MTGO Needs Replays

00:00 Thu 08 Aug 2002. Updated: 16:00 08 Jul 2013
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First of all, this is not a criticism of Leaping Lizards. The features I discuss below are certainly important, but they’re more important in terms of the overall health of MTG than to the narrower concern of making MTGO work (which is what LL, presumably, are responsible for). If the features don’t appear, it is a failing on the part of WotC much more than LL, and while I hope that the LL team will see the benefits and include them, I suspect that pressure needs to be brought to bear on WotC to pay for what I suggest.

My concern is with replays. Specifically, the ability (currently lacking) to share replays. Sharing replays would immeasurably increase our understanding of the game, a goal which hopefully needs no explanation.

Currently, describing games of MTG is laborious and clumsy. Match reports give overviews and then some detail on what the reporters see as critical points, but they are sketches at best. It’s difficult to accurately report on every event in a game. That’s a major obstacle in our attempts to understand the game better. It should be evident that being able to study games in depth is critical to increased comprehension of how to play well, and that detailed accounts of past games are critical to said deep study.

MTG Online offers us a chance to get past that. Everything that happens in the game is noted by the program itself. And we each have the ability to study our own games. However, the feature as it stands now is completely inadequate, for one main reason: we cannot share our replays with other players. We can’t send them to other players with notes about specific turns and what they think we should have done. We can’t examine other players’ games to see how we should improve our play.

A clear demonstration of how this constraint imposes a low ceiling on dialog about the game is found in Andrew Johnson’s Concepts of Magic: Case Study article. No criticism of Andrew is intended, but the format is awkward, and it’s not easy to follow what’s going on in detail. We get the basic gist of the games, but that’s not really enough for the kind of analysis that Andrew is attempting. Obviously, the fact the that games were played in MTGO help a lot, because he is able to replay them, take notes, take screenshots etc., but it’s still a convoluted process.

How much easier would it be if he could just point to a link and tell the readers to grab that file, open it in MTGO, and then refer to specific turns or events?

How much better would our understanding of the game be if we could all do that, and also see the games that the top players play? A lot better. The leap would be comparable to the leap in deck construction made by the ability to share decks on the Net… although without the issue of people simply copying outright.

The point of all this is that WotC should make the ability to share replays a priority for MTGO. I say this knowing what the other issues (Judgment, bugs, the “13 states”, etc.) are, but I still think that in the long run, for MTG as a whole (rather than just MTGO), the replay-sharing is more important. MTGO needs to provide two main things (the others are just frosting) in order to take advantage of this opportunity to increase understanding of the game immeasurably:

  1. Replay sharing. Ideally, this should be in the form of downloadable files that players can share, but if game identification numbers that have to be referenced in the game is the only way it can be done, well, that’s not a huge loss.

    LL apparently want to implement this feature at some point, and the following are links to the relevant entries in Bugzilla:



  2. This one isn’t a simple bug, and I doubt that there’s any way this could happen without serious pressure (and money) from WotC: the ability to use the MTGO client as a game notation program for offline matches. That might not sound too exciting, but it would completely revolutionize match coverage, and again reap rewards in terms of being able to analyze high-level play. Essentially, what’s needed is a graphical client that match reporters could use during Top Eight and Featured matches. This eliminates the need for either clumsy notation or extremely high detail when recording the match, and the need to wade through that when reading about it. Instead of that, just download a file from (for example) the SideBoard’s coverage, then play it in MTGO, and that’s it, see the match in full. Really, this would be an amazing, amazing feature.

    This Buzilla entry indicates that the backend ability to script games is already present in the system, as that’s how the tutorial games were created. That functionality is restricted to administrators, and sounds as if the process of creating a game involves scripting. So what would be needed is a simple, drag-and-drop frontend for match reporting. I don’t think that’s an easy thing to just whip together, and I strongly urge WotC to do whatever is necessary to get it into MTGO. The infrastructure is already there, it just needs that last piece. (And as a real pipe-dream thought, how about hooking it up to voice-recognition functionality and being able to notate live games by speaking? It’s not beyond the bounds of possiblity…)

  3. Moving backwards and moving to specific points in replays. This would just make everything a lot easier. If you’re trying to analyze a specific situation, it really helps to be able to go back and forth over it, and to be able to step directly to specific point. This Bugzilla entry, and this one, suggest that rewind would be very difficult to implement, which makes the ability to go to a specific point even more important (because people are likely to fast forward to something, and then miss it, and then be unable to rewind). I’m hoping that the MTGO replay code already tags events in some way, in which case it should be relatively simple to tell the program to keep fast-forwarding until a specific event occurs. If not, that’s something that they should really think about putting in…
  4. Adding notes to games. Commentary, especially commentary that could be tied to specific events, would be an excellent addition. The Bugzilla comments referenced in point 2 suggest that this is possible on the backend already, but ideally the system would allow anyone to modify a replay file and add commentary.

    Some people have suggested audio commentary, but I don’t think there’s a need to tie that into the client itself; it seems rather easy to synch up an audio player and start a recorded track of commentary at the same time as the replay.

  5. Viewing and creating replays offline. This comment from LL indicates that playing replays offline won’t be possible, which is a shame; it’d be great to analyze games on a laptop on your way somewhere. However, that’s a pretty minor need, and the need to be able to record replays (i.e. create replays from live games as per point 2) while offline is much greater. Some Premier Events occasionally have Net access problems, and it would be bad to miss recording a final because of line noise…
  6. Playing from the middle of replays. Now, this is something that I can’t see happening, since it seems really difficult to do, even without considering card-ownership issues. I list it here purely because it would be nice to take situations in games and play on from them to see what approaches might work better.

So those are the things MTGO needs. The first two are critical, the others are bonuses. Sharing replays is absolutely crucial to the evolution of the game, and being able to turn offline games into replays per point two would make that even more useful. For comparison, consider chess and Quake, both games that have benefitted hugely from players being able to examine matches in full detail. Bringing that to MTG would be tremendous for the game. How about it, WotC?

Tadhg (Erisian on MTGO)

(Another version of this article appeared on Star City Games, with alterations by that site’s editor.)

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