stand-up comedy. A thing that is very difficult to do when you can't remember any of the jokes. We shot a short pilot about my recovery and trying to be a comic. The pilot never went anywhere but stand-up became this huge passion of mine. When I pitched the game to Eitan last year it was really in the spirit of making a game for stand-up comedians and writers. Something that THEY'D enjoy in the hopes that other people would, too.
CAT: A game that can help you recovery from brain surgery - that seems like something that should be on the front of the box. Can you talk more about the role of things like comedy, games and doing courageous things like stand-up through that process?
SEAN: I’d hesitate from calling it a game that'd help you recover from brain injury (though it wouldn't surprise me if it helped somewhat). For me, doing standup required me to find new ways of encoding things to my memory and new ways of accessing what was already there. I had to battle a lot of brick walls to do it. It was mostly that I was (and am) very passionate about stand-up comedy and had to really push myself to bypass a lot of my brain's failings if I wanted to do a thing I cared about so much.
That said the one thing Let's Quip DOES do is make people better, wittier writers. I've voted on every match that's been played and I've seen people who join up, play some matches and are just TERRIBLE. I'm talking terrible grammar, lack of punctuation, contextless information, and aren't funny at all. A week later and they are turning phrases like a champ, mastering alliteration, bouncing between word meanings in a single argument. They've become Dorothy Parker! And that makes me ridiculously proud but also optimistic about its promise. What if we make something that gets popular, is fun, and makes people more literate and conscious of their wit? I'd die happy!
CAT: The pilot that was shot, I'm pretty sure the world needs to see that. Is it entirely abandoned or can you see yourself Kickstartering that after game launch? Tandem release!
SEAN: As for the pilot - I'd love to stream it online. We did show it at the 2011 PAX East and it had a big crowd and a very warm reception. It has some music that we'd have to license for streaming and that's where it gets problematic/expensive. I'm not sure I could do it again as a series (as I'm pretty much as recovered as I ever will be) but I'd love to revisit doing a show helping people overcome what's happened to them by pursuing their passion. I'd honestly drop almost everything to do something like that. Except for Let's Quip!
CAT: With the crowdsourcing element, someone could functionally be a player without ever, well, playing?
SEAN: Absolutely! We figure that there will be a number of players who just play for the voting aspect. They like to go through and evaluate matches, cast their vote, and hopefully laugh their asses off. Every time you vote you get points or "quips" that can be spent on in-game items. Quips are one of the ways in which we sort the leaderboards so it is very possible to get on the leaderboards even if you just vote. I like this idea because it shows how important we think voting is - and the more people who vote the more people who've read your funny argument. You'll be internet famous!
CAT: What platforms will Let’s Quip! visit?
SEAN: We have a beta live right now on Facebook and then we're aiming to have it on iOS and Android this summer. We realize this is kind of perfect for checking in on a few times a day when you're on the go so mobile is the natural place for that. After those platforms? Don't know! Wherever it fits, I guess!
CAT: On platforms and "wherever it fits": what do you think of the current generation of consoles?
...and their suitability for Let's Quip?
SEAN: I know very little about the current generation of consoles which seems like anathema for a ten-year veteran of the industry. I've found I just do more gaming on my phone and PC. That said, I love what they're doing with the PS4. I don't know if any of the consoles are a true fit for Let's Quip but if they're interested I'd certainly be into it. I mean, I'd get this game running on microwave oven displays if I thought it'd work!
CAT: Explain the pricing model for Let’s Quip!, and what is the process of determining that?
SEAN: We have coins that can be purchased for real money. If when you go into a match you don't like or understand enough about the word you're given you can spend a coin that will give you three new random words to choose from. You'll also be able to opt to watch a short commercial to do the same thing if you prefer. We're really trying to make a game that doesn't embarrass itself or the player by begging for money. We've even redesigned the concept of energy for the game - you CAN refill your matches by paying a coin or two or you can just vote a bunch of times to earn more matches.
CAT: What do you think of the predatory price structure of many FaceBook games?
SEAN: I'm pretty vocally not a big fan of the money pit games that exist only to suck money off of users. I don't believe that's most games (at all) but I do think there is a lot of shoehorning genres that were never meant to be freemium into the freemium space and packing them to the gills with prompts asking for more cash. Sure I want to make a game that doesn't lose money, and I think the best way to do that is good game design, not cynical upsells, roadblocks, and not taking advantage of "whales." Hopefully I'm right - and if I'm wrong it'll just be nice to walk away with my dignity intact.
CAT: How many words, matches are in play right now? Is there a plan for adding more? (I'm reminded, rather forcibly, of Let's Draw...)
SEAN: Right now there are over 2000 words in the game (2024 or so, I think?) Sharat Bhat (my partner on this project and an incredible game programmer) and I generated the first 600 words ourselves via daily brainstorms. It became apparent very quickly that we were two dudes with similar interests in pop culture and our word list was going to be skewed towards dudes who made games and read comic books and wouldn't be nearly as inclusive as we'd like. So we did a series of livecasts on Twitch where we asked people to come in and shout out words at us in the chat while we filled in this huge Excel spreadsheet. In the end we got a pretty good list but I feel there's still work to be done. It can always be better. Our plan moving forward is to do a monthly event where we remove 10 words from the list and add 20 new ones with the help of our community. Hopefully this will keep the game inclusive and allow it to evolve without going stale.
One other thing I forgot to mention is that we are doing a daily m-f livecast on Twitch at 12pm ET where we play the game with the community (twitch.tv/firehosegames). The best part is I get great comedians and writers to come on as guests to talk comedy, writing, process, etc and then help vote on a few matches. It's cool for players to learn about better ways to write comedy but also to see their matches be evaluated by working comedians and writers!
Day 6 | Fire Hose Games