Should we rely on external tracking sites for MTGA Game data?
By: andreliverod - 21 Feb 2019
Collection tracking and W/L stats are a necessity for a card game. There are great services for this but relying on these might not be a good thing in the long run. Let's delve deeper into how important this is for the game, the service the community provides and how it affects the game and might be causing damage.
There are multiple services that provide tracking in-game data for players, the most popular and known right now is mtgarena.pro. In addition to we have MTGA Tracker, Lotus Tracker and as a recent addition Mtgahelper. These are all really cool projects, very helpful for the community to be able to track not only collection but win rates against opponents, all their decks and have automatic sync to a website enabling people to easily share their creations and progress. Yes I do think all of these projects are great and I have also talked to some of the people behind the sites, but I do have some worries about the impact of the functionality and I also think that these services have to tread lightly in what they track. Also, more about the plans we have with AetherHub in regards to the MTG Arena client. But first, let us talk about the problems with trackers.
How does it work and will it work in the finished game?
The MTG Arena trackers are software you install on your computer, it tracks the debug output logs of the game and either upload them to a web server or displays the information locally. The first problem with this is that the information output is in debug mode during the beta meaning it outputs almost all information that happens within the game. This is mainly for the devs so they can get outputs of what happens during errors. Now the question is, will all this information be available when we move into the full release of the game? There are no guarantees, there have also been some speculations that all the log output is slowing the game down. Charlie from the dev team made a statement in a Reddit thread that they are not going to cut down on logging when the game releases so that is a good sign, but it might be that they will be forced to cut down on some of the information that is not useful.
The next problem comes with how reliable logging is, aside from services that might break time to time, errors and the fact that logs only last a couple of days so you need to sync often there is one problem that is just around the corner; Multiplatform. How important are you Win / Loss stats? how valuable is incomplete information? If you play MTGA on a mobile device at the toilet in your corporate office, is it important that you get to track that win in your stats? When you get Arena on multiple devices, maybe you play the game on friends computer you do not have access to the collection tracker that only works with Windows platforms. This means that you will have holes and inconsistency in your data, making trackers support multiple platforms is a daunting task, and not only that, mobile devices will not have the same logs available.
Things the game client should track
There are certain things that just belong inside of the game, the most obvious one is the collection tracker. There should be no need to rely on external resources to be able to see the percent of a set you own, this should be easy to view inside of the game client itself. A big part of the game is about collecting and getting to see your progress towards finishing the whole set. Not only is this important for collectors but also for WotC revenue, as making this information easily available will only make users want to buy more boosters to get more progress. The chances for this making it into the game is quite high obviously but you do not see many people giving feedback on this, it seems that relying on a third party is becoming the norm which is counter-intuitive to the quality of the game client.
MTGArena.pro provides a great interface to see how your collection is coming along
The Win / Loss ratio is another important thing we like to track. Now the chance of getting a detailed summary of all your lifetime matches within the client is not high. There is way too much information for storing millions of players data in detail over a long period of time. But it would not be too much to ask for a simple counter that updates every time you win or lose matches so you can keep track of how you perform each season. Other simple stats would be the amount of time game has been played, your ranking for each season which would go well together with something like achievements. Again this is something that needs to be pushed as a need within the game, but right now it is a need fulfilled externally.
The amount of information available in MTGA's output logs is high. Even your opponent's name and what cards they played are available, is this information that should be available publicly?
An enormous amount of information
An issue users do not often take into consideration is the cost of running services on the web. Getting to make something useful for other people is a lot of fun and as someone who spends all my spare time outside of my daily full-time job to make stuff for the community, I know this very well. The hard part is making it long term, and for that to work, the service needs to have some type of income revenue. Developers making tools like this is not paid in an hourly wage, those 14 hour days we pull off in the weekend does not directly translate into income that can be used to pay our service providers hosting our services. The more users the more cost, this is a problem for trackers that scrapes information from logs, the more information the greater the cost. Tracking data about collections, when you opened a card, What opponent you played when you played them what cards he played, what deck you used. Everything has a cost, and with the game with the potential of millions of users and a gigantic amount of data sent every second, the database will become huge. Not only do you store an enormous amount of data, but you are also expected to present this data for the user and it has to be fast too.
MTGA Tracker solved this by letting their Inspector tool run locally not having to store a crazy amount of data, you can read more about this here. In my opinion, this is the better solution, you want all the stats locally and you would only need to upload some of the data. Not requiring the server to handle everything, because that gets out of hand quickly. It is a hard balance between infrastructure and the cost of running the service. If anything, please support the tools you use in any way you can, not only are they free but someone poured their soul into making these tools and spent hundreds of hours making it work and still work hard every day to maintain and expand something you might be using every day.
Potential cease and desist for tracker sites
Now, this is something that all websites and services need to pay close attention to, and we are already seeing things that might not be in line with what WotC considers ok. As a comparison let me talk about AetherHub and our thought process when we made the Deck Hub. The DeckHub is a collection of decks that users make and share, anyone can make a deck public and Content Creators are also able to distinguish their decks from the rest. In addition to this, we also post decklists from Wizards Tournaments and the SCG tourney. We only want to post tourney-decks from a few official sources in our meta and we take care not to make information too easy to find, which is the reason you do not see views or export numbers in the Tier1 meta lists on the overview. When making functionality we always take into consideration what kind of potential impact we might have in the long run, MTGgoldfish received a warning for posting data from bots on MTGO and had to stop doing so. Other sites have received Cease and Desist letters for simulating the game, which is also the reason we do not want to simulate true deckbuilding or have a Draft simulation on our site. We need to take into consideration and respect WotC and their intellectual property, making simulations and not respecting their wish to not share detailed meta info if part of this.
If you now have an idea of our thought process and why we do this it should not be hard to see the potential problem when tracking data. It is fine as long as it does not cross over a certain threshold. So tracking users matchups, the exact win rates of a deck, the cards your opponents revealed during a match and the potential for making this publicly available, it certainly does not seem like a thing that would be fine with WotC. While users love it and it might be tempting to just take all the data and make cool stuff, you are taking quite a big risk long term. This is also why I think some of this stuff belongs locally. Yes, you could track all that data with pen and paper, but automatically tracking it and collect thousands of users data and compiling it centrally? It opens up for a lot of possibilities and it sounds at least in my own head, a lot worse than what MTG Goldfish were doing with MTG Online.
AetherHub and the future of tracking
On AetherHub we concentrate on evergreen functionality. We only make things with the long term in mind, we do not jump into big tasks only for short term gain. A lot of stuff change and adapts over time on the site, some things are removed but the goal is to spend our time making things that are permanent. MTG Arena is in a beta phase, it changes all the time. We want to see the game in a more finished form before taking on the task of making tracking functionality. Does this mean we are just waiting doing nothing? No, we have a lot of things we want to make and are working on right now that not only is useful in itself but is laying the foundation for things we do in the future with MTG Arena. Things like an Inventory / Collection system is coming, it could enable you to sync your collection from MTGA so you could see the amount if Wildcards you are missing to craft a deck. If something changes in the client making this redundant, we still have a full inventory system for physical collections. For now, we are putting the idea of MTGA tracking integration on hold and continue to make evergreen functionality and when the time is right we will start looking more into what we want to do.
Should we rely on external tracking sites?
Tracking sites provide a lot of useful functions for players, but it should not be forgotten that a lot of the data especially in regards to collections belong inside of the game. We are obviously still in beta but it is important not to forget to push Wizards to make a better client if anything they should look at some of the options out there and take notes of what users want. There is the challenge coming in the near future when we are multi-platform and data is spread across devices, how do we solve tracking data at that point? My only conclusion here is that yes if you want this information right now you should use trackers. In the long run, they have quite the challenge ahead and will have to adapt to not only growing problems but also WotC policies, the game client itself and collecting data across multiple devices. External tracking will always be relevant one way or another and remember to support the people making these amazing tools.
André Liverød Founder and CEO of AetherHub.com, techie, senior IT Network consultant, web dev, and MTG enthusiast. Likes to play with fire. You can follow André on Twitter.
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