Season 11 Race Schedule: !Richie
Hey, Photo Finishoooors. It's me, Third Time Product Director Richie Choi, back for another pre-season check-in, hoping to provide some thoughts and insight on the season's upcoming race schedule.
As is the Third Time Games motto – progress, not perfection. This sentiment certainly applies to how we attack reassessing and reiterating the Photo Finish race schedule when needed.
We've done that this season, so let's talk about it.
First Things First
The theme is this – we all know PFL and web3 gaming are generally navigating through uncharted waters of game development, where adaptation and iteration are crucial for survival and growth.
The true innovation in web3 gaming is also its Achilles heel. With a real open market powering the games, it means that waiting too long to implement changes can sometimes spiral small problems into being too big to reverse.
One of the most challenging things is handling player feedback. I've never been a part of a team that works so closely and transparently with their community as Third Time. It's refreshing but challenging to prioritize the most critical issues, not just those from the loudest voices.
My approach is to stay plugged in and use analytics and data mixed with this firehose of feedback to react quickly and make changes.
Challenges We Saw Coming
Initially, Photo Finish relied on grade-based allowances for competitive racing. This was even the case before I joined! The team has expressed for quite some time that this was expected to change and that iteration and development of the racing schedule would help alleviate those issues. In my interview, Ian told me this would be one of the big problems he needed me to help solve.
In short – grades have never been an accurate assessment of your horses. If you need further proof, look to this past weekend when an A-grade horse took home first place and $2,800 in a Major Race featuring mostly S-grade horses.
Grades have always been simply a cover sticker. This isn't really news; it's always been the case and communicated to the community.
If you missed this Twitter thread from Third Time Games CEO & Founder Ian Cummings on the history of this topic and the path forward, it's required reading before you go any further.
Anyway, here we are! It's exciting to see the growth of the population and expansion of the “gene pool” – but now, with many horses requiring many different races, change is always challenging. Thankfully, we enjoy a challenge. And if this weren't worth a blog to discuss, we'd have different issues, most notably – nobody racing.
Thankfully, everyone cares. So many people care. All of you care.
TL;DR: Benchmark Analogy
As the horse population in the game grew, it became evident that grades alone could not provide a balanced and competitive racing environment.
Think of our issues at hand like this. An analogy any of us should be able to understand.
Consider the old way – grades and allowances – like cars in a drag race: judging a race merely by the brand – such as BMW vs. Toyota – without considering the actual performance under the hood, would get old, fast.
Nobody wants to watch a 160,000-mile 1999 BMW race a 2024 super-charged muscle car.
As more horses joined the game, we've implemented alongside them a way to look under the hood – Benchmark Races. This will help get horses into more competitive categories, adding racing value to those forgotten horses – even those with 160,000 miles on the odometer – back into the excitement of racing.
The data from our dashboards clearly showed a wide range of performances within each grade and an increasing number of horses and players affected by these limitations.
This situation called for immediate action to prevent long-term issues and ensure a fair and engaging gaming experience for all players.
Take a look below at a few charts we use to track this sort of thing:
As shown in the data, horses have always had a range of performances within a grade, and the number of horses and users experiencing the effects grows with each passing season.
This is why races that group horses based on performance must provide all horses with a competitive field.
As the horse population grows, so does the number of horses needing a place to race in a competitive field.
We've heard your feedback – I can't find a place for my horse to race – and without a competitive field, there would be fewer horses racing, and a vast majority of the horses out there may be shelved.
That then negatively affects the number of horse races, the market value of horses, breeding, and everything else.
The Move to the Benchmark System
If you haven't caught wind of this yet, we're a big fan of using what has worked IRL for centuries as our guiding light.
We can code, develop, and iterate all day, but we should pay attention if something has worked for people long before electricity was invented.
The Benchmark System has long been enormous in places such as Australia, a Mecca for horse racing. Why? Because it's dynamic, it evolves with the horse's performance, allowing for movement between different levels based on recent results.
This fluidity keeps the racing scene vibrant and competitive, as horses compete against different opponents as their form changes. Not only is this great for IRL owners, but with gaming in mind, it's fantastic entertainment.
Our plan is for Benchmark races to replace – at least in part, and until further notice – grade-based races for horses aged 3-8 with Benchmark Allowance and Benchmark Restricted Stakes races, allowing for more accurate matching of horses based on their current capabilities.
We will have Benchmark “Restricted Stakes” races for the first half of season 11, while in the second half, we will have “Benchmark Allowance” Races. We're implementing this test to have players experiment with both racing methods. Once your actions tell a story, we will analyze the data and collect user feedback on which one or both are preferred.
Here is a quick explainer of each type of Benchmark Race:
Benchmark Restricted Stakes
Horses under a specified benchmark rating can compete with no weight adjustments. This system allows for more fair competition as horses with similar performance histories naturally race against each other.
The aim is to provide a competitive field where owners can enter their horses based on their judgment of their past competitiveness.
Benchmark Allowances are an even more specialized race that utilizes weight, aka “allowances,” to try even the competitive field. There is a predefined “band,” typically a 5-point range, in the race.
Horses with a higher rating in the band carry the maximum weight, while lower-rated horses carry less. This is a much closer approximation to the systems used in Australia.
Logic of Crown Allocation
This is a side note to the above, as changing the race schedule impacts CROWN allocation.
We've allocated CROWN (and tiered entry fees) based on the type of races that mirror real life. Graded races provide the most rewards in real life, followed by stakes, allowance, claimers, maidens, etc.
We've also upped the CROWN for claimers and are no longer capping CROWN based on entry fees.
In addition, we've also redistributed entry fee pricing to have clear pricing based on race type; this way, those horses who are higher performers will find themselves able to race for higher stakes and receive higher rewards.
Competitiveness, Not Equality
We've heard your initial feedback and concerns about creating a pseudo-horse racing socialism system where anyone and everyone can win.
We can assure you that this is different from our goal. If everyone wins, nobody wins. Games have clear winners and losers.
Our task is to ensure that most horses have a competitive racing environment. That doesn't mean they will win the race.
Regardless of who is reading this and what your stable looks like, this simple fact shouldn't be debatable, particularly with CROWN track ownership a thing; if a considerable portion of horses have no place to race and never race, we're all losers.
Benchmarks ensure thousands of horses aren't retired or forgotten simply because they're sentenced forever to race against uneven competition.
As we always say, the best horses in the game have yet to be bred, meaning those who have already been bred need a place to live their racing life. And Grade Allowances weren't cutting it.
The Benchmark system is designed to shift the dynamics, creating skill around finding the best ranges for your horse to dominate in just like you did before but now utilizing an accurate metric (Benchmark Rating instead of Grade)!
Communication and Community Engagement
Hopefully, this blog reiterates that we understand the importance of clear communication and community feedback in rolling out these changes.
We understand how important it is to provide answers and show our work.
So, these – likely, Seasonally – Race Schedule Richie check-ins should be thought of as presenting you with the big whiteboard in our office.
Our commitment is to keep our players informed and involved in every step of Photo Finish™ LIVE's evolution.
We encourage players to explore the new race schedule, provide feedback, and join discussions on platforms like Discord and Twitter.