Aug 18

Not all 16.725s are created equal

I’m not a rabid Olympics or gymnastics fan, but I’ve been watching them on and off this year.

An interesting example of poor mechanics design struck there tonight.

It wasn’t until later, when she checked the board again, that Liukin realized that she and He were tied. “I thought, am I that tired?” she said. “I know it’s been a long week, but there’s a 1 next to her name and a 2 next to mine. I said, Dad, we got the same score.”

For those who weren’t watching:

  • In the women’s uneven parallel bars, the US’ Nastia Liukin scores  16.725, moving into first place.
  • China’s He Kexin follows her, also scoring 16.725 (the same score), taking over 1st place, pushing the US down to #2.
  • The above ranking was produced courtesy of a software-generated tiebreaker, throwing out next-lowest judge scores behind the scenes until said tie is broke, in a way that is entirely hidden to everyone other than the judges.
  • This appears to make less sense to the people on TV than it does to me (namely, the athletes), so I’m at least in reasonably knowledgeable company.

Design tenets reinforced:

  • Any system can only ever be as good as its interface.  It can never be better, only worse.  (The interface for this one, plainly, is pretty terrible.)
  • Before you add extra complexity to solve the problem, make damn sure that it’s a problem that actually needs solving.  (Not that I know a thing about gymnastics, but what sane reason is there for not awarding them both the gold?)

Congratulations on the medal, Nastia.  Sorry it’s not the color you earned.

  • Edit: I got the order they went in backward, but I’m leaving it as is since the point’s the same either way.  Tip of the hat to Danuser and Shwayder, closet womens’ gymnastics fiends and co-presidents of the Nastia Liukin Fan Club, Northeast Division.

10 Comments so far »


    The Hiram Key said

    August 19 2008 @ 9:06 am

    What’s that lassy ? Out of touch systems admins are ruining the end users experience with their inept management and problem solving ?

    Well that must be a first.


    Larry Lard said

    August 19 2008 @ 9:40 am

    > Sorry it’s not the color you earned

    I’ve read the post twice and I still don’t understand what you are trying to say here. She came second in the competition, according to the rules of the competition. So she gets a silver. What’s the problem?


    Scott Hartsman said

    August 19 2008 @ 9:58 am

    Factually? You’re absolutely correct. In my opinion, the problems I see still remain.

    * The system is poorly designed. (One sign of a potentially flawed systems design is when the creator/arbiter has to explain hidden elements to knowledgeable people after the fact, and even then it’s met with confusion/disbelief.)

    * Had someone not designed an unnecessarily complex system for this particular set of events compared to others in the same Olympics, to solve a problem that didn’t need solving, her performance would have earned her a tie for the gold.

    In an MMO, if you don’t like the rules, you and your friends can (generally) go play in another MMO if you choose.

    It’s a little difficult to tell an Olympic athlete to just go compete in another Olympics, because this one’s rules are broken.
    So, also IMO, there should be a slightly higher standard for lack-of-stupidity.


    Rob said

    August 19 2008 @ 7:01 pm

    Like Larry, I also don’t get what you’re trying to say. This girl certainly did *no better* than the other girl… so why should she have the gold? It wouldn’t be simply because she’s American, would it?


    Scott Hartsman said

    August 19 2008 @ 7:58 pm

    Not at all. Since they tied in visible score, they should have tied for the gold, yielding 2 gold and 1 bronze winner like events that do not have overcomplicated tiebreaking rules.

    Edited to add: Which is every event except for Gymnastics, in a special tiebreaking rule that has never been put into place before now.

    Another link, now that more stories are up:

    Olympics: Gymnastics chief blames IOC for tie-break fiasco


    Ferrel said

    August 21 2008 @ 5:24 am

    What I think is at issue here is that the mechanism by which this was done was not transparent.

    I equate this to my loot system. If two of my members compete for the same item and have the same point value I have to look at less tangible indicators. Sometimes I’ll use monthly percentage to judge who has “new points” and who has “old points.” I’ve even used attitude or guild activity as a judge. Often its easy because an item is geared towards one class or the other. In an instance like the Olympics, those indicators don’t exist. All “members” have the same points, are the same “class” and generally know how the system works.

    Ultimately though, despite everything, when it comes down to two people who have the same points, everyone is going to want to know how I reached the decision on who wins the item. It is just good practice to point out BEFORE I make the choice how I will do so. My rules list that I can look at those things in the event of a tie or even if points are just close!

    It seems here that the mechanic was not clearly defined and this happened to more than one athlete. Neither seemed to be aware of how “loot was awarded.” That just isn’t good policy, especially considering that the Olympics used a different system than the gymnastics association.

    Did the athletes get cheated? No, by the rules they didn’t. Does it look like they were cheated and were they poorly informed of the rules? Most certainly yes and after all, Ferrel has always believed a simple math equation:

    Perception > Reality


    Naladini said

    August 28 2008 @ 6:15 am

    I’m not going to suggest that an American made the rule change, but the support for the rule change isn’t that surprising (even though I think you’re spot-on with your comments).

    Most Americans seem to HATE a tie in an athletic competition, its one of the things that hockey and soccer still struggle with. College football used to have ties, and dumped them for a bizarre mini-game if tied at the end of regulation.

    Personally, I’d be ok with a tie in that situation. I’m not a fan of something that is fairly subjective getting put through an overly scientific ruling process eg. Its nice that they have a nice formula where they can throw scores out for various reasons, but the scores themselves could be fundamentally wrong in the first place.


    The Hiram Key said

    October 14 2008 @ 1:50 am

    “Ask not what your blog can do for you, but what YOU can do FOR your blog ! ”

    PS: Garriott is looking down on you RIGHT now Scott !


    Illuminator said

    December 3 2008 @ 2:43 pm

    So in a hypothetical game where a mechanics change causes combat hit rate to decrease but overall offensive damage to increase, does that count as a terrible interface regardless? I’d say it does.


    Illuminator said

    December 3 2008 @ 2:43 pm

    Computer/MMO game that is.

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