15 February 2011

Sport design

[This article follows an email discussion with Ian Schreiber.]

Sports and video games share a lot. Although video games have implemented new sports, they are usually copies of real-life sports (Madden NFL, FIFA) or variants with more violent creatures or rules (Mutant League Football, Blood Bowl). Even fighting games come from fighting sports - Street Fighter is nothing more than mixed martial arts with fireballs and teleportation. However, video games such as DDR or exergaming (Wii Fit) get really close to actual sports. Several new sports make use of computers (ARGs), some use the geography (Big Urban Games) and some use both (geocaching, Four Square.

Yet there are currently many more board game and video game designers than sport designers. Possible reasons:

  • New sports take time to spread and be widely adopted. Rugby was presumably invented by Web Ellis in 1823 (as a variant from normal football), but it took around a century to become popular.
  • Sport rules get modified over time to fit people's needs and likes, or to improve players' safety or game balance. Hence, a sport might have been designed and redesigned by many people, and not a single designer.
  • There are more constraints in sport design than game design. To spread, a sport has to be fun to play AND fun to watch (that's why ball games have only one ball: it's easier for the audience to focus on it). It also has to be easily played at home or on the street in the neighborhood (like soccer but unlike ice hockey) and it has to be safe for people.
  • There might not be a strong demand for new sports.

Video games do not suffer from the problems mentioned above (they are at home, they have marketing backup, and people want ot play computer games). Yet game designers do not try to incorporate new sports in their games. Do they simply not think about it? I think there is a lot for video games to gain from sports, especially since many games have very competitive player segments (WoW world firsts, Korean Starcraft league, Street Fighter IV world tournaments, ...).

06 February 2011

Wisdom of the crowd

The term wisdom of the crowd has been popularized by Surowiecki in his 2004 book of the same name. Crowds, he argues, are better than a single entity at processing information, coordinating (eg optimizing pavement flow) and cooperating (local networks of trust). Four criteria for a crowd to be wise are:

  • diversity of opinion
  • independence
  • decentralization/localization
  • aggregation, ie combining private thoughts into collective decisions

Surowiecki's book deals with our society, economics and sociology. The wisdom of the crowd paradigm can also be applied to various domains of computer science.

Domain Example What it's not about
Machine Learning State-of-the-art classifiers are boosted random forests. Build many decision trees taking random features and a random part of the whole data set (bootstrapping). In the end, aggregate all of them (bagging). It's not about having a complex and smart model, it's about having millions of "slightly better than random" trees combined together, reducing the variance of the model.
Information Retrieval Google uses MapReduce for data processing. Separate your algorithm in small elementary treatments so that it can scale. The more hardware, the faster. It's not about having a smart and complex algorithm that needs to have 64G of RAM, it's about having many second-hand machines doing an elementary job in a pipelined process, reducing the reliability on a particular machine.

In the case of MMOG, the dominant paradigm is a tightly-coupled client-server architecture. And although server hardware scales, it's still rudimentary: the cutting in shards is often done manually and there's rarely a dynamic allocation of ressources to a particular world region (although that would be helpful in WoW in case of gnome warrior demonstrations). The coupling between client and server has a lot of limits. There are ways to prevent cheating in peer-to-peer MMOG architectures, so why is peer-to-peer still considered a joke?