Xpovos' Blog - Jan to Mar 18 (99 followers)

PermalinkGTASC 2018 - Blog 3 - While Time Quietly Kills Them
In the GTASC forums we recently returned to a regular refrain, concerns about how much time is spent by the dedicated GamerScore competitors. These come in a couple of different flavors. 1) Concerns about it being unfair because the poster, personally, can't spend as much time gaming as he assumes the top scorers do. These often come with a heaping of scorn. "Of course I can't score that much, I have a job and don't live in my mother's basement." 2) Concerns about the other gamers, since scoring that much must indicate an unhealthy obsession with, and devotion of time to GamerScore . These often come with backhanded elements such as noting a probable lack of sleep.

These discussions are as old as the hobby, and probably as old as hobbies. But after this latest round, I got to wondering about a different angle. In the United Sates, one of the functions of our government is that it collects a lot of statistical data on Americans. It uses this data, and makes it publicly available for others to use, to help ensure it provides the services Americans actually need and want. At least, in theory. Apparently one of the services we need and want is statistical analysis.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) surveys time usage by Americans. The results are pretty enlightening, particularly if we're going to have a debate about how we are spending our time. The data can be found here: https://www.bls.gov/tus/, but rather than just talk about it, I figured I could show it too.

2016 Data from the BLS2016 Data from the BLS

U.S. workers have long had a reputation for working some of the longest hours in the world. Japan has us beat, but our "Protestant work ethic" supposedly drives us to work more hours than our European friends. Those are old notions and stereotypes, however. A recent survey of workers across thirty-seven countries found the United States only in the middle of the pack at 16th place. Mexico and Russia led the way. Ireland beat out the U.S. by a spot, but the U.S. actually worked longer hours than Japan (22nd), Canada (23rd), the UK (26th) or, of course, France (34th). Some stereotypes are still valid, it seems.

Those are hours worked on the job for folks in those countries in the labor force. The excellent thing about the BLS is that it attempts to capture all American data, not just the workers. As a result, you can see from that table that the average hours of "work" per weekday is 4.6, or 3.6 overall to better include our weekend workers. With a little over half of our population in the labor force, this seems pretty spot on. On average, an American over the age of 15 will spend 25.2 hours per week working. But this is largely a bimodal distribution where a significant portion will work something much closer to the standard 40-hour week, and another significant portion will largely not have "work for hire" hours, except perhaps a few here and there. These non-labor force adults are often students, caregivers (e.g. stay-at-home moms), or ill. Their time is spent in other activities rather than "work", and those other activities are captured in this data as well.

External image

The one category of time from that chart that is the most important for what we're talking about here is the "Leisure and sports" category. This is basically the "free time" allotment and Americans enjoy, on average, a little more than five hours a day of free time.* Obviously, how we choose to use our free time is one of the things that really distinguishes people. The folks at this site tend to spend a lot of their free time playing video games. But few of us would spend it all. We have other hobbies as well. There's a TV show we want to watch, a movie to go see, etc. Also included in this is "sport" so our gym rats will also find that their time is split here between gaming potential and their gym fix.

If we do allow that all five hours of free time per day are allotted to video games, that's more than 35 hours a week to game for score, on average. That is a lot of games. I think very few of our gamers do this, though. My conversations with those formidable scorers that I have spoken to have almost universally shown that they are dedicated family members, hard workers at their 40-hour-a-week jobs, but that they do throw nearly every available hour at gaming. But even then, nearly is not all. There is a balance always.

Personally, I find I'm probably gaming 8-21 hours a week. That's a big range, but life is like that. This past week was closer to the 8-hour range as I did a lot of family stuff. Things that might be put in that caregiver category in some senses, but was realistically just me spending my free time being a Dad. That hurt my scoring. I'm down on the number of achievements I earned by a large margin this past GTASC week. I didn't earn a single achievement on either Saturday OR Sunday. I can't remember the last time I went a weekend without scoring. It was probably when I was out of town on a vacation.

There are a lot of good advice books on how to make the best use of your time. Most of them start with the assumption you can actually track where you spend your time. It's a hard thing to do. But comparing to an average easier and a good first step. Knowing how you are actually wasting your time is pretty important. It's amazing how much time gets sucked up by things that are absolute nothings. Scroll Facebook for fifteen minutes? What was the end value? Did you interact with your friends more? In most cases it's just fifteen minutes lost. As for that other gamer who is scoring so much more than you? Maybe he's just not wasting his time. It's always easier to criticize someone else who might be doing something wrong than to take the time to really look at the situation and realize you've got the plank in your own eye. Take the time, track your time and identify how you are spending it. Do it to stop wasting those precious minutes. Which is not to say don't use Facebook if you want to. If you get enough enjoyment out of those 15 minutes on Facebook--fine! Just make sure it's a conscious decision not just a habit or a continuation of a choice you made 15 minutes ago because it's easier to keep going on than to change. Claim your minutes for important and fun pastimes. Don't kill time.

*** Spoiler - click to reveal ***
Posted by Xpovos on 14 February 18 at 15:55 | There are 5 comments on this blog post - Please log in to comment on this blog.
PermalinkStupor Mundi - Qualis Artifex Peribunt
The news just flashed for me. Artifex Mundi, the developer and publisher of MANY hidden object puzzle games that are loved by the gamerscore and achievement hunting community for their relative easy and quickness, has decided to raise the prices of their products.


At present, Artifex Mundi has 13 games on the Xbox One. The Canadian marketplace seems to be taking the longest to update, so if you're in Canada, you may still be able to get these for the pre-hike price, which is kind of like a discount now. Though, honestly, these games have gone on discount plenty of times as well! In fact, that's how I got the three I own. In a recent sale I purchased a three-pack bundle containing:

Grim Legends: The Forsaken Bride
Enigmatis: The Ghosts of Maple Creek
Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart

I bought all three for $10 and thought it a decent deal. $3.33 for a game that I have mild-to-moderate interest in and which I can probably play with my wife once we get a TV that can actually display pixels well enough to try a hidden object game on.* That bundle, now costs $45 in the U.S. market.

Taking Artifex Mundi at their word, from their statement that I linked above, for a moment, this is a business decision that they needed to take. Their expenses are high. They've brought in a lot of staff to help crank out these games on a regular schedule across multiple platforms. That has to be paid for somehow. And the frequent players of the games can probably attest that $15 is not an outrageous price to pay for these games. They're not amazing, but they fill a niche well, are generally free from bugs, and have a sufficiently large player base to encourage more of them.

The problems I have with this are several, though, regardless of what their true intentions are. I don't see this as a cash grab. For the most part, anyone who was going to buy most of their older catalogue has already done so. I've got three, some people have 13. If you don't have any, it's because they don't interest you at all, or you had somewhere else better to spend your $3.33 on a game. In other words, they don't really interest you. This price hike on their old titles is not going to cost them very many sales... right now.

The price raise on future games is reasonable. If you have a product worth $15... sell it for $15 instead of $10. No one would object. Particularly if there is an increase in perceived quality as the games go forward.

The problem does come from raising the price on their old catalogue. Not only does this fly in the face of the evidence I laid out for best economic practices of game developers in this blog: Xpovos' blog post - Used Game Economics, but it is bound to upset customers. And in fact, I found the news because an angry customer complained about it in a public way. Angry customers are unlikely to be repeat customers.

But wait, there's more. If you are a gamer with a large backlog, as many of us at this site are, we can reasonably hesitate on purchasing a game like an Artifex Mundi title, even if it is on tremendous sale in a great bundle because we have too much to play as it is, and the likelihood is that the game will be on sale at the same price or even cheaper at some point in the future. That no longer seems like a reasonable assumption. This move does them no favors with non-customers who might have been customers if they weren't so busy playing the competition's (other devs/publishers) games. Instead of trying to compete for these customers AM has said, "we're not interested."

I think this is a poor move on their part and one that will cost them a lot of money. The lost good will is the hardest part to replace. And if the damage is bad enough, it will be a sad thing because even though I'm not a tremendous fan of their games or their style, I liked having the variety in the marketplace. If Artifex Mundi is forced to withdraw from the Xbox marketplace or from development of these games entirely, it is bad news for all of us.

My advice to Artifex Mundi, if they should choose to hear it, is to look at your statement again. You are trying to crank out a new game every three weeks. That is the problem, not the price you are selling it at. Sell more games by selling fewer titles at longer intervals with perhaps a slightly higher price tag. But never, ever, try to raise prices on a digital good, particularly not one where you have had multiple sales and opportunities to buy it for an even lower price.

*** Spoiler - click to reveal ***
Posted by Xpovos on 02 February 18 at 19:37 | Last edited on 02 February 18 at 20:27 | There are 7 comments on this blog post - Please log in to comment on this blog.
PermalinkGTASC 2018 - Blog 2 - It's Been a While
I mean, obviously I didn't blog last week. I'm not going to try to blog every week, just when I think I have something interesting to say, even if it's just about myself, as this week mostly is. But that is not why I'm saying it's been a while.

For this week in the GTASC I revisited a couple of games I haven't played in a long time. First, due to a random achievement challenge (more on that in a future blog) I was interested in completing South Park Let's Go Tower Defense Play!. So I gathered a crew, and we got to work. South Park's Tower Defense game is a unique one in that you always have four kids, and the kids basically act as mobile towers. If you don't have enough human players, the AI will "play" the other kids, but it will never use their special abilities and it throws snowballs much slower than a human can. So playing by yourself is a disadvantage, particularly when working for the most difficult achievement in the game:

South Park Let's Go Tower Defense Play!MANBEARPIG!The MANBEARPIG! achievement in South Park Let's Go Tower Defense Play! worth 45 pointsBeat Mountain on Insane difficulty using walls and snowballs. No towers!

Beat all three stages of a fairly hard level on the highest difficulty using only walls and snowballs (and special powers, which is what makes it plausible). This is a fun achievement because it requires skill and coordination AND is difficult enough to be a challenge without being so painfully difficult as to be unfun. Overall, I think our crew took three or four shots at this, with one of them being aborted at the first wave because we (I) had messed up our maze. One of the hardest things is to be careful to not build a tower by accident, thus invalidating the achievement. This is hard because you want and need to build walls to make the maze, but the wall building menu is a little slippery, and if you're not very precise with your input you can accidentally build a tower by trying to move while building a wall. All-told, there's plenty of challenge here, so I'd had this achievement set on the back burner for a long time. Thank you for the extra motivation, achievement challenge.

Because we'd done so well blasting through the campaign over the course of two nights and getting MANBEARPIG on a third night, the crew stuck together for the last achievement, finishing the challenge maps, which after the real challenge of MANBEARPIG was a walk in the park. All four of us got a game completion from as many as 6 achievements down over the course of the week. So, congrats and thaks to my crew: Tressilation, Proulx and Jzarp43. You'll find all four of us right next to each other in the 100% club.

I hadn't earned an achievement in South Park Let's Go Tower Defense Play! since October of 2016. Coincidentally, that was a result of another achievement challenge: UHH 2 match up: Xpovos vs Dude Love I didn't pull that one out then, but I did earn two achievements in the attempt. And then put the game back on hold for another year and a quarter.

What's most impressive about this though wasn't that year and a quarter gap, it's the gap since I started the game. A while back I posted this: Xpovos' blog post - Longest Completion In that blog I talked about how long it took me to complete certain games. At that time, the longest was Castle Crashers with a total completion time of 2314 days. Before Monday night that was still my longest. Now South Park Let's Go Tower Defense Play! is in the lead, and it was a massive jump: 3017 days. Eight and a quarter years.

But that was hardly my only "long game" story this week. In an effort to secure the bonus Tressilation also helped me out with a viral achievement:

Grand Theft Auto IVLet Sleeping Rockstars LieXpovosThe Let Sleeping Rockstars Lie achievement in Grand Theft Auto IV worth 14 pointsKill a Rockstar developer in a ranked multiplayer match.

One viral achievement down, one step closer to a completion GTA IV. I mean, probably not ever at this point, but if I can just keep knocking down one achievement every so often, it'll happen. So, how long as it been? My previous "last" achievement in GTA IV had been earned 2009-03-01. Almost nine years ago. Man, it has been a while.

This viral achievement hunt had a lot of other folks digging through old games too. It was fun to see, and great to see how willing people were to help each other out. Need a viral? Hit me up was a common theme in the forums.

We're through three weeks now and that means the dust is starting to settle a bit. With ~10% reductions each week, we've knocked out about 27% of the total competition already and we're not even into February. We're likely to see things take a step towards more competitive here, and I imagine by the time we hit week 8, when we'll have less than 50% of the initial field still in play that we'll have a roaring competition.
Posted by Xpovos on 31 January 18 at 16:39 | There is 1 comment on this blog post - Please log in to comment on this blog.
PermalinkGTASC 2018 - Blog 1
The first period of the GTASC has come and gone, and with it we had all the normal fun that comes with the first period. Confusion over the rules for new players, and consternation over the lack of competition and the high number of eliminations all at once. Truly, there is no pleasing everyone. Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying that you can foll all of the people some of the time, and some of the peolpe all of the time, but never all of the people all of the time. I think we're probably easier to fool than to please, but even then, I think he might have been overstating it. I have harped on our willingness to complain about every little thing before, nothing has changed.

What I wanted to talk about though were two facts. First, the quick movement of the cutoffs. We knew that the move from a weekend to a weekday might impact how quickly the cutoff would rise. But we got our first glimpse at it on this past Wednesday. I wasn't able to pay as close attention as I would have liked, but I did get a couple of snapshots for my own use. The line moved about 50 points in the last hour or so. Enough so that, as always, some teams that probable felt safe suddenly weren't.

Rather than focusing on the losers, though, I wanted to take a moment and look at some of the survivors. Not too long before the period ended I was shocked to see a couple of teams still in the red zone, and deep in the red zone at that. Vicious and Delicious is a team made up of two members of a team that has made it to the finals consistently for a while, and been a major scoring force for longer. They chose to use the freebie bonus before the bonus timer ticked down, but for much of the week they were near the bottom of the charts, which I had found shocking. Also a surprise bottom dweller was Trump top, Boris bottom. It seems Trump found some points in his dossier, though and they catapulted out of the danger zone not long before the eliminations hit. There were other semi-competitive teams that I had noted as being deep in the red zone late in the week as well. As all of these teams jumped up into survival, they pushed down other teams who got eliminated instead, but the cut-off rose as they did. This is what makes the GTASC so much fun. Everyone is interacting, but in a very abstracted way.

One way in which we all interact in a very abstract way is through decay. I hadn't earned anything early on in the period and when I woke up Thursday morning I had a substantial amount of negative points (for me). Obviously, TA scores change constantly. And while I'd lost something like 11 points overnight, it hadn't come from any single source. Instead I'd probably had two or three dozen achievement each decay a half of a point. The more achievements you've earned, the more likely it is that your score change is out of your hands. I checked out the scoring of two of the gamers with the most achievements in the competition over at Eat, Sleep, Complete, Repeat. While I had 11 points of decay, that first day smrnov had 527! Now, having those broad bases of achievements is also a benefit at times. Teams with lots of achievements already earned got a huge boost a few years ago when TA launched the TrueAchievements app. The free advertising from the app caused a massive influx of new visitors and registrants, which dramatically increased the ratio for many games that these big scorers had previously completed. We all affect each other's scores through decay and appreciation, and we affect the cutoff line through our play each week. Even the registered members of TA who aren't participating in the GTASC are still participating in some way.

Finally, it's important to briefly mention the bonus that was active on the team side. Earn 6000 GS as a team. That's enough to be off-putting at this stage, because it's so much more than you need to survive. But in many ways it was just what the doctor ordered for me. Since I'm here to try to clear out some of my backlog of "for points" games, this was a great opportunity for me to dump some at least. I didn't end up dumping that much. I cleaned out The Walking Dead: Season Two for the completion and 500 of my GS. I hadn't enjoyed Season 2 nearly as much as Season One when I played them on the 360, but playing it again on the One I had a better time than I expected. I think in part because my own experience had lowered my expectations enough that I was able to just enjoy it for what it was. I still don't like it nearly as much as Season 1, or several other TellTale games, but I certainly gave it a lot less grief this time around. Another 1000 GS came from starting and completing MONOPOLY Deal. I did almost all of this against the AI on my own, and that was a fun experience. For me, even when playing a game for points, it's important that I experience the game. There are a lot of things I could do to play certain games faster, but I just can't bring myself to do that. I'm doing this to play games, not just to score points. My remaining chunk of points for the week was quite the hodgepodge as I mostly delved into my started games. I could easily have gotten a lot more by just starting a few more of my quick points games, but I didn't and I'm glad of it. These non-fast games need to be played too! I did have some frustration in that some of the games I played I earned achievements in, and they didn't unlock. I've been hit with the new "Done! Unlocking..." bug where achievements are saying they're 100% unlocked, but aren't actually unlocking. Oh well, those are "free" points for later in the contest when they finally decide to unlock, I guess. In the end, Tress and I got there, without too much stress.

I'm not going for the solo bonus. Too much for too little for a contest I'm happy to participate in, but I'm in it for the Team, as always. So this week I get to take it easy. I can look at my collection and see what I want to work on. Hopefully finish a game or two, or at least make some progress on a couple of other projects.
Posted by Xpovos on 19 January 18 at 20:41 | There are 7 comments on this blog post - Please log in to comment on this blog.
PermalinkSome Personal Notes and a Look Forward
It has been a busy couple of months for me. I'm always busy in the fall, due to my work schedule, but that spilled over in the the winter months here this year. That's not uncommon, but normally by the holiday season things have slowed down for me. Not this year.

The holidays were a massive rush of task after task. Even when I got to take some time off of work for the period between Christmas and New Year's, it was not as relaxing and easy-going as I had hoped. I had plans of writing a ton (blogs and otherwise) and playing a lot of games and doing lots of video editing work to build my skills. It just didn't happen. I've written four blogs since the start of November, which is a very slow pace for me. It hasn't been that I haven't had things to say, but that I haven't had the time to say them properly. Even the blogs I did do felt a bit rushed as a result.

I wish I could say it was just work that kept me busy. Unfortunately, that's not the case. I had to deal with a slew of the standard problems of life. Leaking plumbing, which turned into a "call the plumber," problem pretty quick. Then the plumber broke the counter-top, so that's taken a turn for the worse. I spent some time in the attic again, replacing a ceiling fan for the one that died. Being in the attic is not fun at the best of times, and the best of times are not when it's below freezing out. Even better that project has had knock-on effects because despite my best efforts I managed to damage the ceiling drywall from the attic, so now I get to fix that as a project. Nor is it all DIY homeowner stuff. Shortly before Christmas my older, but beloved, car started making a noise. Not a "huh, that's an odd noise" noise, but a "that's a bad noise and if I don't get it looked at it is going to get worse" noise. So I had my mechanic check it out and after a false lead (my fault) we got to the diagnosis: something in the differential. My old car's transmission was toast. Transmission specialists confirmed and the prices quoted for repair/replacement are about double (or more) what my car is worth. So, I bought a "new" car. Actually an older model than my previous (now broken) car, with fewer bells and whistles, but a little bit less mileage and most importantly, not a bad transmission. All for a price lower than my repairs would have been, even before trade in (junk). Having a new car is always a bit exciting, but I'm going to miss my old one. And even though this was the cheaper option, it still wasn't cheap, so my gaming budget is probably going to take a hit for a few months (at least).

<b>A new car!</b>  Just imagine Rod Roddy said it.A "new" car! Just imagine Rod Roddy said it.

Everyone has these kinds of problems come up in life, they're part of what make life what it is. And how we deal with them largely determines how we're going to feel about life. I'm not thrilled to be dealing with one thing after another, but it's important to keep my head up and stay positive, because the alternative is a path that leads to some very bad things.

Gaming is often a nice escape from those real-world problems, so I was very happy to actually be able to game a bit more with the new year. My last blog was about the end of my 2017 year-long streak. One of the takeaways from that streak was that I didn't game as "well" as I'd hoped in 2017. Another was that streaking was slightly detrimental to my more important gaming goals. No more intentional streaking (for a while). The recognition also gave me a bit of focus to buckle down on some other gaming goals: have fun, play the games I already own, complete them, etc.

So I tore into The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II. Van Helsing 2 has the distinction of being the only Neocore game released for Xbox One that wasn't Games with Gold. I bought it Day One, but I never got gripped by it. In part, the lack of grip was due to the fact that I chose the Arcane Mechanic character class and it just wasn't working for me. But I needed to stick it out regardless for an achievement, right? Well, even that wasn't enough and the game has languished too long on my "I should play that" pile. Last week I finished off the main story with that Arcane Mechanic and now I can work on grinding the rest of the achievements, which is a process I should actually find quite fun. Even better, with the story complete, I felt it was OK to start The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III, which I did last night. One of the gaming communities I partake in had a guy who wanted to start it and since I've never played the Van Helsing games in multiplayer, I wanted to give it a shot. We made pretty good progress in the about two hours we played before I had to get to bed so I could get up for work. As a result, the Van Helsing series is responsible for over half my achievements so far this month.

My current biggest source of TA comes from completing Madden NFL 15 (Xbox 360), though. My first completion of the new year, with a little help from Tressilation. A few weeks ago I asked Tressilation for some help with Hardwood Hearts to get through the online, since he had the game and needed the online too. While we worked, we chatted and he invited me to a GTASC team for 2018, so we agreed and now, with registration closed, we're in: Board Game Bros. No illusions of winning here c(particularly now that smrnov teamed up with RedmptionDenied --what a powerhouse!) just hopefully a strong contention with a lot of extra motivation to play games, and play more games with Tressilation, which is awesome because we have a similar collection in terms of taste, if not scope. That will give us a lot of material to work on through the year as we did with Madden. It should be a blast.

If the GTASC and personal revitalization aren't enough to spark some scoring, I am still streaming. I wanted to take a moment to publicize the streaming schedule coming up, at least as far as we have figured out. All times are Eastern U.S. (GMT-5)

1/9/2018 @ 9:00 PM Slime Rancher
1/13/2018 @ 4:00 PM Hearthstone -- Continuing to teach Des how to play. Probably do some single-player content like a Dungeon Run and the first wing of Karazhan.
1/16/2018 @ 9:00 Powerstar Golf
1/20/2018 @ 4:00 PM Hearthstone -- Probably an Arena run.
1/23/2018 @ 9:00 PM Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death
1/27/2018 @ 4:00 PM Hearthstone -- Probably the last episode of Hearthstone, dip our toes into the competitive scene.
1/30/2018 @ 9:00 PM Nin²-Jump
2/3/2018 @ 4:00 PM Military Madness: Nectaris
2/6/2018 @ 9:00 PM World of Van Helsing: Deathtrap
2/10/2018 @ 4:00 PM Ironcast
2/13/2018 @ 9:00 PM Doki Doki Literature Club

The Saturday sessions may get moved due to family situations, either in time, or postponed entirely. Unfortunately it's very hard to commit to a weekend schedule because life does stay so busy, as I started off with. Therefore its entirely possible this schedule may shift to accomodate the streamers. Please come join us if these games look interesting, or just to hang out with Des and I as we have a good time.

You can also check out VODs of the most recent streams on Mixer, or view them as I edit and upload to YouTube. Hopefully I'll get better at editing and I can get some better highlights up there for folks who might be interested, but don't want to stick around for a whole stream.
Posted by Xpovos on 08 January 18 at 15:51 | Last edited on 08 January 18 at 15:56 | There are 3 comments on this blog post - Please log in to comment on this blog.