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An Interview with First-Pick.com

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Like many of you (you know who you are), I am addicted to the NFL Draft game at first-pick.com...but is it more than a game? I sat down with Mike and Brian to find out...

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

During this time of year, the run up to the NFL Draft, I use first-pick.com as a game- yes- but also as a tool, to research players around the country. There is so much coverage of the players generally expected to go in the first three rounds that they are quite easy to find and assess. It is after that though, in the later rounds, where there is still much talent, but many names that are virtually unknown. Quite often I find myself knee-deep in your game, with six or eight tabs open to various scouting reports/tape or school newspapers, trying desperately to get the real scoop on one player or another. Basically, it makes scouting fun.

Is that unique? Or have you heard the same from other writers/bloggers/sportscasters?

Mike and Brian (M&B)- Oh, absolutely the same.  At First-Pick.com I get a lot of emails asking me specifics on 6th, 7th round or FA projected players who don't have a lot of scouting reports.  These emails want to to understand the lower round rankings and ultimately want to find the diamonds in the rough.  Ranking the top 3 rounds is pretty easy, there is a lot of info on the top talent, but after that if you look at 10 different experts you are likely to find 10 different answers.  We try to provide a platform for users to start their own research (exactly what you are using the site for!).  The first 3 rounds in the simulation are going to look similar to what most of the experts are saying, but as you get later in the draft it is harder to predict, and takes a lot more research.  The main point of the simulation/game is not to give you any answers, but rather to get people to start learning about these later picks so when he gets selected and makes your team you've heard about him, read about him, and are up on him earlier.  The simulation can't tell you who is going to be the best, it just allows you the potential of seeing a diamond before it is polished.

In addition to finding those possible hidden-gem players, first-pick has a habit of forcing some real GM thought processes onto the player e.g. (Playing as the Rams) Brandon Scherff is still on the board and we really need an OT/OG, but Miami is offering me their 14th and a second rounder...decisions, decisions...

I have seen many criticize your game for it's unrealistic trade offers. In the above example (and that exact offer comes up routinely) Miami's offer amounts to 1530 points according to the DTVC for the Rams total of 1300. That is a hefty offer on Miami's part, but could be realistic depending on just who is still available. It has been said that "Teams trade up for a [particular] player" Meaning that they fall in love with someone and just have to have them. It is horrible to talk about human being in this light, but let's face it- the NFL draft is all about a commodity product. Just as gasoline prices rise and fall continuously according to what has happened, what might happen or what amounts to guess-work by "experts" so it is with players in the draft and bidding wars do erupt between various teams. First-pick, does a good job of emulating all of these decisions...


How?

M&B- We get a lot of opinions about the game's trade logic and we have found about half of the users want it to be tightened and about half want it to be where it is or even looser.  The simulation's intent is to mimic the GM decisions, but in a fun way.  We really wanted to allow the fans a chance to create a dream scenario for their team's draft, so when we originally designed the game we did a lot of game testing to help determine what would be the best way to have these GM decisions play out.  We went to both extremes and found getting crazy offers was just more fun.  When we implemented it into the game most of our audience felt the same way.  We have since tried tailoring it both ways, and again responses both ways.  It is just really hard to please everyone.  I would say at this point we are probably a little too far on the unrealistic side of things and we are planning on tightening the trades in the future, or at least giving more options to the users.

Do you use real life scenarios to form a basis for in game situations? Examples?

M&B- Yes, all of our GM logic was originally based on real-life scenarios.  We are all well aware of the NFL draft value chart (Draft Value Chart).  We devised something similar, but modified based on tons of real-life trades.  We tailored these inputs with layers of logic all around trades that have occurred over the past several decades.  As an example, teams have recently "overpaid" for top picks, paying well over the original draft value parameters.  Seeing as this is more common, we built this into the game.

For the moment, one can only trade future first round picks, do you have any plans to make all future picks tradeable?

M&B- Yes, but it is lower on our list.  Every time we alter something like this in the game we need to test it thoroughly as it can alter the game logic.  So it is not as straight-forward as it seems.  We like to do a lot of testing before we put anything officially on the site.

Are there any other future changes that you are working on?

M&B- We are really focusing more on user involvement aspects of the site.  This will include existing as well and new elements of the game.  It takes a while to build these types of features and to test them accordingly, but I like where we are heading.  Without going into specifics, I will note that we have taken into consideration many user requests and feedback in what we are designing.

This site, must be a tremendous amount of work especially at this time of year, can you tell us about some of the work? When do you start forming your list for the next year? How often do you update team needs and player rankings?

M&B- It is a lot of work.  Just keeping up with the inputs is difficult, but being that a lot of the material is subjective it is even more challenging.  As the draft nears it becomes nearly a daily task to keep up with team needs, players, etc.

Why is there not an A+ score for individual player picks, to let you know when you have really picked well?

M&B- We only recently added an A+ to the overall scores, but you are correct - no "A+" for individual players.  At the time we wanted the A to be a difficult level to achieve, and an A+ would have to be much more rare.  We were afraid having it could allow users to identify high ranking players quickly and take some of the fun out of the game.  We constantly are considering scoring revisions, so an A+ player rankings may be in the future.

Which teams draw the most attention/use? (It's the Rams, right? Rams fans love the draft, since it is the one time a year were we feel like we win something. Basically, draft season usually starts in October for us)

M&B- As you may expect, it tends to be the teams with the higher draft picks each year: the top 10 picks.  Though we have a lot of fans in Detroit, Buffalo, St. Louis, Cleveland, and San Francisco.  So, those teams are always well represented.  As the game is gaining users we are finding we are becoming pretty well represented across all of the NFL teams  - which was one of our original goals, so the growth has been great.

Now, I know this question was asked last year, but truthfully, it wasn't answered to some people's (ok, my) satisfaction...how do people get these 8000 plus scores? This is my all time best score playing as the Titans (sorry Rams fans)-

I really thought I was on pace to finally hit 8k....sadly, not so much. Without using names, can you point us to just what one of those 8 or 9 thousand scores looks like?

M&B- The game will credit you for selecting a player that slips in the draft (rated highly, but gets passed over).  The later the pick, the higher you can potentially score.  For instance if Marcus Mariota somehow slips into Day 2 of the draft he would be a unbelievable steal, no matter which team you are playing with.  That said, later picks can give you a lot of points if you find guys that really slip.  In your case the latest pick is a 4th rounder... having some later picks and doing well with the selections could help your score.  For really high scores, the future 1st round picks are a must - to score at the top you need those.  Finally, The top line scores do not have B's, they tend to be all A's.  It is hard.  The users that score really well in the game are very good at knowing the players and judging the trade options.  I will say this, there are a ton of users that regularly score better than I do and I know all of the rankings.  So, knowing the players/rankings is only part of it.

Is there anything else that you would like to say to your many fans here on TST?

M&B- I want to say Thank You!  Your viewers represent one of our largest bases of our regular users.  We receive so much email from Rams' fans that Brian and I have become pretty big supporters of the team.  Also, please keep sending us updates and improvements for First-Pick.com, we center all of our future projects on the site around user feedback so your input is always a big help!

And I would like to say thanks to Mike and Brian for taking the time during this very busy draft season to answer these questions and another huge thanks for creating this great game...I seriously hope you make a mint from it.