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Ladder Score

A ladder scoring system for online/mobile games
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Scoring systems are an important component to online games, introducing a competitive element that keeps gamers coming back. Current scoring systems have some problems, however. For example, high-score lists tend to favor cheaters and those who attain freak high scores over those with consistent skill. These lists also become stale and discourage new players. "Frenemy" systems help with this problem, but there is very little permanence in this system and no deep sense of unseating a challenger.

Borrowing from sports, I think a modified ladder system would work well for computer games. Players move up in the ladder heirarchy by challenging someone in the next tier. When a challenge is issued, each player would play and their scores would be compared. If the challenger wins, the challenger and the defender switch tiers. This keeps the game fresh and helps compare skill instead of just scores. Because the system is so dynamic, players will want to return to either defend their title, or because they think that have a real chance of getting high in the rankings.

Here's how it would work:

1) The ladder would be composed of an infinite number of tiers. The top 10 tiers would only have 1 slot each, the remaining 20 tiers with have a 2^N exponentially increasing number of slots each. Eg: tier 11 would have 2 slots, tier 12 would have 4 slots, tier 13 would have 8 slots, etc.

2) As players enter the tier system, they automatically take the first available empty slot. The first player to every play would take the top tier when they start, and the millionth player to join would start at tier 29. Initially, the tops tiers would be very imbalanced, but competition would quickly remedy this. With a few hundred active players, it would take just a few days to bubble stronger players to the top.

3) A player can play normally with no effect on the tier system, or they can challenge a person on the next tier. At this point, they play the game and the score is recorded. The person on the next tier has a time limit to respond - maybe 24 hours. If they don't respond, they forfeit. If they do respond, they play the game, and their score is recorded. The person with the highest score is the winner. If the challenger wins, they exchange tiers with the person they challenged.

Advantages of this system:

- Constant, balanced competition

- A balanced incentive to keep playing

- emphasis on skill over score

- Always opportunities to unseat and have the good feeling of moving up.

- simple to implement

nebosite, Mar 13 2013


       //The ladder would be composed of an infinite number of tiers. The top 10 tiers would..., the remaining 20 tiers ...// Your definition of "infinite" makes me feel really, really old. But it's a relief that it wouldn't take quite so long to start at the bottom and work up.
lurch, Mar 13 2013

       It's not so much a ladder as a pyramid - with a stepladder at the top.   

       How does this stop cheaters? Wouldn't they just "bubble up" with their fake scores?   

       Assuming that all players are active - probably approximately true for all but the bottom tier - for each tier below the ladder, players will have to defend their standing in twice as many games as they get advancement challenges.
And what happens if they want to challenge to progress but have already been challenged? Either they're barred from progressing until they've fended off the challenge, or they may be in the situation of winning the promotion but failing the relegation match. Similarly for the converse situation.

       I think there are options to account for that. One would be to combine the challenge games into one match. This would mean that there would be a chance of both promotion and relegation in each match.
Loris, Mar 13 2013

       The “top 10 then lot of doubling rungs below” scheme gets my +, but I think it would be better if challenges weren’t person-to-person, but automatic.   

       Here’s a scheme: Keep the original ideas feature 1 and 2; At fixed periods – say every 24, 48 or 168 hours – each player may play 0 or 1 recorded game. Playing no scoring game during a period records a score of 0, assuring the player will drop 1 rung, unless already at the bottom one(s – if over half the players are inactive, there may be many rungs with few >0 recorded scores). The highest scores for a rung are compared to the lowest scores for the next rung up, and high scoring lower rung players swapped with low scoring upper rung one.   

       This scheme would assure there’d be no pressure on a competitive players other than the knowledge that they’ll surely drop 1 rung if they fail to record a score each period, and a fun sense of accomplishment for newly joined skillful players as they climb a rung nearly or every period ‘til reaching rungs filled with similar skilled players, then the challenge to improve to climb higher. It’d also avoid higher rung players having so much time occupied responding to p2p challenges from below they have none left to challenge upward – 1 recorded play each period serves to defend or advance your place on the ladder.   

       As Loris notes, you’d still need measures to prevent cheating – client hacking, play bots, etc – but that’s true with any competitive online game.
CraigD, Mar 13 2013

       //if over half the players are inactive, there may be many rungs with few >0 recorded scores//   

       I think this would be pretty annoying, and it must get increasingly likely as time goes on.
If I were doing it, I'd inactivate players in the bottom tier once they'd been unresponsive for a certain amount of time. This would save a bit of processing, but also mean that players could take a break and get back into interesting games more quickly.

       I'm also wondering whether doubling is the best rate of tier size increase. For a certain length it might be great, but then the number of players in a tier starts to get so large that you lose the ranking benefit. The penultimate rung will presumably have over a quarter of the players, essentially unranked vs each other. The bottom rung can hold up to half the players. Not very exciting for the poorer-than-average players, who never leave this rung, and won't get any feedback on developing skill.
A linear increase of tier size would mean that players would know more accurately where they stood. Although it does mean that advancement of the best players would be slower, perhaps that's not such a bad thing.

       Alternatively, how about a ranking table within each tier? One could then promote and relegate a proportion of each tier (1/4 promoted, 1/2 relegated is most dynamic, but I suggest 1/8 promoted, 1/4 relegated might be preferrable). This has a few advantages. Most importantly, it's clear what to do - you don't get the situation where a player should go both up and down at the same time. Obviously, tiers 1..10, 11 and 12 (with 1, 2 and 4 players) would need special-casing. Fortunately, these few rungs represent the most tractable part of the problem.
Loris, Mar 14 2013


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