Dev Talk: ‘The Why’ with Principal Developer Christopher Vance


Welcome to the first edition of Dev Talk – the blog series that takes Photo Finish™ LIVE players inside the mind of the games’ developers. In this edition, Principal Developer Christopher Vance discussed many of the changes he and the team engineered and tuned for Beta 3 and the thinking behind them.

By Christopher Vance

Back to Basics: As Real as it Gets 

With the recent release of Beta 3, our updated tuning of the simulation logic has been a hot topic of conversation amongst our community. While I have been having quite an enjoyable time chatting about all of the differences in the discord with the owners, it’s worth discussing the why behind these changes. 

I think the why can really be understood by asking the question Why would people continue to race in and/or wager on PFL races?

In an analysis of thousands of past races from Beta 2, our team observed that outcomes needed to line up both more closely with what we see in real life, and with what we would hope to see for the long-term health of the game. 

What I mean by that is that we want to approach tuning the race simulation logic to get to a desired outcome we feel isn’t only best for the now, but best for the future. 

In real life, we take both qualitative and quantitative measurements of racing outcomes to measure against. 

For example, many people have probably heard the stat that the “favorite” wins about 35%-40% of the time, and while a good barometer for us to gut check against, it doesn’t quite tell the full story. 

To begin, we can measure against specific races and horses. For example – we wanted to know – could Rich Strike ever exist in our simulation?

It’s not just about spot-checking the data, however; we also have an extensive database of real-world races we compare against for things like time variance in races across horses, or for a horse across races, or for a race across years, and many other things. 

A big driving factor for the current simulation logic in Beta 3 was to move toward more realistic numbers. There are obviously infinitely more factors in real life that go into a single race outcome that a computer cannot easily account for, however, we still strive to represent these factors in the averages and overalls. 

The PFL team cares about these things not just out of a sense of authenticity, but because the system has clearly worked for centuries so, why fix what isn’t broken?

That being said, PFL is still a game, and the most important factor is long-term playability. 

When we take a long-term look, there are a few simple goals that contribute to people wanting to come back time and time again:

  • Skilled players can make a profitable stable
  • The average player has a shot at exciting big wins, even if they are not profitable for every horse 
  • Every horse can race somewhere and win, though many horses will have very narrow and rare opportunities

In our opinion, if a game such as ours doesn’t have these three things there would, eventually, be a bleed of users, as someone at some point must hold the bag of “bad” horses with no incentive to stick around if they feel they have no shot at success. 

Obviously, to get to this utopia-healthy state, we may have users that previously won 100% of their races now winning “only” 60%. That may be a bit of a shocking change for players that were accustomed to domination in the previous beta, but it is a short-term sacrifice for long-term gain because we will be keeping a racing ecosystem active for the future.

In the end, short-term extreme dominance by one stable pales in comparison to the thought of that same stable being able to enjoy years of sustainable success in racing AND breeding!

Predictability: The Fun Killer 

Consider everything discussed from a wagerer perspective  – who would wager if they knew the favorite would win 100% of the time? What about 80%, or even 60% of the time? 

That might be interesting for those betting all on wins, but those who roll out Place bets would quickly become uninterested.

Even if it’s not the favorite that wins, the Top 3 horses always being the Trifecta box (never bet a Trifecta box!)? That sort of predictability is not what we’re out to accomplish. 

As we’re looking towards more advanced and interesting wagering moving forward, we have to start thinking about how to Win/Place/Show percentages ripple outward to affect all of them. 

A healthy wagering economy is a healthy race purse is a healthy racing economy. 

One of the most important aspects of all wagering is having a blurrier line of Who is the longest shot? and Who is definitely in the money? without making it completely random. It’s a fine line, admittedly, but that’s the target.


Beta 3 is still Beta, which means our team is still trying to find the sweet spot in what best makes PFL tick just as players are attempting to lay down the foundation of a dynasty stable. 

One thing should always be clear – our team will always listen to feedback from the community, trial and error some things, and in the end, make informed decisions that set PFL up a gaming experience built for the long run.  

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