One of the occasional entertainments about World of Tanks are the conspiracy theories. To listen to some Wargaming are engaged in a co-ordinated effort to personally persecute them, are a shadowy front for the KGB, evil communists, and dastardly capitalists. Even if I am over-egging the custard a little, I speak not entirely in jest. Conspiracy theories and game companies are nothing new – after all I cut my teeth in online gaming in EVE Online and if there is one company that is effective and breeding conspiracy theories it is CCP. However cynical I am, and I think an all-embracing study of history has perhaps left me more cynical than most, I also retain a certain scepticism. When a company does something to make money, for example, it is not some sinister scheme – it is a company doing what it is supposed to. Perhaps the company is doing it in a stupid and ham-fisted way that will alienate its customer-case, but one has to be very brave to attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence/arrogance/stupidity/ego (list of common human failings incomplete, delete or amend as appropriate).
One area of World of Tanks that is a fertile breeding ground for conspiracies is the matchmaker. The matchmaker is a very poorly understood feature of World of Tanks. I say very poorly understood because it is not uncommon to see players with several hundred battles’ worth of experience (or with nearly 1500 battles’ experience has happened just this evening) asking why their T-50 is in a Tier IX match. Ever since I have started playing the game I have heard people claim that the matchmaker is rigged, usually against them, often to inflict poor teams on them.
A second area of the game is the random number generate, which effects such things as where in the aiming circle you shot actually lands, its damage, and its penetration. Likewise one sometimes finds the accusation that there must be some sort of hidden modifier which is acting against them when it comes to the random number generator.
Now, sometimes one does have a run of poor teams, or of poor luck when it comes to the RNG. I know that as much as anyone. While these things are random, they also naturally clump together. That is one reason why one gets losing streaks, when it can seem like the game is conspiring against you, even if in reality it is just randomness.
Generally I have found these accusations come from one of two type of people. The first is someone with a win rate of around 50%, perhaps lower, claiming that they would have a higher win rate but for the horrible nature of the teams they are constantly put in. The problem is that their other stats are also quite poor. In those cases one just has to assume the complainer is doing a perfectly ordinary human reaction – blaming someone else. The second sort of person usually as a high win rate - in the high 50s or higher. The thing is with these players, who are among the top elite of the game, is that most random teams are going to appear poor to them. Their stats generally mean they are better than 90%+ of the rest of the player base. The chances that they are going to be lumped into teams that are less able quite often is just simple maths. The fact that their win rates generally remain high means that despite their complaints they are still doing well. For them I generally believe the problem is one of perception - which can also effect players used to Clan/Company battles in good quality teams. Random teams are random, and so it can seem you are always being landed in a bad one compared to one’s own ability or what one is used to – and you are. That does not mean, however, that the matchmaker is rigged. It just reflects their superior playing abilities/better playing abilities of their clan/company-mates.
It is vitally important not to under-estimate the power of perception. Taking myself as an example, a short while ago I did a post about what I thought was a month-long losing streak. However, when I counted up all the battles I discovered actually my win rate was just above 50% – so what I thought was a losing streak was, in fact, nothing of the sort. Yes I had won fewer battles than I would have the previous month, to the tune of perhaps 12-14 battles out of a total of just under 250. Those 12-14 battles made the entire month seem like a lost cause – until I investigated. Perception is powerful.
When we see some news that matches are perceptions we also tend to treat it rather less rigorously than we ought. This is one reason why people lean left-of-centre generally are disposed to believe what they read in newspapers such as The Guardian and Independent, or people who lean the other way are more likely to have their opinion shaped by The Times or Daily Telegraph. Sometimes otherwise very clever and serious people have been made to look fools by not thoroughly checking something that came their way, because it fit in with their perceptions. Probably the most famous case of this in recent years were the forged Killian Documents that more or less ended Dan Rather’s career. I do not claim I am immune to this very human characteristic, just that I am aware of it.
All this rather elaborate is the prologue to the latest fuss in World of Tanks, a patent filing reported here. Other blogs have commented on it, including For the Record and To Game For Life. The patent describes a matchmaking system where by players with a high win rate get unfavourable situations, and players with a low win rate more favourable situations, with the idea to try and nudge people to have similar win rates, and some people are using this has proof that this system is in game.
Silenstalker and Mrrx are generally sceptical that such a matchmaking system is in the game. So am I. There a few reasons. Firstly the mrrx does a very useful bit of chronology on the patent and the World of Tanks game, and to put it mildly, the dates do not add up. Secondly, as was expressed in the comment thread in For the Record and also by mrrx, the argument that because Wargaming filed the patent they must be using this system is just not credible. Companies file all sorts of patents, about all sorts of things, many of which never get properly developed. This has more to do with the nature of modern patent / intellectual property law than anything else. You file patents to protect any future developments you might wish to make, even if you are unlikely to do so, because if you do not someone else might do so and then you would have to license the idea, or the application of the idea. In other words broad patents, or multiple patents, are a defensive strategy in today’s corporate world.
Another element of the “proof” is that the average EU win rate is below 50%. Only, because of how the game works of course it is. To begin with win rate, over the entire server, is not quite a zero-sum game. This is because of draws. Without draws the mean average across the server could not be anything other than 50%. With draws cutting into the win rate it drops down a percentage point or two. The median average is perhaps a point or two lower again – why might that be? It is not hard to think of obvious reasons, such as new players generally have lower win rates than more experienced players, and there is constant influx of new players creating a slight downward pressure on the median average. More casual players who simply play less, and therefore are less experienced would exert as similar downward pressure. Less salubrious elements of the community like botters and afkers would all do the same. Given plenty of reasons for the median to be a bit lower than the mean I cannot see a reason for this conspiracy.
Now, the question I would want to ask Wargaming is the same one that mrrx asks – will some sort of system like this be used in the future? Personally I doubt it, as it would be a stupid thing to do and would alienate its customer base, but it would be good to hear something from Wargaming about this at some point. Otherwise though it is amusing to see certain folks get their knickers in a twist. Right now however this post has gone on long enough, and I actually want to try and get some more matches in tonight, so I will finish up with the thought none of this actually matters – most folks do not read the forums, let alone gaming blogs – and will continue to play on oblivious to the whole fuss (and also ignorant of basic matchmaking rules, alas).