Research shows precisely which strategies help players win team-oriented video games

Aug 14, 2013 by Matt Shipman
Research shows precisely which strategies help players win team-oriented video games
Image from Defense of the Ancients 2.

(Phys.org) —Computer science researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a technique to determine which strategies give players an edge at winning in multi-player (action) real-time strategy (ARTS) games, such as Defense of the Ancients (DotA), Warcraft III and Starcraft II. The technique offers extremely precise information about how a player's actions affect a team's chances of winning, and could be used to develop technology for use by players and developers to improve gameplay experiences.

Researchers used the technique, which makes use of various , to evaluate logs of player actions from thousands of ARTS games. They then used that information to develop a set of rules governing team gameplay strategies, in order to identify which approaches give teams the best chance of winning.

"Our goal is to use these data to develop tools that could train to play more successfully," says Dr. David L. Roberts, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State and co-author of two papers on the research. "These tools could be incorporated into games by developers, or could be developed into stand-alone training modules.

"The tools could also be used by to help them understand whether the game mechanics they are putting in their games are having the desired effect, and to fine-tune their games accordingly."

The researchers evaluated the attributes of individual team characters – such as a hero's strength in DotA – and the aggregate attributes of each team – such as the combined total strength of a team of heroes in DotA. These attributes change over the course of a game, and the researchers also looked at how and when these attributes changed for each team.

In looking at the aggregate attributes, the researchers found that the timing of attribute improvement is linked to the likelihood of team success – sometimes in unintuitive ways.

For example, in DotA, each character has "damage points," indicating how much damage the character can deal out before "dying." If Team A has amassed 59.7 more damage points than Team B by the second quarter of the game, Team A has a more than 80 percent chance of winning. However, if Team A has 54 more damage points than Team B, Team A has a less than 10 percent chance of winning – but only if Team B hasn't gotten too strong, smart or rich.

Why? Because players in DotA amass "gold" and "experience" during the game, and spend it to improve their damage and other attributes. And while amassing a huge advantage in a single attribute, like damage, can help a team win, it is usually more important to find a balanced approach.

"And finding that balance is incredibly complex, which is what makes gaming so fascinating," Roberts says.

The researchers also found that the importance of an individual character's attributes varies widely, depending on the makeup of each multi-player team.

In Starcraft II, for example, players can play as any of several alien races, each of which has its own characteristics. If a team is made up of Terrans (humans) and the Zerg (alien arthropods), its odds of winning are more than 70 percent if the Zerg population has a high growth rate and the Terran population has a low one. But the Zerg population growth rate can be unimportant in other team combinations.

"We're currently working to use these findings to develop visualization tools that let know how they are doing in real-time, relative to the strategies we know are predictive of success," Roberts says.

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More information: The research papers are being presented at two conferences. The paper on individual character attributes, "Knowledge Discovery for Characterizing Team Success or Failure in (A)RTS Games," will be presented Aug. 13 at the IEEE 2013 Conference on Computational Intelligence in Games, which was held in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The paper on aggregated data, "Extracting Human-readable Knowledge Rules in Complex Time-evolving Environments," was presented at the 2013 International Conference on Information and Knowledge Engineering, held July 22-25 in Las Vegas, Nev. Lead author of both papers is Pu Yang, a Ph.D. student at NC State.

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Herroprs
not rated yet Aug 14, 2013
Did you know that by accumulating more Gold/XP/Better items you increase your chance of winning? True story, I actually had no idea that having a high population growth rate can help you in starcraft until now.

What I'm getting down to is that this article has nothing to do with 'strategies' and basically boils down to, if you do better, then you increase your chance of winning.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2013
If a team is made up of Terrans (humans) and the Zerg (alien arthropods), its odds of winning are more than 70 percent if the Zerg population has a high growth rate and the Terran population has a low one. But the Zerg population growth rate can be unimportant in other team combinations.


That's because the Terran on a Zerg-Terran team doesn't have to do anything except make pure marines and heavy medivacs. Additionally, even if the Terran loses all of his marines in a battle, it doesn't even affect the game if he can keep most of his medivacs alive, because the Zerg will still benefit so heavily from the medivacs.

The Terran's job is to just support the Zerg and let him Macro, while the T concentrates on just efficiently making marines and meds. You can also add a few tanks if you have the money.

I'm a platinum Terran, but with a BRONZE Zerg ally, I beat two Master level protoss playing low economy, high harrass, with no expansion. There's so many options is silly.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2013
Both Starcraft 2 and Warcraft 3 are extremely complicated games. Sometimes it is about the units and stats, and other times the units and stats don't even matter.

Doesn't matter how good you are at the strategic level, if you can't do 200 to 300 apm, you will never get in Grandmaster league in SC2, and you'll never get...anywhere...in Warcraft 3. AFter the high end of Platinum league in SC2, which is where I get off, Micro and Multitasking are literally more important than strategy probably 80 to 90% of the time.

There was this guy, Lightknight69, who was insanely good at Warcraft 3 team games. He's a real asshole about it too. I used to watch his replays to try to learn how to play. Even though I could not execute 1/10th as well as him, my rank with undead in team games went up 20 points just from watching a few of his games.

I watched him mock his opponents, type non-stop while playing, often win 1vs2 battles without losing a unit.

Units and stats aren't the most important thing.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2013
Oh yeah, if you did this study since the Heart of the Swarm expansion, Zerg-Terran gained a lot for 2vs2, and protoss got jack shit. So Zerg-Zerg and Zerg-Terran teams benefit a lot more than Z-P, P-T or P-P teams.

Here's a hint.

If you ever get like 6 Swarm Hosts, 2 overseers, and like 4 medivacs, you win.

What I started doing with Zerg in HotS team games is go ling/muta, then switch to Swarm hosts, or go ling/hydra then switch to swarm hosts. By the time you get 2 Swarm hosts their power buys you the time to keep the opponents pinned down until you get 4 more, and at that point when you plant them about a screens width outside your enemy's base, they type GG. Well, if they haven't seen it yet, they might be dumb enough to try to fight it for a few more minutes, then they type GG when they realize there is no counter except not allowing it to happen.
Bob_Kob
1 / 5 (2) Aug 15, 2013
Captioned "Image from Defense of the Ancients 2." But it is actually from DOTA1.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Aug 15, 2013
What I'm getting down to is that this article has nothing to do with 'strategies' and basically boils down to, if you do better, then you increase your chance of winning.

The article is a bit more complex than that. They notice that there is a sweet spot for gathering resources/doing upgrades and that 'maxing out' doesn't always win the game (if the game is well balanced, that is. Many games are 'broken' where just going for tech X or resource Y full tilt wins you the game every time).

When it comes to balance I'm always remindes of the strategy description of the klingon battlecruiser in "Star fleet battles" (pen and paper game) , which goes something like this: "The klingon battlecruiser is the ultimate mediocre ship. Average phasers, average missiles, average turn rate, average shields and average power. The trick to winning with this ship is to find the one apsect your enemy can't handle at all"

Lurker2358
1 / 5 (2) Aug 18, 2013
Did you know that by accumulating more Gold/XP/Better items you increase your chance of winning? True story, I actually had no idea that having a high population growth rate can help you in starcraft until now.

What I'm getting down to is that this article has nothing to do with 'strategies' and basically boils down to, if you do better, then you increase your chance of winning.


Having more gold does increase your chance of winning, but ONLY if you are scouting well, and have the APM (Average Actions Per Minute) to keep teching, building, and training non-stop.

If you have a lot of money saved in the bank, you are probably doing something wrong, unless you're Zerg and already have the map. Zerg gets away with it because they have the fastest unit replacement speed and the fastest change-up.

Scouting and harassing >= money.

Position >= numbers.

Tech >= numbers.

numbers > money in the bank

numbers > unused expand

rush/counter rush > Fast Expand in Protoss mirror
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (2) Aug 18, 2013
Money obviously helps because without money you can't do anything, but neither Starcraft nor Warcraft 3 are about "strength" or "numbers".

It really is about things like timing, scouting, manipulation of your opponent's mind, etc. Also, 2vs2 may be even more so than 1vs1.

Some tactics and strategies that work.

Double-teaming the opponent's expand with a small raiding party, while not allowing the opponent to do the same to you. In other words, only attack with expendable units, and don't actually fight armies. Only kill defenseless stuff, and run from armies.

Don't be in too big a hurry to finish your opponents. I've seen pro gamers blow a game that should have been a free win, because they got in too big of a hurry to finish, when they should have slowed the game down actually.

Always leave your units a clear lane of retreat when attacking. Never attack all-in.

Never build anything you don't plan on using.

Never expand you can't protect.

"Doing well" is complicated.
JohnGee
1 / 5 (3) Aug 18, 2013
Starcraft suffers from the same problem as chess. The games are more about memorization than thinking on your feet. In the case of Starcraft it is muscle memory.