Author Topic: An Interview with Board Game Arena  (Read 765 times)

Offline Decar

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An Interview with Board Game Arena
« on: February 01, 2022, 02:27:02 AM »
I doubt that many of you need an introduction to the online board game system Board Game Area (or BGA).
The site was founded in mid-2010 (in French only), and has now grown to host over 430 different games, support 45 languages; and the almost 7.6 million users play over 100 thousand games each day.

Here on Carcassonne Central, most of us come across Board Game Arena when looking for a popular implementation of Carcassonne.
I reached out to their team with some questions I thought we’d all like to know the answers to.

I was extremely happy and surprised to have a response in a matter of days (hours really) from Ian Parovel who is the Art Director (UI/UX & P.R) at BGA.
He had also shared the questions with Grégory Isabelli the CEO and founder of Board Game Arena.

Below are some extracts from my exchange, I hope you enjoy them:

------------------

Initially, I wanted to find out more about what it means to support Carcassonne on the platform; what sort of development effort does it take, and what considerations do Board Game Area have to consider to keep Carcassonne operational.

What are your other top performing games, and how do they compare?
 
Ian: For now Carcassonne is still in the top 3 and has been for years.
But as we add new games, the top 10 list is ever changing. 7 Wonders is still doing very well. Azul and Splendor, while released recently, are doing very well and have a good audience, and 6 Nimmt has always been a favorite of our users.
Unfortunately we cannot share the exact numbers, due to publisher-side non-disclosure agreements.

When you started BGA, which games did you prioritize?

Greg and Ian : We are gamers, so we prioritized the games we liked :)
However, to add a game on BGA, we need to get the proper authorization from its publisher, and this was not easy since we knew nobody in the game industry.
Fortunately, some extraordinary publishers gave us the chance to work on excellent games despite being a niche website.

How long Carcassonne has been on BGA and how long did the implementation take?

Greg : Carcassonne has been online on BGA since 2016.
It is difficult to say how long the implementation took because we worked on it several times, improving it and adding some expansions.
Usually developing a game on BGA is a 2 months job so I would say 2 months in total.
 
Have you ever had to resolve some weird bugs?

Ian : BGA is based on the most popular platform there is : web browsers.
Unfortunately, we have to keep things updated at all times, and weird bugs happen pretty often.
Fortunately, our bug tracker can help us keep a look at them 100% of the time, and most of the issues are identified and cleared in less than 24h.
Once we release a game, we make sure it would be bug-proof for a long period of time, but sometimes it happens that a feature needs some more work.
That's also why we release them, in most cases, in Alpha first, then in Beta for a group of qualified game testers, then to Gold.

With the rise in mobile phones supporting web-browser standards, it has meant that players can seamlessly switch between desktop and mobile during a game.
Carcassonne works very well on mobile browsers, but be careful placing your meeples!


Greg : For Carcassonne specifically, the most difficult bugs concerned the fields, since fields may be quite big and their limit should be very accurate.
If you mess up with a single tile, you can split a field in two or extend it while it should not.

Interestingly for those that don’t know, Board Game Arena’s implementation of Carcassonne supports the current (3rd) edition farmer scoring and a first edition style that scores 3-points per city (first edition scored 4-points); as well as the first-edition 2-points for a small city.  This must make the calculations for fields and majorities even more complex.
 
Is Carcassonne computationally expensive compared to other games, in terms of CPU or storage?

Greg : Board games in general are not CPU intensive because they are intended to be played by humans.
Once loaded, the games mostly require bandwidth to link exchanges and movements between players. But that's mostly it.

Ian : The game itself is not bigger or smaller than others.
The main resource it consumes is storage for replays.
And there's Terabytes of them. (popularity is a critical game-changer here)

I suspect server capacity is always an issue for you, especially when the pandemic first started. What approaches or technologies do you use to maintain good service?

Greg : We are using pretty common technologies for the web, using server redundancy to increase reliability and scalability.
Our approach over the years has been to learn from our mistakes: if it happens that the service crashes, we put in all our effort to make sure it does not crash twice for the same reason.
Whatever the projects we have in progress, stability is our main priority.

Ian : The pandemic was a surprise for us, and we managed to handle the traffic in a few days.
This case never happened before and now we're prepared to face pretty much any event.
We do a lot of daily checks, but like any service, things could happen.

Next, I wanted to find out a little bit more about the types of Carcassonne tournaments that are played on Board Game Area. So I asked DanisThirty for some more information about some of the tournament's he's played in. Here are a few:

WTCOC 2020
As far as I'm aware, this was the first time an online teams competition had been run for Carcassonne so it was new territory for everyone.
Of the 21 teams that took part, Japan beat Russia in the final with Germany and Romania making up the top 4.

MSO 2020
When COVID-19 prevented a physical UK Games Expo from taking place as usual, the UKGE went online and allowed a number of national board game championships (including Carcassonne) to be combined with MSO's annual board game championships that were being held online using BGA.
As a result, the 2020 UK Carcassonne Championships were contested by a field of over 100 players from all over the world, and were won by a Portuguese player who declined the opportunity to represent the UK at the next world championships after finishing 2nd in the Portuguese national championship the following year.
The place was offered to the Romanian runner-up instead, who joined his brother (the former world champion) and three other players from Romania at the 2021 world championships.

ETCOC 2020
Following on from the success of the World Team Championships, the European Team Championships attracted 14 teams from across the continent.
The UK got as far as the semi-final before losing to Germany who went on to beat Russia in the final.

WTCOC 2021
The World and European team events of 2020 were a huge highlight for many Carcassonne players in the absence of an official world championship, so it was no surprise to see a record number of teams in the 2021 World Team Championships.
Of the 29 teams that took part, Japan retained their title from the previous year; thus ensuring a third set of silver medals for the Russian team.

MSO 2021
The MSO held their annual "Pentamind" competition online again using BGA, but this time as an independent event without being affiliated with the UKGE which has been held earlier in the year as a physical event with in-person national championships.
The MSO's Carcassonne championship was won by Alexey Pegushev of Latvia and UK.

ETCOC 2021
22 teams from Europe competed against each other in another thrilling teams competition that saw the Russians finally claim their first online teams title.

As well as these events, there are weekly knockout and "single-elimination" events organized by our forum member Leven.
There are also Swiss-style tournaments that all players are welcome to join.
Dozens of other events are created each week using a variety of formats.

BGA has become the preferred platform for tournament play, seeing the Japanese, UK, and Spanish national teams selected using your platform.
Do you know how many tournaments are run?


Ian : Plenty. It is difficult to give a significant number because you have really small tournaments with only few players and large tournaments with many players.
From the famous ones hosted by Mind Sports Olympiad, Youtubers, officials... with close to 300 000 tables created monthly, that's something that's for sure, pretty famous.

How many games are part of tournaments?

Greg : We might be close to 10% of overall games that are tournaments.
From small 4 players tournaments to thousands of players, that's something a bit complicated to calculate exactly.

Are there additional features that you plan to implement to help tournament play, such as a turn-timer, like chess-clocks?

Ian : It's already in ;) And not only for tournaments: for all games on BGA you have a timer to make sure your opponents play on time, depending on the settings you've chosen.
From realtime to turn-based types, there are options to suit your available time to play  ;)
 
To wrap up, I wanted to find out a little bit more about the types of games that are played on the platform and the sheer scale of Carcassonne games played.

Would you be able to answer the following statistical questions:
How many games of Carcassonne have been played on the platform?


Greg : Around 5.2 Millions and counting.
I wonder how games have been played with the real box since the initial release?

Ian : Probably more than you think, as it's my favorite game.

Greg : So maybe millions too :)

(The previous edition stated that 12 million copies have been sold. So I hope at least half of them got played  ;) )

What has been the most number of Carcassonne games in a day?

Greg : Around 14000.

What has been the most number of concurrent Carcassonne games being played at once?

Ian : That's close to impossible to say, as the number is changing every second.
But as we speak, 27th January 2022, 3:14PM we have more than 4500 games in progress, realtime or turn based.

(And at 31st January 2022, 10PM there are 5500!)

How does the spin-off Hunters and Gatherers compare in terms of active players and games played?

Greg : Pretty good actually compared to most games on BGA, but obviously way less than the base game.

(And at 31st January 2022, 10PM there are about 330 active games)
 
Looking across all the games of Carcassonne played, what is the most popular player count?

Greg : The real deal seems to be 2 players. But playing digitally is way different than what you're looking for IRL. Two players is the favorite setting players are looking for. By far.
 
Is it possible to see the number of active games, or players, on a monthly basis, since the game was implemented?

Ian : Unfortunately, it's not our role to share such information, as they're all up to board game publishers' will.

What is the highest score achieved in a Carcassonne game?

Ian : That's also something we cannot extract with valuable information to answer your question, and it would require a lot of work.
Should we take into account games where users are only testing the game?
And what about games played between friends just to try to exploit the game scoring system?
Not all games are played in a way we can extract this information with certainty.
But you can have a look at the biggest tournament games results on Board Game Arena to have an idea of how high some users can get ;)
Are you able to compare top-ranked players' ability to score points against lower ranked players?

Greg : As Ian said, that would be possible, but will require a lot of analysis work on our side to extract this exact information. But I'm quite intrigued, too.

I decided to wrap up with some questions about where they saw the future of digital gaming.

Where do you see the future of Carcassonne on the BGA platform?

Greg : We like this game particularly, and would like to see as many expansions as possible on BGA.
This game is particularly good on large screens, and BGA allows you to take advantage of this, so we know that players are particularly attached to this online adaptation, and we want to satisfy them :)
 
I think the advantages of digital board gaming are well known, but I would like to ask you which you think are the most important aspects?

Greg and Ian : Our approach at BGA is to consider that we are only making adaptations of (great) board games, and not some kind of video games.
Our goal is to provide an experience as close as possible to the real games.
Thus, our main focus is to provide you with real, human opponents, anytime.
So I would say that the major advantage is this one: being able to play any board game, any time.
 
Also do you see any unexpected trends that occur due to digital implementations? As an example, I think I've seen some strategic games have effectively been 'solved' because a large number of good players are able to quickly and concurrently test their tactics.  Do you think this has, or will ever happen, to Carcassonne?

Greg : This may happen for some really simple games, but for the vast majority of games this does not happen, and certainly not for Carcassonne.

Ian : It all depends on game richness and complexity.
Solved games are mostly the ones giving "fixed information".
But will it be possible to "solve" a game with some randomized components? I don't know.
But there's plenty of useful information for publishers and game designers to learn from them.

-------------------

I found the answers to these questions very interesting.  I think what comes across is how important physical gaming is to Ian and Greg, as well as their huge enthusiasm.  I really appreciate that they could take the time to answer these questions and give us a little insight in how everything works over on Board Game Arena.  I'm sure you would like to extend that thanks too.  Perhaps having read this you have some other questions you would like to ask them?  Please let me know!

If you're interested in opening an account on Board Game Arena, you can go to https://en.boardgamearena.com/ and Register.
To join games and start playing Carcassonne that is all you need to do.  If you wish to host games, you have to be a premium member. Currently premium membership is $24 a year, which I think is extremely reasonable considering I paid 25€ for a copy of Carcassonne v3 last week, and this gives me access to the library of over 430 games and I can start as many as I like.
Board Game Arena does offer a referral scheme, so if you are creating an account, I'd appreciate the tiny bit of support: Decar's registration referral link, but feel free to ignore this  :D

I hope you enjoyed reading about Board Game Arena, I hope to see you other there.

Linkback: https://www.carcassonnecentral.com/community/index.php?topic=5723.0

Online Willem

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Re: An Interview with Board Game Arena
« Reply #1 on: February 01, 2022, 03:46:08 AM »
Great interview, it's always nice to get a small idea from behind the scenes from places like BGA.
I was pushed to BGA by some people on the forum not too long ago, as it is indeed a great platform for playing online boardgames, and we have done several games nights almost exclusively on there, and i now basically always have some turn-based games going.

As there are many many games i don't know, this platform allows for easy learning and playing of the games. The games are almost playing themselves sometimes :P
Join me on the journey through the history and oddities of Carcassonne, on My Instagram

Offline DIN0

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Re: An Interview with Board Game Arena
« Reply #2 on: February 01, 2022, 04:09:13 AM »
Very informative, thank you!

Offline danisthirty

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Re: An Interview with Board Game Arena
« Reply #3 on: February 01, 2022, 04:16:24 AM »
Thanks Decar, that's really interesting. To echo what Willem said above, it's always nice to see what's going on behind the scenes with a website as hugely popular as BGA!

+1 merit from me :(y)

Offline Meepledrone

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Re: An Interview with Board Game Arena
« Reply #4 on: February 01, 2022, 05:21:14 AM »
Very very interesting! :)

+1 merit from me.
« Last Edit: February 01, 2022, 11:34:52 AM by Meepledrone »
Questions about rules? Check WICA: wikicarpedia.com

Offline Challa007

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Re: An Interview with Board Game Arena
« Reply #5 on: February 01, 2022, 10:42:50 AM »
Thank you, very interesting.  :)

So is BGA like Steam?

Offline Decar

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Re: An Interview with Board Game Arena
« Reply #6 on: February 01, 2022, 10:48:41 AM »
Hi Challa, it's even better because you don't have to download that horrible client that's just a 2000s web browser. Also you don't have to download and save all the games, they all run in the web browser and all of the game history is stored, so you can watch replays. And I won't even mention the steam sales!

Offline leemc13

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Re: An Interview with Board Game Arena
« Reply #7 on: February 03, 2022, 07:18:49 AM »
Thanks for that insightful interview. I really enjoy playing games on BGA, especially asynchronously with friends scattered around the globe. It's a great site for hobby gaming, and I'm always impressed by its professionalism in faithfully creating digital implementations of games.

Offline danisthirty

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Re: An Interview with Board Game Arena
« Reply #8 on: February 03, 2022, 08:05:09 AM »
Thanks for that insightful interview. I really enjoy playing games on BGA, especially asynchronously with friends scattered around the globe. It's a great site for hobby gaming, and I'm always impressed by its professionalism in faithfully creating digital implementations of games.

Well said! (and welcome to the site :) :(y))

Online gaming has been a genuine highlight of the last few years for me, when there hasn't been much else to do. Playing online with various groups and learning a few new games along the way has been very rewarding (and expensive when I then decide that I need to own physical copies of all these new games I keep discovering)


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