Monday, January 8, 2007

Guild Wars: Stats Make Everything Better

So I'm watching the day's football games (My prediction() that the Pats would beat the Jets has come true while my other choice – the Giants are currently struggling behind the Eagles. Actually, just as I wrote that they pulled even so we'll have to see.) and like any other game that gets televised these days every other play, it seems, the announcers have a list of statistics to provide about the players, the team, or even just how many footlongs the hot dog vendors sell in the 3rd quarter when their team's up by two touchdowns.

They have a lot of stats to throw around, is what I'm saying. And it occurs to me to wonder why Guild Wars can't do the same.

It is, after all, as close to a sport as you can get when you're mouseclicking and sitting behind a monitor. In terms of PvP, anyway. And not just when you get at the highest levels of competition. While your top-flight guilds might be akin to varsity teams and a small handful of them can even be considered professional having earned money through competition – some of the Korean teams are even sponsored but they take electronic sports seriously over there – I'd argue that even in the iddle of the ladder you're dealing with the equivalent of rec leagues or a bunch of friends who get together to throw the pigskin around after work or school or whatever. It's an amateur sports scene, in other words, and one that lacks a big, professional league like the NFL or MLB – the various gaming circuits notwithstanding. But if you turned the clock back to say, the late 1800s or the early 20th century then, well, there wouldn't be massive professional sports leagues for football or baseball and most people who played would be amateurs or semi-professionals. Now, I'm not suggesting that Guild Wars or other games we play today will be around in a hundred years. Although, if you pressed me, I might say that StarCraft will be. Just that I see some similarities in how things work. And the idea that future generations will take what I consider a hobby and turn it into a production on the scale of a nationally broadcast football game (And I've been around the backstage, so to speak, when such things are going on. It is a huge production with a cast of hundreds.) isn't all that uncomfortable. Certainly no more than the ones people looking at a bunch of youngsters tackling each other in the mud would have had if you told them that in the future millions of people and billions of dollars would change hands based on such contests.

Anyhow, I got off topic a bit but why can't there be detailed stats kept on Guild Wars players the way they're kept on football players? The rudiments are already there in terms of experience and fame and gladiator or gamer tracks and the like. But they don't go nearly far enough in telling people important information. Of course, once upon a time there was no such thing as a batting average – some fan who wanted to track baseball players and compare their outputs had to come up with the novel idea of comparing how many hits they got to how many at bats they had. Similar things can be done in Guild Wars and I'd be stunned if the sort of raw data needed wasn't already being recorded by the company. Just not released to the public or displayed in-game. But I'm talking about things like how often players use one profession or another. Or in what formats. What their win-loss records are – as individuals, not as part of a team. Do they tend to die a lot or not? Because what I'm really getting at is tracking individual players and measuring just how well they do compared to some game-wide average. Things like fame rank are a start but they don't really give enough of an indication for how good a player is. They tell you they've played enough to have earned that rank and while that's something that's not exactly sabrematics.

Now, I know that most people don't want it shown to them just how bad they actually are (You can spare me any idea that because Guild Wars is based on teams that the comparison is not baseball or football - where because of the atomic nature of things, it's easy to break things down and compare them statistically - it's more like basketball where you can't separate individual statistics from the team. That's, in a sense, true, but it doesn't stop people from tracking points and rebounds and assists and dozens of other things in basketball. And I don't want a perfectly accurate model, I just want more data as a guide.). Because, let's face it, people can't argue with cold hard numbers and if there's going to be an average than some people – probably the majority of people – are going to be below average. After all, I've won something like 250 battles in the Snowball Arena in the past few weeks and that makes me feel pretty good. That's enough to have gotten two ranks after all. But although I have an idea about just how many fights it takes me to get a win I'm sure that if I saw the actual figure, I wouldn't feel so proud. Because, although I like to think I win more than I lose, I probably don't. Having it staring me in the face about just how long it should take me to get to the next rank would be disheartening. Especially at first when I was just starting out and lost more than I won as I was learning how to play again. Showing people incontrovertible proof that they suck would, no doubt, serve to drive some people away. Or convince them they should never try and get better.

I won't argue that. What I will argue is that if there are enough statistics and metrics to pour over, it won't matter. No everyone gets to be Peyton Manning. Not every will put up amazing statistics. Some people won't understand that but those probably aren't the ones who are really cut out for seriously dabbling in the competitive scene. But as long as there are lots of different ways to measure progress some people will be driven to compete. Knowing you need just one more hit, say, to get to the equivalent of a .300 batting average might just drive people to go out and try to get that hit. It's the same reason that I've played so much Snowball Arena – having that goal of the next rank there for me to reach drove me to play more than I would have otherwise. And you can say the same about people who desperately try to increase their fame rank to get into groups – just the mere fact that you have measurable stats can be a carrot. It actually makes the game more exciting to play because you're rewarded for getting better with better stats. And as long as there's enough variety there and not everyone is competing for the same prize then there will be room for people who just want to focus on one thing or who are just starting out.

The other objection that can be raised, I'm sure, is that a lot of people might have privacy concerns. But Guild Wars is a public game and tracking how people do can be considered no different than tracking the passing and receiving yardage of players in a football league. It's all publicly available information – anyone who goes to those games could put it together – it's just in Guild Wars that doesn't happen while in football they have someone in charge of keeping records. Certainly in the big leagues while it might not happen in intramural competitions, perhaps. Because people might not have the time to bother with it. But there, as a computer game, Guild Wars has a built-in advantage because it wouldn't take too much effort, I'd think, to add to the existing program and automate the tracking of such things. It's just data mining and archiving that data, after all. By logging into the game and stepping into the weird public/private sphere that is an online game or a sports league, players are pretty much consenting to such things. As much as people might not like it, companies do it all the time. And I'm just arguing for greater transparency and usefulness from the existing data. Which, I'm fairly certain the developers and publishers of the game are keeping detailed records about who uses the game and how much and all the rest that could be used to create some kind of “GW RBI”.

That's “Guild Wars Rounds Battled In”, by the way, which could be compared to, say, a player's fame and used to derive just how many fights in HA it took them to get to their rank. I mean, would you rather play with someone who averages 15 fame a battle or someone who gets 5? And does your answer change if one's rank 4 and the other's rank 9? Because just looking at a fame total doesn't tell you if someone doesn't play much but manages to do well when they do or if they're someone who grinds out fame a bit at a time but plays more than is healthy, in all likelihood. Or, you know, if someone just started playing the game or they've been playing for a long time. Now do the same for the Arena and for Alliance Battles and GvG and every other format. And you start to develop a statistical model that tells you how effective a potential teammate can be.

So, from a developer standpoint adding such features – while it would require a bit of effort – you'd add a host of functionality to the game. Functions that would increase players ability to understand and enjoy the game. That, to me, is worth a little effort (Of course, I don't have to pay for it or actually do it. So while the devs are at it, I'd like a pony. Screw mounts, I want a real live one. They've got my address on file.) and I'd hope others feel the same. But I don't think it would take much and the groundwork's already there. With a bit more put into it we could have ladders, have averages, have ranks, and have stats derived from stats that can be derived from the raw data. Display it in game in a handy tab and have leader boards on the website where people can see who's the best. Offer prizes – they don't have to be much, even fancy titles or items with special skins – periodically. Keep track of it over a player's lifetime and over the course of a season or a tournament. The ladder for guild rankings was a great idea but it's biggest problem is that it doesn't go far enough. Don't tell me that people wouldn't like such things or that they wouldn't pour time and energy into coming up with them – just look at how people created a better version of the ladder that offered the functionality that the official one now does. And how even dedicated PvE players try to get things like explorer titles or follow the survivor track. People love their statistics and metrics and if you make them easy to digest they'll swarm to them.

From a player standpoint this would be a boon as well. These sorts of stats and rankings would help people find teammates and guilds – so long as they can be protected from people who'll try and cheat to improve them, of course, but that's just making an existing problem more widespread – as there will be much more accurate indications of abilities and preferences. And the bragging rights can be worth it alone – you say you're the best Monk around, well, now you could have the stats to back it up. Think your guild needs to work on things in VoD? Well, there's stats for that, too, I'm sure. But it could also be an avenue for allowing casual or PuG guilds to form without cracking any ranking system – or to prevent smurfing with secondary guilds without preventing people from changing teams when and how they want (It would, however, make secondary accounts more of a problem as people could hide their real ranking by playing on a different account. But, then, they'd be hurting themselves by not gaining points and wins and such towards their main statistics – they might not want to risk losing ranking in something by playing outside of their level but I'd think there are ways to accommodate that. And, you know, each new box people buy is more money for the game's makers so it's not exactly a bad thing.). Using the cumulative ranking of the players on a team you could create a projected ranking for that team that could be used to skew things like match-ups and points from wins and loses. That way, teams would have two rankings – their actual one and a probationary one based on the rankings and statistics of their players. The more matches they play the more the two should come to sync up. But until then you'd protect inexperienced teams from being thrown to wolves that have, for whatever reason, an inaccurate ranking. And those wolves benefit, too, because they'll be facing competition that's actually going to test them.

It's a better way not just of measuring individuals but measuring everything in the game. And doing so opens up possibilities that can benefit everyone involved. Anyhow, I'd better go. Seems like the Eagles managed to win on a last minute field goal, after all. And I'm kind of interested in seeing just how many times that's happened in the playoffs – a home team needing a field goal to get out of that first round when they were the favorite sounds like there's something shaky there. And if I look into it I'm sure I could see just how many of such teams go on to have success in the next round – or whether that narrow victory is a sign that there's trouble ahead. They keep statistics on all sorts of things in football. So, somewhere, somehow, someone out there's already got the answer and I just need to find it. But I still haven't heard one for why I can't do the same for Guild Wars. Not one that satisfies me anyway.

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