On Rating Systems, Competitive Play and Jerks In Online Games.
Have you heard of the term “Ladder Anxiety“? If you’ve ever played in competitive 1 on 1 games you’ll the know the feeling intimately, that sense of dread you get before you hit the find match button that builds upon itself until you see that final score screen. When I played StarCraft 2 a lot I would get this all the time, to the point where if I was just a little bit cold my whole body would shudder violently until the nervous energy turned me into a raging furnace. I’ve eventually learned what I can do to tame that wild beast but by far the best thing for it was simply to not play 1 v 1 as I found my stress levels were far lower when I was playing in a team. For StarCraft 2 this kind of defeats the point since it’s balanced for 1 v 1 but for other games, like my current addiction in DOTA 2, it’s par for the course.
For all of these games the in built ranking system is usually very coarse, serving as an indication of where you fit in with the larger gaming populace and only giving solid rankings for the highest level players. The reasoning behind this is pretty simple as anything more granular than that leads to some rather undesirable behaviour within the greater community. The ELO ratings that were used back in the original WarCraft 3 DOTA map were a good example of this as players would often use it as an excuse to force people into certain roles (your ELO is too low, you’re playing support), criticize them for not playing the way they think you should be playing or just simply being jerks for the sake of it. You might be thinking that this is all par for the course for something that’s on the Internet but the simple fact is that you never want to give jerks tools that enable them to be better jerks, especially if you can avoid it.
You can then imagine my reaction when I heard about the upcoming release of the DotaBuff Rating system. I first came across it when they had a poll up to determine whether it should be a widely available stat or something you can only see for yourself and was hopeful that the community that struggled against the perils of the previous ELO system would make the right decision. Whilst the Reddit DOTA 2 players appeared to be on the right track the wider player base apparently voted, in 2 to 1 odds, to make it open to everyone. The backlash against that idea was strong enough for them to rethink their position on the matter with them saying that they’d move it into a “paid only” feature. Whilst its debatable as to whether or not that was their plan all along the furore generated by the potential implementation of DBR caught the eyes of Valve and they decided to go nuclear on the situation.
In the latest patch to hit DOTA 2 an option was introduced into the game settings that allowed you to choose whether or not sites like DotaBuff would be allowed to view your match data. This option was disabled by default meaning that the vast majority of the data that DotaBuff had been collecting since its inception would no longer be available to it. Additionally it’s no longer possible to reconstruct the download link for the replay file meaning that the more in depth statistics are simply unavailable. People like me who are interested in their ongoing statistics would of course enable it again but as some of my recent games have shown I’m not in the majority of users. Whilst I might abhor the introduction of a rating that arguably made an elitist community worse it doesn’t bode well for the ancillary developer community that was trying to add value to one of Valve’s burgeoning ecosystems.
Now its easy to argue that its foolish to base your business around someone else’s business, especially in this web driven age where API changes like this can spell death for your nascent company. However it’s also hard to ignore the fact that if you don’t do it someone else will and there’s every chance that they’ll see some level of success for it. DotaBuff is, to me at least, a great resource for personal statistics tracking and being able to compare myself to the wider world (but no the other way around) was an invaluable resource. Valve I feel went too far in its reaction to the DBR situation and could have easily resolved the situation without resorting to nuclear level responses. Hopefully this is just an overcorrection and they can reach a happy middle ground as in its current form the API is a shadow of its former self.
To be truthful the DOTA community has grown a lot since I used to play it back in WarCraft 3 and whilst I wouldn’t want to poke the bear by giving everyone unfettered access to DBR I don’t believe it was particularly threaten by having it available privately. Sure it might be a bit more granular than Valve’s preferred system (searching the replays with your name and selecting the skill rating) but I’m sure that’s nothing that couldn’t be fixed by a few friendly emails rather than a whole of game API limitation. There’s probably more to this story than what I’m seeing however and time will tell if this change will spell the end for stats tracking sites like DotaBuff.