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The Impact of Artificial Players

It’s been a few months since the release of Tournament of Dragons (ToD). We’ve gotten feedback from people playing, from the industry, and from game forums. We also played. I am still trying to make it to arena 4. And fundamentally, we can also see statistics from data that our servers collect.

Take a look at these numbers. These are some of the best human players:

If you did not find this shocking is because you have not done the following calculation: a ToD game goes for 7 or 8 minutes. Rezips, having played 184 games then enjoyed 23 hours of ToD gaming. That is a lot of time playing ToD, and others have played for longer! (I could not help to look at my own stats: 55 games so far).

Let’s put this in context. “Rebel Galaxy Outlaw” is a big PC game that was released recently. In the IGN review, it took the reviewer 35 hours to complete the game. This game is big, with plenty of plots and sub-games, massive art, music and action (in fact, it’s in my list of games to buy and enjoy).

I would not have believed, before we released the game, that some people would play so much. And I am not delusional that the game is so good that compares with big production PC games. I think that the secret sauce is the combination of artificial players, a global leaderboard and clever matchmaking. I will call this an ‘artificial players platform’.

In short, if you reduce ToD to its mechanics by removing the artificial players platform, it is not the type of game I would play 55 games at all. I might play two or maybe five games until I beat the AI. Then I’m done, why keep playing?

Do you think these top players would have played about 200 games in a ‘single player AI’ mode?. The key here is multiplayer. The artificial players are Players, with names and their own way of playing the game. They want to go up in the leaderboard just like any other (human) player.

The artificial players platform makes all the difference:

  • When a human wants to play, she or he does not need to wait. The platform guarantees at most 10 seconds for matchmaking

  • ToD ‘enlisted’ 500 artificial players to seed the leaderboard. They range from beginner to uber-expert. Humans then never play with anybody that is not within a narrow range of skill matching their own. Having fun playing games means just the right amount of challenge. Too hard or too easy and the fun stops.

  • The leaderboard is fundamental for the fine tuned matchmaking and also makes for strong goal-setting. Going up the leaderboard and reaching a new arena is in fact another game on its own, independent of the mechanics of ToD.

I have not crunched the numbers, but I would guess that about 90% of the games played involved at least one artificial player. Some games actually had just one human and 3 artificial players.

What makes me very happy is that the artificial players platform works. It achieves its goal of turning a simple, limited game into a rich, long experience. It makes a game that I would have played 1 hour total, to a 10 hours ongoing experience. I will keep playing until I make it to arena 4! (arena 5 is just too much to ask, I’m not that good).

It is time to take this platform to other digital adaptations of boardgames. Many times it has happened to me that I buy a new board game app on my iPad, I play a couple of games against the AI, beat it and then lose interest. I was happy to see that ‘Raiders of the North Sea’ had been released, only to find out that it suffers (acutely) of this same disease. A pity, because the rest of the app looks great.

I surely hope we can implement the artificial players platform in many board game adaptations. I will be a happier gamer!

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