Backgammon and Metrics

by Darius Kazemi on February 19, 2007

in metrics

As I believe I’ve mentioned before, the video game that I play the most by far is Handmark Backgammon for my Treo 600. The UI is superb, and the AI is really pretty tricky even at Intermediate difficulty.

I have logged well over 10,000 games of backgammon on this thing. I know this because it keeps track of some basic statistics:

  • how many points I’ve won
  • how many points the AI has won
  • a frequency chart of how often each possible double roll has occurred for either player (two 6′s, two 5′s, etc)

The mere fact that I know what my long-term score is versus the AI is what drives me to continue playing: I like to widen the point margin between my score and the AI’s (in my favor, of course).

The fact that the game stores these sorts of metrics and makes them available to me has significantly increased the value of the game over time. And yet it’s really simple code! Just keep a few counters here and there and you’re done.

Seen in that light, the question I ask is: why don’t they add a whole bunch more statistics? Here’s a list of things that would be trivial metrics to add.

  • A frequency chart showing how often I win certain point amounts, and a comparison chart for the AI. This would be interesting, as I feel like I win fewer games than the AI does, but I’m better at wagering, so I get more points per game.
  • A count of how many games each player has won by forfeit versus actual win. I feel like the AI is better than me at forcing a win through wagering.
  • A frequency chart for every possible die roll, not just the doubles. This would help confirm my suspicion that on harder difficulty the AI just rolls better.
  • A frequency chart for the length of time each game has taken. It would be cool to know that the average game of backgammon I play takes 3 minutes, and that 70% of all games are in the 2 to 4 minute range, or whatever.

Stats like that would just push the game over the top, giving me an endless supply of variables to optimize my play along.

Deep metrics make good games better. Obviously metrics won’t make a bad game good. And also, the metrics only make the games better for the nerdy, numbers-oriented players like me. On the other hand, when you consider how easy it is to record basic metrics, especially for simple games, it’s practically a no-lose situation to just go ahead and implement it.

{ 1 comment }

Patrick February 20, 2007 at 7:13 pm

I agree wholly about metrics certian metrics are also useful when expediting game balancing. I wonder if there’s a way to feed high-end, macro-game metrics to players in a more human way, some kind of graphical metaphor instead of straight cold numbers.

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