Tobold's Blog
Monday, November 03, 2008
Games giving feedback

As you might remember I've been playing in the Football Manager Live beta for some time during the summer. The beta ends today, and the game is going live, but I ended up not subscribing after all, in spite of a half-price for beta testers offer. And the reason why I didn't subscribe was lack of feedback. FML is based on matches which have to be played in a certain timeframe, and if you don't log on to play, an AI is playing the match for you. And when I was busy with other games, and didn't log on for a while, it turned out that the AI was playing exactly as well as I did, I remained at the same rank as when I played myself. So why bother logging on?

The guy who got me into the beta, and who knows the Football Manager series a lot better than me, has skills I don't have: When he watches the start of a match, he can see the tactics of the other player, and adjust his tactics to counter them. Me, I only see a bunch of moving dots, and could never really make out enough to be able to improve my tactics during a match. Thus I developed one set of tactics that worked "most often", and just let it run. Which explains why the AI can do that as good as I can. What I was missing was better feedback from the game: When I'm losing a match, why did I lose? Did the other team outflank me, or did they have the better midfield, or what? What could I have done to play better against them? I never found out, so I got stuck at a certain level, so I wasn't interested in playing more.

The experience made me think about the lack of feedback in MMORPG group combat. My first 3D MMORPG was Everquest, back in 2000, and since then most games I played worked with a similar tank / healer / dps trinity. I'm not saying I'm the worlds best MMO player, far from it, I'm not all that fast in reaction time and pressing buttons. But I *do* understand the concepts of aggro management involved in MMORPG group combat very, very well. Especially when I play my healer I have a better overview than anyone else in the group of what exactly happened, and why we just wiped, as I'm watching everyone's health bars anyway.

But do the other players in the group always get enough feedback of what went wrong? Group combat can be quite chaotic, and the combat log isn't well designed to replay what happened. As the healer I can tell you that we wiped because the tank after pulling only hit mob A with sunders and taunts, while the mage thought it would be a good idea to launch an AoE attack, thereby getting all the aggro of mobs B, C, and D, which killed him faster than I could heal him, then killed me, and then the rest of the group. But if it was a pickup group, I probably get some comments of "why didn't you heal me" from both the mage (I did heal you, but can't possibly heal fast enough when you try to tank three mobs) and the tank (I can't heal all that well when dead). Unlike FML there isn't even an option to replay the fight and watch it just to see what went wrong. And there is certainly no such thing as an automated feedback telling you what mistakes you did, so you could learn and avoid them next time.

And of course the problem gets even more pronounced with bigger groups. There are lots of raid boss encounters where what every single player has to do isn't all that hard, but if one or several players mess up, the whole raid wipes. The one player who is turned into the bomb and can't find the designated safe spot, but explodes in the middle of the healer group instead. Or the decurser who forgot to install decursive and didn't tell anyone. Or the hunter who takes three steps back for ranged attacks, and runs backwards into the next group of mobs. Or, or, or, the possibilities to wipe a raid are endless. And some of these mistakes are easy to identify afterwards, while others are not. You wipe, and try again, without knowing what lead to the wipe, thereby increasing the chance that it'll happen again.

What would be great would be some replay-utility for World of Warcraft, which shows the whole fight in 2D birds-eye view, with colored moving dots, showing what exactly happened, who got aggro, and so on. If everyone could see what went wrong, it would be a lot easier to fix the problem and do it right next time. If Blizzard won't add this to the game (and I don't think they will), maybe somebody could develop a program parsing the combat log to find out what went wrong. It would be good to have a bit more feedback, because unless you understand what went amiss, you'll have a hard time improving.
Isn't that already part of any reasonable guild/raid ? When we wipe we analyse, why. After that we continue. It's not that hard to explain somebody, what he did wrong in this try. I do not think that a video analysis is neccessary. Just talking is faster and sufficient.
A visual representation that makes it easy to see how all the little bits came together would be most useful for the people who don't have a full understanding of the mechanics already. As Anon noted, wipe analysis happens in game as is, using things like Recount, Grim Reaper, WWS, etc. Raid leaders are supposed to watch for those little bits and explain them to the team afterward. The problem is that most of the people who don't have that mechanical understanding of the game are also not going to want to sit down with coach and watch replays when they can instead be actually playing the game.
I feel the same way about games like Madden. I have no idea what I'm doing, and - especially on defense - letting the computer play is a lot better than me trying anything.

But when I play against my friend who played college ball, I learn a lot because he tells me after every play what I did wrong, why my choice of defense or offensive lineup was wrong, or how to counter what he did.

If that feedback were available, like a training mode, I'd learn a lot more about the game and probably enjoy it more when watching it on TV too. Sports journalists never do stuff like that, just complain or predict things.
Isn't that already part of any reasonable guild/raid ?

Just to point out: those are addons that weren't in the games. So are threat monitors. None of those tools are actually in games, we had to write and add them in ourselves. I think that's the point. Only with the last patch Blizzard added a few feedback mechanisms. But I've never met someone playing their first MMO who had any idea of what threat is or why mobs were hitting them. You have to actually explain it to them.
Exploration and discovery require that the game mechanics be shrouded in a bit of mystique. That said, it would be nice to have some tools to analyze why player error caused a wipe, and how to avoid it next time. At the very least, it would give a sense that the time and repair bills incurred were actually an investment for learning, rather than a crapshoot or blackbox testing.
I think having tools like Recount and such are very interesting... but still, usually, if you are aware of the fight (like everyone should) you don't need those to see what happened.

I know alot of dps raiders base their analysis of good players on the amount of damage they can output. For me, it's not about the amount of dps one can output, it never was. I know pretty well that whenever I'm in a group, the groups tend to be successfull (10 man). The same group without me, and with another person who's higher in their dps chart, tend to be less successfull (more wipes etc...) It's all about understanding what's important, and doing the right ability/action at the right time.

Even with 40 man raids, I knew who were the ones doing a good job, their job, or nothing. It was faily ez. like it was said, talking about it, and having a good communication channel is plenty. Most of the problem is: people. They don't want to admit what they did wrong, and they don't want to change their ways either.

For having a really good feedback tool, you need to actually have really good rules on what is right, and what is wrong. In mmo's, it's unclear (at least, in WoW and the likes). In PvP, strategies will work sometimes, sometimes it won't ... it all depends on the situation and the players in the game.
Regarding the lack of feedback in FM-Live, I agree. I ended up not subscriping either for other reasons (mainly WOW related).

But on the 14th football manager 09 is released, with a pretty ok 3d engine etc. More on topic theres now an "assistants feedback" option, where the ass-man (!) tells you things like "your short passes are off mark" and "the Right-Back is getting skint too often" - giving som much need feedback.
no feedback???
tons of feedback there if you look for it....crucial mistakes, crossing or pass percentages per player, deciding passes, interceptions headers...tons of chances and no goals: what would that mean? It's all there and you don't even have to get some wws addon client etc...

and before you can do the magical tactical stuff, you have to get some skills as well - maintaining your rank was proabbly due to other managers below you having the same 'tactic'- or you just picked a good team/tactic ;)

no offense, but do you watch any footy normally? You don't expect the game to tell you exactly which adjustments to do do you?

Was really hoping for some more FML posts Tobold, but I'll keep reading anyway :D
Hey Tobold,

Nice to hear your comments about FM Live - have always been a big fan of the FM series, and had real wonders how FM Online would work. Its a shame that it hasn't worked out for you, and to be honest, from what I've heard from other people on the net, it isn't living up to all its expectations. Its a shame really.

But keep up the good work - always enjoy reading your blog.
"What would be great would be some replay-utility for World of Warcraft, which shows the whole fight in 2D birds-eye view, with colored moving dots, showing what exactly happened, who got aggro, and so on. If everyone could see what went wrong, it would be a lot easier to fix the problem and do it right next time."

While I agree that could be a good thing, I am surprised that you would want such a tool, Tobold, because inevitably it would lead to the hard-core sifting out the not-so-talented players.
A tool that can be so easily used to point out people's failures would only hurt the casual player.

One of my current add-ons (and I dont know which since I updated them all), puts a message over the heads of all mobs on the screen showing who has got their aggro. If Blizzard built something similar into their basic UI, I think a lot more people would understand the basics of aggro management.
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