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Subject: Popularity of mind sports rss

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Brian Svoboda
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Hello everyone,

I've been thinking lately on what makes a mind sport popular and have written a blog post on the topic. I think it will be of interest to the community here in BGG Abstracts. I'd be happy to hear all of your thoughts on the matter!

Popularity of mind sports

Clear skies,
Brian

EDIT While I mention designers in the post, this wasn't intended to refer to any person in particular, and certainly no one here!
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Russ Williams
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The comparison with new programming languages seems apt indeed.
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christian freeling
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Hi Brian,

I like the comparisons you make, although I'm not a programmer. You're right on all points concerning the short flight (if at all) of new games that would objectively meet or even surpass the standards of the big ones. I don't see Grand Chess or Dameo disappear in the short term precisely because players may feel challenged but I obviously hope that they will eventually make it all the way through the bottleneck, to shine to all eternity. That's two out of some fifty.

But I find comfort in the fact that that is not the reason I made them. I just couldn't find anything more useful to do to get me through life (and by now I'm pretty sure I succeeded in the latter).

P.S. Whether off or on topic (the latter as another example of almost predictable failure) and despite your dark analysis, you really should try Storisende.


P.P.S. Yes I know, no pictures yet, oh boy my bad.
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Brian Svoboda
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christianF wrote:

Hi Brian,

I like the comparisons you make, although I'm not a programmer. You're right on all points concerning the short flight (if at all) of new games that would objectively meet or even surpass the standards of the big ones. I don't see Grand Chess or Dameo disappear in the short term precisely because players may feel challenged but I obviously hope that they will eventually make it all the way through the bottleneck, to shine to all eternity. That's two out of some fifty.

But I find comfort in the fact that that is not the reason I made them. I just couldn't find anything more useful to do to get me through life (and by now I'm pretty sure I succeeded in the latter).

P.S. Whether off or on topic (the latter as another example of almost predictable failure) and despite your dark analysis, you really should try Storisende.


P.P.S. Yes I know, no pictures yet, oh boy my bad.

Hi Christian,

I hope that it wasn't too dark of an analysis! But I think even if we can't make a new soccer, it's completely feasible to make a new curling. Curling might not be especially popular, but still has a dedicated following, clubs, and even non-participants watch it during the Olympics.

Arimaa started with a "bang" over the difficulty in coding a solver for it, but what gave it staying power was a few tireless and passionate community members like Fritzlein / Fritz Juhnke. So, maybe the necessary ingredients for a game to reach "escape velocity" then are:
(a) a deep game that will reward sustained study,
(b) a handful of Fritzs, and
(c) a community hub that those members can cultivate and contribute to.
Sadly Fritzs are rare and I'm a little skeptical BGG tools are sufficient to create a community out of. But I think many mind sports could reach reasonable levels of popularity if a few "super players" make it their cause and there is a well designed website for them not just to play but help build. Dameo and Storisende are superbly designed games. Perhaps with the right kind of push from the right kind of people, they could achieve escape velocity too!

Clear skies,
Brian
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christian freeling
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autocorr wrote:
christianF wrote:

Hi Brian,

I like the comparisons you make, although I'm not a programmer. You're right on all points concerning the short flight (if at all) of new games that would objectively meet or even surpass the standards of the big ones. I don't see Grand Chess or Dameo disappear in the short term precisely because players may feel challenged but I obviously hope that they will eventually make it all the way through the bottleneck, to shine to all eternity. That's two out of some fifty.

But I find comfort in the fact that that is not the reason I made them. I just couldn't find anything more useful to do to get me through life (and by now I'm pretty sure I succeeded in the latter).

P.S. Whether off or on topic (the latter as another example of almost predictable failure) and despite your dark analysis, you really should try Storisende.


P.P.S. Yes I know, no pictures yet, oh boy my bad.

Hi Christian,

I hope that it wasn't too dark of an analysis! But I think even if we can't make a new soccer, it's completely feasible to make a new curling. Curling might not be especially popular, but still has a dedicated following, clubs, and even non-participants watch it during the Olympics.

Arimaa started with a "bang" over the difficulty in coding a solver for it, but what gave it staying power was a few tireless and passionate community members like Fritzlein / Fritz Juhnke. So, maybe the necessary ingredients for a game to reach "escape velocity" then are:
(a) a deep game that will reward sustained study,
(b) a handful of Fritzs, and
(c) a community hub that those members can cultivate and contribute to.
Sadly Fritzs are rare and I'm a little skeptical BGG tools are sufficient to create a community out of. But I think many mind sports could reach reasonable levels of popularity if a few "super players" make it their cause and there is a well designed website for them not just to play but help build. Dameo and Storisende are superbly designed games. Perhaps with the right kind of push from the right kind of people, they could achieve escape velocity too!

Clear skies,
Brian
Thanks Brian, a very nice post and largely to the point I think. But I'm 72 now and reaching escape velocity myself. Having Asperger, social interaction was problematic, but inventing abstract games appeared socially accepted and it was something I could do solitary. It wasn't so much a choice as it was an escape route and a means to keep my sanity.
I was condemned to the process and the results were a side effect. Of course I cared a lot about their quality, but less about their fate. And that's still the case. I support where I can and I'll keep smoking pot till I die because I like smoking pot and death is inevitable. It's a miracle I feel so good!
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Nick Bentley
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Your assessment is spot on. It does paper over a common difficulty though: the kind of people who are great at creating abstract games tend to be really bad at, and often uninterested in, the very different skill of community-building. The two skill sets seem to be anti-correlated.

Even Arimaa had all kinds of poor choices associated with it, as regards community building, I think, despite the fact that the inventor was committed to the endeavor.

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christian freeling
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milomilo122 wrote:
Your assessment is spot on. It does paper over a common difficulty though: the kind of people who are great at creating abstract games tend to be really bad at, and often uninterested in, the very different skill of community-building. The two skill sets seem to be anti-correlated.

Even Arimaa had all kinds of poor choices associated with it, as regards community building, I think, despite the fact that the inventor was committed to the endeavor.

Lucky me!
 
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Laurentiu Cristofor
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I think the largest challenge for new abstract games is that the classic ones are quite good enough.

You can spend money and effort to build interest into a new game, but you'd need some really novel gaming aspect that no other game offers, to capture the imagination of players and get your game played on a global scale.

Also, I don't see Arimaa as a case-study for how an abstract game should be promoted. On the contrary, for me, Arimaa is a case-study of a game that was promoted using the wrong arguments (that it's hard to be played by computers); arguments that would inevitably be invalidated at some point in the future (as they had). The interest into Arimaa waned once a computer program defeated the best humans.

So yeah, you need to build a community around a new game and you need to build and grow interest into the game. And today's technology makes this easier than ever. But it's still not sufficient to challenge the classic games. Because you need something extra that no new game really managed to provide.

Initially, I didn't know what to make of the comparison to programming languages. We don't adopt a new programming language just because it's new and it has good documentation and a solid set of libraries (some individuals may do that, but the industry doesn't do it). The industry adopts new programming languages when they provide builtin support for a new programming paradigm that improves productivity in general or for some specialized applications. It's this advancement to a new programming paradigm that is missing in abstract game development. Compared to programming languages, abstract games are generally falling within the same class of languages. There are no big paradigm changes in abstract games.

So the programming language comparison is perhaps useful, but only to better illustrate the challenge faced by a new abstract game.
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christian freeling
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Laurentiu wrote:
Also, I don't see Arimaa as a case-study for how an abstract game should be promoted. On the contrary, for me, Arimaa is a case-study of a game that was promoted using the wrong arguments (that it's hard to be played by computers); arguments that would inevitably be invalidated at some point in the future (as they had). The interest into Arimaa waned once a computer program defeated the best humans.
There's something inherently funny about this argument. Chess has long been considered a hard nut to program, if not indeed the prime example of the 'impossibility'. I didn't see the interest waning after programs reached superhuman strength. Neither in Go for that matter. So that is unlikely to be the whole story.
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Andy Leighton
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christianF wrote:
Laurentiu wrote:
Also, I don't see Arimaa as a case-study for how an abstract game should be promoted. On the contrary, for me, Arimaa is a case-study of a game that was promoted using the wrong arguments (that it's hard to be played by computers); arguments that would inevitably be invalidated at some point in the future (as they had). The interest into Arimaa waned once a computer program defeated the best humans.
There's something inherently funny about this argument. Chess has long been considered a hard nut to program, if not indeed the prime example of the 'impossibility'. I didn't see the interest waning after programs reached superhuman strength. Neither in Go for that matter. So that is unlikely to be the whole story.

I think Chess and Go (and to a lesser extent Draughts) have a history, a pre-existing culture, which means that people will continue to play despite there being extremely strong (and even super-human) computer opponents. Arimaa (and any new-ish game) does not have that.
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christian freeling
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andyl wrote:
christianF wrote:
Laurentiu wrote:
Also, I don't see Arimaa as a case-study for how an abstract game should be promoted. On the contrary, for me, Arimaa is a case-study of a game that was promoted using the wrong arguments (that it's hard to be played by computers); arguments that would inevitably be invalidated at some point in the future (as they had). The interest into Arimaa waned once a computer program defeated the best humans.
There's something inherently funny about this argument. Chess has long been considered a hard nut to program, if not indeed the prime example of the 'impossibility'. I didn't see the interest waning after programs reached superhuman strength. Neither in Go for that matter. So that is unlikely to be the whole story.

I think Chess and Go (and to a lesser extent Draughts) have a history, a pre-existing culture, which means that people will continue to play despite there being extremely strong (and even super-human) computer opponents. Arimaa (and any new-ish game) does not have that.
I agree, people are creatures of habit and the respective cultures are a collective creation worth to keep alive. But Draughts is dead and Chess is in awkward territory so far as the occurence of draws in hight level match play is concerned. Which reminds me of Chess+ ... Nick?
 
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Russ Williams
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andyl wrote:
I think Chess and Go (and to a lesser extent Draughts) have a history, a pre-existing culture, which means that people will continue to play despite there being extremely strong (and even super-human) computer opponents. Arimaa (and any new-ish game) does not have that.
And I think Laurentiu's point is also that Chess and Go were not marketed to people as being particularly interesting because they're hard for computers. (Indeed there were no computers when they were gaining popularity.) Rather, they were simply presented as good strategically interesting fun games. (And it turned out coincidentally that they were hard for computers, for a while... but people were not attracted to them because they were hard for computers.)

Whereas Arimaa (in hindsight) too much emphasized that it's an interesting game because it's hard for computers. (And so when it turned out that computers could finally play Arimaa well, Arimaa's main talking point became nullified.)
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David Ploog
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I think the best any new game design can realistically aim for is the status of "minor classic". By this I mean that it is played in a few years (when any novelty effects have long worn off), and ideally after one generation. Halma/Chinese Checkers, Othello, Hex, Twixt, Lines of Action have achieved this. The next step up would be "folk game": people are aware of it even if they don't play it actively (Chess and Go belong here). But that's something totally out of reach. Which box games from before 2000, say, have made it that far? Scrabble surely, Abalone perhaps (is that still sold a lot? and is it played?).

So the natural fate of most games is "forgotten in a few years". I wonder how many abstracts are even "never really played by anyone". Makes me sad to think about it. On the other hand, the abstract games population is us, and if we forget games we supposedly held/hold dear, then so be it...

re: Chess/Go programs: I realise that superhuman AI has not put a dent in their popularity (perhaps they're even more popular now, for whatever reason). But I recall that Chess players and also Go players were very worried. So that's a nice fact, but it was not a given.

re: Mindsports: arguing that many people like Chess and Go, so they might also like other abstract games is misleading in various ways. One of them is the heritage: people will run in droves into concert halls, listening to Beethoven symphonies, but they won't do that for a newly composed symphony -- even if it was in the old style! Exactly the same applies to games. You can sometimes see these insane ad campaigns if some old farts rock band publishes a new record (Rolling Stones, R.E.M. etc.) -- every freaking village and little station will scream about it. If you advertise on that scale, you sell anything (even a modern symphony). For the games we like, the goal must be to be content playing and spreading word of the good ones, in my opinion.
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christian freeling
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dpeggie wrote:
So the natural fate of most games is "forgotten in a few years". I wonder how many abstracts are even "never really played by anyone". Makes me sad to think about it. On the other hand, the abstract games population is us, and if we forget games we supposedly held/hold dear, then so be it...
I may hope (it's not illegal) that Grand Chess and Dameo will never die, or better, start to actually live, eventually. I won't live to see it, but then, I won't live to see a lot of things I'd hate to see, like things getting more than somewhat out of control, globally. 'May you live in interesting times' could well do without the 'may' nowadays.

As for forgotten games, isn't there a geeklist?
 
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David Ploog
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christianF wrote:
I may hope (it's not illegal) that Grand Chess and Dameo will never die, or better, start to actually live, eventually.
Of course, among your games, I'd reckon as well that these two have the best chances. This is because they're improvements (not just variants) of popular games, so can they hopefully ride on that popularity.

Quote:
As for forgotten games, isn't there a geeklist?
I argue that a game is "forgotten" if it is not played by people. Simply surviving in some scholar's list is not enough. (This is also the natural approach for "forgotten" novels, science, music and other art, in my opinion. If an object is only of interest to historians (if at all), then it is not alive anymore. It can (and did) happen that something becomes alive again but that's a rare feat.
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Russ Williams
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FWLIW I'd bet on Havannah as having more traction with more people playing it.

Out of curiosity, looking at BGG stats (admittedly only one slice of the player population):

Havannah has 630 logged plays by 80 users.

Dameo has 203 logged plays by 25 users.

Grand Chess has 23 logged plays by 13 users.


Havannah has 36745 games played at littlegolem.net.
(I thought Dameo was also at littlegolem, but I can't find it now... I even have a couple games logged where I noted they were at littlegolem in 2016... Was Dameo removed from littlegolem?)


But who knows... "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future."
 
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russ wrote:


(I thought Dameo was also at littlegolem, but I can't find it now... I even have a couple games logged where I noted they were at littlegolem in 2016... Was Dameo removed from littlegolem?)

It's under "draughts"
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Russ Williams
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galbolle wrote:
russ wrote:


(I thought Dameo was also at littlegolem, but I can't find it now... I even have a couple games logged where I noted they were at littlegolem in 2016... Was Dameo removed from littlegolem?)

It's under "draughts"
Aha! Thanks!

So there's no easy way to see specifically the number of Dameo games specifically, as opposed to other "draughts" games/variants. :/

Hmm, so all we can easily see is that there were some number fewer than 5168 Dameo games played at littlegolem. Looks like maybe roughly 1/3 of those were Dameo?
 
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dpeggie wrote:
I think the best any new game design can realistically aim for is the status of "minor classic". By this I mean that it is played in a few years (when any novelty effects have long worn off), and ideally after one generation. Halma/Chinese Checkers, Othello, Hex, Twixt, Lines of Action have achieved this. The next step up would be "folk game": people are aware of it even if they don't play it actively (Chess and Go belong here). But that's something totally out of reach. Which box games from before 2000, say, have made it that far? Scrabble surely, Abalone perhaps (is that still sold a lot? and is it played?).
I don't think that I could pick a random person who would recognise Abalone as the name of a game. Also recognition is somewhat regional - Shogi and Xiangqi are probably not going to have much recognition amongst the general public in the UK, yet in Japan and China respectively they are folk-games with centuries of tradition.

For the UK I guess Battleships has wide awareness among the general public. Dots-and-Boxes to a lesser degree - maybe that is just a "minor classic".
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christian freeling
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russ wrote:
FWLIW I'd bet on Havannah as having more traction with more people playing it.
Could well be and I wouldn't be really surprised at it. But from my point of view as an inventor, Havannah is a freaky coincidence. It has no 'core behaviour' and isn't scalable the way those games usually are. Just a lucky and in my case rather fateful merger of three goals. Fateful because at the time I really thought it was a great game and I thought I was a great inventor and acted in pursuit of that image. Ah, youth! And I wasn't even that young anymore, just felt that way. Still do, actually. But it's a good game, not a great game.
Great games are in my opinion either existential or territorial or, now that Storisende is here, both.
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Laurentiu Cristofor
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russ wrote:

Whereas Arimaa (in hindsight) too much emphasized that it's an interesting game because it's hard for computers. (And so when it turned out that computers could finally play Arimaa well, Arimaa's main talking point became nullified.)

Right, and I don't think you need to mention "in hindsight". If you read Fritz Juhnke's 'Beginning Arimaa' book you couldn't have missed the fact that half of that book was talking about how the game is hard for computers and how special and superior human intelligence is. For those that did not read the book, just consider its subtitle: "Chess Reborn Beyond Computer Comprehension". I thought back then that this aspect is going to date the book and make it hard to read later. Which is a pity, because the part dedicated to the game was solid.
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Laurentiu Cristofor
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dpeggie wrote:
I think the best any new game design can realistically aim for is the status of "minor classic".

Or that it is still mentioned on BGG 25 years after its initial release.

dpeggie wrote:
One of them is the heritage: people will run in droves into concert halls, listening to Beethoven symphonies, but they won't do that for a newly composed symphony -- even if it was in the old style!

This comparison does not work for 2 reasons:

1. It's hypothetical. Nobody wrote a symphony "in the old style" that could compare to Beethoven's symphonies. The closest thing to such an experiment is Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony No.1, but that is more reminiscent of Haydn and anyway still gets played, so it's not as if audiences avoided it. I'm pretty sure that a composition of Beethovenian complexity would be received with interest (as much as classical music receives these days though, which isn't a lot).

2. It would be easier for a composition in classical style to be successful than for an abstract game. A composition doesn't require the community building that we were discussing earlier. Word of mouth and availability of a recording is all that is needed. And if the style is classical, there is not even the barrier for listeners to familiarize themselves with a new style. An abstract game requires a considerably more significant investment from players than a composition requires from a listener.

Your comparison only works in that we can indeed say that classical music is to music what abstract games are to games. But the issues of introducing new compositions to listeners are different from those of introducing a new abstract game to players. One fundamental difference is that games require more social interaction than music.
 
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christian freeling
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I don't care much for comparing games to music or literature but there's a common necessary factor in that a work needs to (have the ability to) grow on people to make it last. It's not a sufficient factor though or we would have a lot of lasting games.
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Bill Anonymous
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I know I am a bit late to this discussion, but I also like the comparison to computer programming languages.... and programming languages and their popularity bring up another aspect. Some programming languages, like C, have remained classics and popular since their introduction. Others, have remained only with really extensive updates (Fortran would be an example), but other programming languages will be written, soar for a few decades and then fade from popularity. American Checkers/English Draughts is an example of this in board gaming. It really appears to have faded over the last 50 years or so compared to the status it enjoyed in the United States prior to WWII. This makes me wonder about other formerly prominent games that had a long life but now have faded considerably from their former popularity.
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MarylandBill wrote:
I know I am a bit late to this discussion, but I also like the comparison to computer programming languages.... and programming languages and their popularity bring up another aspect. Some programming languages, like C, have remained classics and popular since their introduction. Others, have remained only with really extensive updates (Fortran would be an example), but other programming languages will be written, soar for a few decades and then fade from popularity. American Checkers/English Draughts is an example of this in board gaming. It really appears to have faded over the last 50 years or so compared to the status it enjoyed in the United States prior to WWII. This makes me wonder about other formerly prominent games that had a long life but now have faded considerably from their former popularity.
If question is whether new programming languages may last and by extension whether the same holds for games, then I'd say that nothing lasts forever. But while we're still waiting for Go to fade away, the much younger games of Checkers and Draughts already appear terminal. Meanwhile the world changes in ways that may affect the whole field. The fate of Chess may be a test case for that, since it is younger than Go but behaves older, lately. Not quite terminal but yet.
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