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Chat: Clay Dreslough

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday July 07, 2005 1:00 PM ET chat session with Clay Dreslough.

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Clay Dreslough is the creator of the popular baseball simulation game Baseball Mogul.

Clay Dreslough: Hello, everyone. Thanks for showing up! I'm a big fan of BP so it's great to see that many of you already know about Baseball Mogul. I'll start with some questions that were sent in earlier.

Glenn (Valparaiso, Indiana): Clay....I'm an oldtimer from WAY back,,,when tabletop games ruled the fantasy world. I guess my question is more of a wish than a quetion. Since you cover just about every baseball team that ever existed(the ones from 1900 to present date) would it be possible to make a custom feature that would allow you to build a league using teams from different time periods? This would be awesome! Keep up the FANTASTIC work!!

Clay Dreslough: I grew up on All-Star Baseball (with the spinners) and several other board games (does anyone remember "Longball"?). So I know where you're coming from. I played Earl Weaver Baseball on my Apple II in the 80s, and I remember it included "classic" teams like the '55 Dodgers and '75 Reds. So you're not the only one who would like to see this feature. We have tried to build the "roster file" function so that you can cut and paste players from any era and they will show up in your game. But this process isn't as easy as I'd like it to be.

Cris E (St Paul, MN): Have you ever worked on a strategy game you can't beat? Not a twich game, but one with an AI that you can't recognise and exploit?

Clay Dreslough: With the prevalence of RTS games, it seems like everything's a "twitch" game to some degree these days. I played a lot of Civilization in college and got very angry when I realized the game was cheating. I remember playing Risk on the Macintosh around that time, and when I set the computer opponents to "peaceful" (they only attack when attacked), I found them virtually impossible to beat. It probably tells us something about the real world. After all, Switzerland is still around.

Stlcardinals08 (St. Louis): Could the Mark Mulder trade be the worst of Walt Jocketty's tenure in St. Louis. Haren is pitching better than Mulder (leads in all categories except pickoffs and shutouts) in a league with a DH. Plus Haren is obviously younger and 6 million cheaper. I would also really like to have Daric Barton (.440 OBP) back in the organization. Kiko Calero, before his injury, was effective. If I were Jocketty, I would never make another trade with Billy Beane.

Clay Dreslough: From my perspective, the trade didn't look HORRIBLE. Baseball Mogul predicted Mulder to have a better 2005 than Haren, and Jocketty probably feels a pressure to win now.

But I'm glad you bring up the salary difference. Most baseball fans don't think about the money side when they call up their favorite talk radio station. Then they write me an angry e-mail about how the Computer AI is really stupid because they just traded three minor leaguers for Manny Ramirez...

gmteen (Ohio): How accurate is the Baseball Mogul sim engine to real life Major League Baseball at the present time?

Clay Dreslough: Well we did pick the Red Sox to win it all in 2004:

http://www.sportsmogul.com/press/032304predictions.htm

(Of course, we also picked the Red Sox to meet the Cardinals in the 2003 World Series, and that didn't happen -- but we weren't that far off)

I don't think Mogul predicts 2005 results better than serious analysts. But it does a pretty good job of modelling the finances. If you play Mogul for 10 seasons, it's really unlikely to see the Devil Rays win the World Series because they just don't have the resources, and they are stuck in the richest division in baseball.

Bob (Minneapolis): Where do you see Baseball Mogul going in the future? More main stream or just under the radar?

Clay Dreslough: Our goal with Baseball Mogul has always been to make the game accessible to as many fans as possible. It needs to be easy to install, easy to learn, addictive, and not crash.

I get a lot of people that don't think of themselves as "computer gamers" that love Baseball Mogul -- so I think it's important that we keep expanding into the wider audience. Obviously though, the features we add each year are generally to keep the hardcore fans coming back for more.

spleen1015 (Indianapolis, IN): Hi Clay. Why is the current version of BM getting more attention than any others in the past? Are you tired of OOTP leading the genre?

Clay Dreslough: I'm not sure if you mean "more attention from Sports Mogul" or "more attention from the press", but I think the two are related.

Sports Mogul is a 2-programmer shop. Ian and I spent much of 2003 and 2004 working on Midway's "MLB: Slugfest" game for PS2 and XBox. This seemed like a great opportunity to finally combine what we'd accomplished with Baseball Mogul with my game development experience going back to the Tony LaRussa line.

(BTW, I really like the batter/pitcher confrontation in Slugfest if you get a chance to try it out).

But this effort hurt Baseball Mogul 2005. When Midway decided to get out of the baseball game market, we were able to work on Mogul full-time again.

mjgroh (Chicago): Thank you for doing the chat. I just heard about your game, Baseball Mogul. And IT...SOUNDS...AWESOME... How would you recommend getting introduced to it? CD-Rom or Online? (or other?) Is there a preferred way that people tend to get into it?

Clay Dreslough: The CD-ROM game is probably the best way to get into the game. You can start in any year, experiment with different difficulty levels. Really get to know the game.

If you buy the actual CD-ROM (instead of just the download), I include a code number that gives you a free month of BMO.

We do have a lot of BMO fans that don't play the single-player game and many of them are absolutely hooked, so I would definitely at least give it a try. If you've ever tried to play in a league using a sim like Mogul or Strat-O-Matic, you'll be surprised how much more fun it can be when the web interface does all the work for you.

jjcole (Houston): Please give me the name of a good game for an imac. nothing too complicated, ( I am not a gamer), something to tide me over during the winter.

Clay Dreslough: I'm gonna plug Baseball Mogul Online here. You can play BMO from any computer with a web interface, and we keep the pages small so they refresh quickly even on a modem.

We've had queries about making Baseball Mogul for the Mac, but it hasn't made sense economically yet and I don't know of any other baseball games for the Mac.

Rob (NYC): Have you ever thought about adding a game management option to Baseball Mogul? As a Strat-O-Matic fan, and a Mogul fan, a combination of the two would make for a perfect game.

Clay Dreslough: Absolutely, this is in the works for Baseball Mogul 2007. I tend to sim through the regular season, but when the playoffs come I really want to have more control over my team on a pitch-by-pitch basis.

You can see the top features people are asking for in this poll:

http://www.sportsmogul.com/vbulletin2/showthread.php?p=405225#post405225

That thread is the best handle we have on what our current players would like to see next year, so chime in if you'd like your voice to be heard.

emanski (new jersey): With text sims, a radio broadcast mode seems like a worthwhile development, and one company (Miller Associates) did try it a few years back, with Ernie Harwell, but that basically failed. Is there no market for this? Cost prohibitive? Seems like no more 'realistic' way to bring the past back to life than with baseball and radio.

Clay Dreslough: I really liked the Miller Associates game. It did sound a lot like listening to the radio. But this is the kind of feature that costs more than most small companies have to spend.

As an example, on MLB Slugfest we had a full-time programmer and a full-time sound designer just to do the play-by-play voice over. Not including the efforts of the design staff and QA so that the commentary didn't sound stupid. And that doesn't include the actual recording time and voice talent costs.

As Sports Mogul only has 2 full-time programmers, that would take away from anything else we wanted to add.

PureSimmer (Durham, NC): Where do you see the baseball sim genre heading in the next five years? More competition or less? Without giving any of your own plans away... do you think there's still scope for a leap forward in the genre or will it be more a matter of subtle refinements?

Clay Dreslough: I think there's a lot of room for growth in baseball games, and I think the big companies have missed the mark somewhat in the past.

A big question for someone like EA is why Madden outsells MVP something like 6-to-1 even though baseball is just as popular in the US as football.

I think it's because a ton of baseball fans don't want to 'play' the games. When 40-year-old men sit around a bar talking baseball, they don't say "I bet I could hit the ball better than Hideki Matsui". Instead they say, "I bet I could run the team better than Brian Cashman".

So anyway, I think there's more room for growth in management sims. OOTP, PureSim, DiamondMind and Mogul shouldn't have to compete with each. We should each be able to find our own niche and expand the market as a whole.

We've also only just scratched the surface with Baseball Mogul Online. There are 27 million fantasy sports players -- and less than 5% of them play sports text sims.

We've also got some great ideas that haven't been done in sports sims yet --it's just a matter of finding the right way to make them happen. In 1997, Baseball Mogul was a new concept so I think there's room for more new ideas. I like what Marcus tried with "Inside The Park", I just differ with him on how I'd execute it.

rangers85 (Amarillo, TX): Could you beat up Steve Kuffrey if you two were to have a fight on Ultimate Fighter?

Clay Dreslough: This one's too funny not to answer.

Steve was an early Mogul fan and I'm glad he went on to make a game that people love. I like to see as many people as possible making a living doing what they love to do.

I think OOTP and Mogul can co-exist for many years to come. For some Mogul is a gateway drug to OOTP. But many just get hooked on Mogul and never have a need to try anything else.

We could try to beat each other up on "Ultimate Baseball Online", but we'd probably spend the whole time sitting on the bench waiting for our turn at bat.

Chris (Buffalo): Have you ever thought of making a part in the game where you can hire staff? (coaches, trainers stuff like that)

Clay Dreslough: Yes (check out the aforementioned thread where folks are discussing BB2K7 features):

http://www.sportsmogul.com/vbulletin2/showthread.php?p=405225#post405225

spleen1015 (Indianapolis, IN): What recommendations would you give to someone who was thinking about stepping into the world of independent game development?

Clay Dreslough: 1. Have a day job or money in the bank.

2. Don't overvalue your IDEAS. I've had folks e-mail me saying "I've got a great idea for a game and I'll give the idea if you give me half the money". Everyone has ideas. The hard part is making them real in a fun-to-play game that doesn't crash.

3. In general, trust the big companies (Microsoft, Ubisoft, EA). Don't trust the small ones (WizardWorks, SimplyMedia).

emanski (new jersey): How have concepts like VORP, DIPS and the like affected the development of BBM over the years?

Clay Dreslough: See next question.

emanski (new jersey): Baseball Mogul fans must pull you constantly in multiple directions - clutch, no clutch, team chemistry, no team chemistry, etc. How do you decide to program a baseball simulation along the lines of traditional vs. analysis-based fans?

Clay Dreslough: I've been a SABR member since 1995 and I keep up on SABR research, work by folks at BP, etc.

I use this stuff to shape the simulation. For example, I haven't seen any research proving that certain players are good "clutch hitters" so we don't give players a clutch rating.

Just like with sportswriters in real-life however, I will read reviews where someone says something like "I really like how the new Mogul takes hot and cold streaks into account".

If folks want to believe that's part of the game, that's cool. It's the same thing that makes watching real baseball fun for people.

So, I lean towards having the news stories and scouting reports talk about player moods and the like. But these have little effect on the actual sim (I'll keep you in the dark as to how much effect these things have since I think trying to figure these things out is part of the fun of playing the game).

By the same token, the player evaluation code tends to try to model REAL LIFE more than using the research. So you will see Mogul GMs overpay for no-hit slick-field shortstops. This means that if you are a well-read baseball fan, you should have some chances to outthink the computer GMs.

spleen1015 (Indianapolis, IN): How did you get started in the business of making computer baseball games?

Clay Dreslough: If you want your kids to write games when they grow up, DON'T buy them lots of games.

I wrote my first paper-and-dice baseball "sim" when I was 5. And spent much of grade school doing the same, either on paper or on my Apple II. My Mom always refused to spend $40 on a computer game so I was forced to write them myself.

I was a Government major at Wesleyan, figuring I'd use my intellect and education to solve the world's problems. But I ended up at Stormfront Studios shortly after graduation (and after a few government-related job interviews where I realized I didn't have the patience yet to change the world from the inside).

I left to make Baseball Mogul on my own simply because I couldn't find an employer that wanted to make that kind of game.

DaveyEck (MN): Do you plan on expanding fictional play at all? It's not very deep as it is.

Clay Dreslough: A recent upgrade (somewhere around 8.15 I think) lets you check a box and start with an entirely fictional universe. It even gives them fictional year-by-year career stats, and matches the teams and divisions to the year you pick.

If you're looking for something different than that, shoot me an e-mail offline.

EckOfDavey (St. Paul): Is H2H planned?

Clay Dreslough: Do you mean: "2 people play head-to-head, each with managerial control over the game"?

I'm pretty sure Diamond Mind already does a pretty good job of this (although it's more expensive).

I can see adding this feature, but first we need to build an in-game Manager Mode that we're proud of.

The H2H that I think Mogul really excels at is in the league play. If you join BMO you can play an entire season in a month, then get into an off-season bidding war. And we're in the process of adding the Amateur Draft to BMO so that should be a lot of fun.

emanski (nj): Results in long-career baseball sims seem to 'decay' over time, and that always used to be an issue in old versions of BBM - i.e. after 30 seasons suddenly pitchers were all studs and batting stats plummeted. Why does this occur and are those concerns totally in the past now?

Clay Dreslough: This happens in Major League Baseball too. But they have the option of changing the rules (lowering the mound, reshaping the strike zone) to push things back to historical norms.

So it happens in sims because we do "too good" a job of simulating MLB.

:)

BB2K6 now does a great job IMHO of not letting this happen. We had some great beta testers this year who would play thousands of seasons and barrage me with details of where the sim didn't seem realistic.

spleen1015 (Indianapolis, IN): From reading your messageboard, it seems like you implement a lot of features because your fanbase wants them in the game. Is there one feature/option you want to add to the game, but haven't because your fanbase hasn't shown an interest in it?

Clay Dreslough: When I worked on Tony LaRussa, Microsoft Baseball, and MLB Slugfest, I really enjoyed working on the batter-pitcher interface. The game-within-a-game of picking pitches and location (and trying to anticipate pitches as a batter). There isn't much support for this in BB2K7 right now, but it's still something I'd like to explore.

It would really make us the only game where you can feasibly play pitch-by-pitch AND decade-by-decade.

Rob (NYC): One option that I did not see on the forum thread would be adding foreign players the way they are scouted now. It would be nice to be able to pick up someone like Ichiro in their prime by bidding against other teams, and purchasing his contract from Japan. You could also attempt to pick up players for years, and have them refuse due to obligations, or lack of interest every year. It seems like it could be an interesting option. There could also be a "Foreign Scouting" tab in "Expenses", similar to how some teams seem to do better with scouting foreign players(San Antonio Spurs in the NBA, Seattle Mariners in MLB).

Clay Dreslough: I've already got some code in the game for these types of scenarios. We just weren't able to add it for BB2K6.

A huge part of the game is not just created a sim engine with features, but also a realistic "world" that these players live in. When you can draft a player at 18, release him at 23, see him play in Japan for 3 years, then have some success in the majors, it's a lot more fun than just seeing a list of major league career stats.

remangiii (Off Topic): Are you surprised by all the OOTP related questions?

Clay Dreslough: OK. Here's my rant.

Please buy Baseball Mogul, OOTP, PureSim AND Diamond Mind if you can afford it. It's the BIG companies that put out games with bugs they won't fix and weak customer support. All the real innovation will continue to come from the small companies.

Jim (Beantown): Clay, can Boston get Billy Wagner? What will they give up?

Clay Dreslough: I'm going off-topic somewhat here. I sorta like the idea of moving Curt or Bronson to the closer role and (drum roll please) putting Foulke in the rotation eventually.

I think I remember Foulke saying in March that even though he was the closer on the World Series champs, he'd STILL rather be a starting pitcher. I don't think he has the velocity to be a career closer.

Pennington (Marshall Univ.): Any thoughts on expanding into other sports? Basketball? Hockey? Boxing?

Clay Dreslough: Hard to really answer that one. I'm a huge NBA fan in addition to MLB and the NFL, so I THINK about it. But finding the time to do it is a different issue.

Just so you know, I do track the REQUESTS we get for additional sports.

The top 3:

1. Basketball
2. Hockey
3. Pro Wrestling

America Rocks 123 (MN): Are you a Van Halen fan?!

Clay Dreslough: Actually I've been listening to Oingo Boingo, Black Eyed Peas and No Doubt recently. But I do have a soft spot for Classic Rock.

Clay Dreslough: Alright. I gotta go. Maybe we can do this again sometime. Or you can post your questions on the Sports Mogul Forums. Thanks! Clay


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