Thursday, January 22, 2009

Did the bugged Arena Matching System include ilevel?

The aftermath of 3.0.8 continues to be felt as both Lake Wintergrasp and the Arenas were closed down soon after the patch went live. I was lucky enough to get a few games of Lake Wintergrasp in on Tuesday, but didn't have time to delve into any arena games. Apparently the entire rating system had become broken with matches resulting in weird and excessive rating changes. Sometimes a team's rating was changing by more then 50 points per match. The source of the problem was a new matching system that was snuck into the patch. Testing the arena point system is almost impossible on the PTR and apparently the issue snuck by internal testers. Hopefully, this isn't a sign that Blizzard had to lay off some of their QA staff like Warhammer.

Most of the items that were include in the patch were supposed to be bug fixes for items and classes. It doesn't really make sense to also include an update to the arena matching system. The previous system worked quite well at matching teams against one another based on their respective ratings. The addition of personal ratings prevented people from smurfing or buying spots on higher ranked teams. However, I've mentioned before that "ringers" or well equipped people joining lower ranked teams would still be a problem. This is because the matching system never looked at item ilevel when determining match-ups and thus ringers would pop up as players maxed out on current PvP gear.

I suspected that the new matching system might have used some sort of new value connected to a team's item ilevel. A similar system was introduced to battlegrounds a couple years ago, but had to be taken out because it caused queue times to become too long. Arena games are a different animal altogether and players most likely wouldn't experience the same increase in queue times. However, it looks like whatever change Blizzard made to the system adversely affected the rating changes. This is just conjecture, but I believe this new hidden value for match-ups was causing point changes to team ratings to be applied twice.

We'll know for sure when Blizzard reactivates the arena system though who knows if they will move forward with the new matching system or continue to use the old one. I personally dislike the practice of ringers and find a rating system that uses a combination of ilevel and current team rating the best for match-ups. However, I dislike that Blizzard felt the need to sneak this into a patch. I guess we all know how sensitive the issue of arena epics are to some players and Blizzard obviously wanted to avoid player outrage.

If the change in the matching system did add some sort of ilevel value to the formula then it would mean that lesser geared players could more easily increase their rank. Blizzard might have decided to not mention the change in hopes of avoiding trolls from bringing up the "welfare epics" issue. Then again this could have been a small change to the arena matching system formula which was mishandled. Though it does seems unusual for a small change to an old system to cause that many problems. Blizzard usually experiences unintended consequences on new content.


Gharr said...

As someone who works in QA, but not in the gaming industry. Stuff gets slipped in at the last minute all the time. Depending on what tools they have available, there are just some situations that can't be tested within time constraints.

I hope Blizzard didn't lay off any QA. QA is often the first to be blamed around these situations, when they aren't always given enough time, or even informed of the change being in place.

Or QA is called into a dev meeting, tells the project manager that it'll take 4 weeks to test something and the project manager goes, you've got 1 week till release - it's a requirement handed down from management. And if QA doesn't have the pull or power it should, stuff will get left out.

There's also a big difference between Quality Assurance and Testers, but that's a different argument for a different day.