1700 Room Gone; 8/4 Queue Back

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The letter W!e here at Wizards of the Coast are always studying Magic Online and looking for ways to make it better. Given the constraints of our version 3.0 efforts we can't add a lot of new functionality, but one thing we can fiddle around with is the way we run tournaments and award prizes. For example, when the game debuted, all 8-person tournaments (aka "the queues") gave away 8 booster packs for first place and 4 booster packs for second. Not quite a year into the game's existence we ran an experiment by introducing a "casual friendly" queue with a flatter prize payout: 4-3-2-2. At first, only one of these queues existed (the current block booster draft queue). However, it turned out that this queue was so much more popular than the 8-4 queue of the same format that we learned something about what our customers wanted. The majority of you seemed to prefer to have a greater chance to win something instead of a smaller chance to win a lot. We didn't initially intend to switch all the queues over to 4-3-2-2, but the results of this experiment led us to consider doing exactly that.

It was at about this point that the coding work was done and we were ready to introduce the 1700 Room to the game. The idea behind the 1700 Room was to give highly rated players a "frequent flier lounge" where they could hang out, chat, and find games against other highly rated players. Our thought was to reward players for doing well and thus make online ratings more meaningful. In addition, we know Magic is more fun when you play against someone with approximately the same skill level as you, so we wanted to create an environment where the game's best players could find a challenge. In fact, our first thought was to have an 1800 Room, but we quickly discovered that there were not enough 1800+ rated players to give us the "critical mass" we needed to have the draft queues fire regularly.

At the same time we were talking about what precisely to put into the 1700 Room, we were trying to figure out what to do with the recently gathered evidence that most players prefer a flatter prize structure. We looked at who was playing the 8-4 queue versus the 4-3-2-2 queue and saw the expected result that higher rated players preferred the more top-heavy payout, while lower rated players preferred 4-3-2-2. We knew we wanted to make the 1700 Room attractive enough to lure in the so-called "sharks" (in fact, one of our early proposed names for the room was "The Shark Tank"). We also judged that there weren't enough players to maintain three different versions of the most popular draft queue so something had to give. We decided to switch all the regular queues to the more-popular 4-3-2-2 payout and move all the top-heavy payouts into the 1700 Room. We thought this would introduce an obvious distinction between the rooms and we thought a 9-5 payout would be attractive enough that players would separate themselves nicely.

Well, it's been a year and unfortunately the 1700 Room seems to be a failure. No one ever goes there to hang out and chat. (Plenty of hanging out and chatting goes on amongst highly-rated players, but it happens privately.) No one ever goes to the 1700 Room to playtest constructed either ... it has not become the place where you can go and know that you'll get a tough game. (Again, private arrangements are accomplishing this goal.) The one reason that people do go into the 1700 Room is to sign up for the 9-5 booster draft queues, but those have gotten steadily less and less popular. The problem seems to be that they don't fire often enough, which is compounded by the fact that they are several clicks away from the regular draft room. Apparently, most drafters want to draft RIGHT NOW and they weren't willing to wait the 30-45 minutes they had to wait to get a 9-5 draft. Instead, everyone just ran the 4-3-2-2 because drafting for lower prizes is still more fun than waiting in a queue. Over recent months the wait for a 9-5 has gotten longer and longer as more and more highly rated players have stopped even checking in or considering getting into the slow queue. Instead of firing a couple times an hour, the 9-5 queue now fires a couple of times a day.

We would still like to make ratings more meaningful, and we have some ideas about how we might fix this room in theory (or give other perks to players with high ratings). However, Magic Online has more important issues to devote resources to than the 1700 Room. We have entered an era of relative stability which we think should last until 3.0 is ready late next year, but what resources we can spare from that effort to improve version 2.x are better spent elsewhere. In light of all of this, we have decided to put the 1700 Room out of its misery. When the game comes up from it's August 12th downtime, the 1700 Room will no longer exist (and the game will no longer include any 9-5 draft queues).

Because of this change, we are re-introducing an 8-4 draft queue to the regular 8-person draft room.

Starting when we come up on Thursday, there will be two different queues for current block booster draft – one with an 8-4 payout and another with a 4-3-2-2 payout. (We are only adding in one 8-4 queue because we believe that only the most popular queue has enough drafters to support two different queues and have them both fire regularly.) We think this set-up will do a much better job of making a lot more players happy. The highly rated players who prefer to draft with a more top-heavy payout will now have an option that fires often enough that they don't get tired of waiting and jump into a 4-3-2-2 draft. Meanwhile the players who prefer flatter prizes will probably run into fewer highly rated players when they draft. This solution certainly isn't perfect, but we do think it's a lot better than having the only top-heavy queue buried in a 1700 Room that nobody uses.

As always, we'll keep an eye on this issue and modify things again if we think we can make things better.

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