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The stats game

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the announced Call of Duty Elite service, which is seemingly nothing more than a stat tracker, but as I analyze it more and think about what it’s doing, it made me realize that for many (most) games, the stats ARE the game.

When data makes a difference

A funny thing happened the more time I spent looking at the CoD Elite screens, I actually started to care about my stats in the game. I hate to admit that seeing even those few beta screens made me want to play the game more just so I could see and improve my stats. For some reason this just really clicked for me and has taken me by surprise.

Of course, when you’re talking about games that are data point driven in the first place (like arcade games and racing) it’s obvious because the goal is to improve your stats. But in goal-based games like FPSes I never really gave much thought to the stats I generate…after all, the purpose is to shoot people and win the game. There’s direct competition so all that matters in the end is if you win or lose…stats are merely bi-product…but stats alone can be a lot of fun.

Statistics. Boring in school, fun in games
Statistics. Boring in school, fun in games

When stats are the game

I’m planning on re-launching my Redline Derby Fantasy Racing League next year and the number one task is to add more stat tracking and data visualization. As I looked at other fantasy leagues and sports, it was obvious that stats are 90% of what people want. That data drives their involvement going forward. It almost doesn’t matter how simple or complex the game itself is as long as the data required to understand it can be enjoyable.

I overhear a lot of baseball talk at work and even from that I know that stats to those fans are a lot of fun. It keeps them involved in the game. ERAs…batting averages…no-hitters…slugging percentages…that’s not to say you need to know stats to enjoy the game but understanding all the stuff that goes into baseball that might turn a casual watcher into card carrying fan. It’s interesting to think about.

We all have stats

But spectator sports only provide one-way stats. Games like a fantasy league provide stats not just for the things doing the actual play (in my case cars) but for the player…for YOU. A game becomes infinitely more enjoyable when you have direct hand in outcomes and numbers. I think that’s why I’ve never been caught up in stats before, it doesn’t really affect anything. Me knowing a teams record or a player’s sack percentage doesn’t change who will win or lose, it was just useless knowledge at that point. I’m not that big of a math nerd, I guess, but that doesn’t mean other players aren’t.

Call of Duty Elite isn’t even in real beta yet but its impact on how I view game data. If a few screen shots can change how I approach playing a game, then changes I make to my own game might make my players happier too. The key is just making sure the stats provided actually serve a purpose and aren’t just there for sake of data. It’s fun for me to think about what information is valuable and what is just extra. That research is quite the rabbit hole, however, as I’m constantly coming up with new numbers to track and new ways to display that information. It’s a good thing I have until 2012 to figure it all out.