Xpovos' Blog - Jan to Mar 18 (108 followers)

PermalinkHow I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love GamerScore
  • On Statistics

TrueAchievements (TA) is an amazing place for me to be. I am somewhat famously fanatical about statistics, at least as it pertains to my gaming. I do like working with big data sets elsewhere as well, but gaming is where I get to really use it, thanks entirely to TA.

Back in the day I lamented that I could not easily tell what games I had won achievements in on a particular day, or particular month, from the Xbox 360 dashboard. I would have to review every game manually and make a note of when I'd earned the achievements, if I was looking for a particular date. The data was all there, it was just in an unusable format. Microsoft seemed largely unwilling to do anything about it. And that may well have been for the best, given their tendency to mess things up by "improving" them.

When I found TA, the ability to just see my achievements in date order was enough, but so much more was on offer. The key concept of TA, the ratio for determining achievement rarity, was a great addition for me as well. At the time I was in a debate with my friends about just how "easy" my LEGO games were. I contended that, of course, they were easy, but they required a fair amount of determination to get through. The ratio helped me to demonstrate that my gaming choices were in many ways just as valid as their more mainstream games, by which of course I mean shooters.

This image has me feeling so conflicted.This image has me feeling so conflicted.

TA overwhelms us with statistical options, ratio completions (with or without DLC), genres and leaderboards for those genres, total achievements, standardized achievement values, and yet for all that exist here, we find more that we like to keep track of because they have meaning for us, personally.

A long while back I blogged about a completions ratio, or CAROTS (as AlbinoKidELITE coined it). This is a number that still intrigues me personally, and it's not an official TA statistic. When I wrote the blog: Xpovos' blog post - Completions vs. Completion Percentage my CAROTS score was about 41%. It's about 40% now, after a pretty heavy dose of new games-starting. These are a long way from my "target" goal of ~80% for that ratio. There's no arguing with the stats. I'm completing about 40% of the games I start when viewed at multiple instances over many years, half of my end goal.

More recently, DANIELJJ14 revived an idea I'd seen elsewhere, but I can't source, so he'll get credit for now. DANIELJJ14's blog post - The Unique Ratio Test. In this blog he discusses the highest ratio achievement earned in unique games. So, first, you have to play enough games, then they have to include some high ratio stuff. This is not a test that is kind to newcomers. But it does an acceptable job of showing, perhaps, how some gamers are more skilled, or are more dedicated to high ratio games, without just being ALL about the ratio. Using this technique, a gamer could play ten tough games and then all of the Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Burning Earth clones he wants for a huge GS, but a tanked ratio, and still be shown as a competent and skilled gamer, not one relying solely on easy score.

I've tracked my own score via this metric for quite a while. It doesn't move quickly, but here's a screenshot of my current view--I keep this in my main page side bar, not as a motivation tool, but mostly as a curio.

Top-10 Highest Ratio Achievements, Unique Games.Top-10 Highest Ratio Achievements, Unique Games.

So my tenth is this one:

World Series of Poker: Full House ProHigh SteaksThe High Steaks achievement in World Series of Poker: Full House Pro worth 156 pointsBuy yourself a T-Bone Steak at a million-chip (or higher) buy-in table.

This achievement from a discontinued free-to-play game that has been the source of my wrath requires accumulating a tremendous amount of in-game currency, either by paying for it, winning it in "simulated gambling", or hoarding it from daily login bonuses. Then you need to spend it on a consumable. All of your chips are gone. But you still need to have enough left over to play a hand a million-chip buy-in table. Also the consumable is level-gated, so you have to play the game enough to earn sufficient xp to meet that criteria as well.

This isn't "hard," it's obnoxious and requires a level of commitment most people don't have. It could be done with some dumb luck, or just enough time and persistence. That is my wheelhouse.

When I talk with Des, my streaming partner, about what I'm good at in games, she mocks me, fairly, as being "good at collecting feathers." I can stomach the collectable grind. I don't necessarily find it enjoyable, but they bother me less than other gamers.

Only 491 to go!Only 491 to go!

Eventually I'll earn an achievement that is higher ratio than that one, and I'll have a new tenth. In the meantime, my current 10th-highest unique score is 7.7, which is respectable, but hardly impressive.

  • On Motivations

We all have our favorite statistics that we play to. Some people play for ratio. Some people play for the thrill of earning something that almost no one else will. I know Crandy digs leaderboard achievements for some reason. smrnov wants completions. Stallion83 wants raw GamerScore. Skeptical Mario is preloading like a mad fiend for a 24-hour binge to end all score-focused gaming, while RedmptionDenied is likely once again preloading for his yearly November-December explosion. I know gamers who want to top the Games Played leaderboards. I know gamers that want a 100% completion ratio. None of these are exactly mutually exclusive, but many of them do compete with each other. It is hard to be aiming for the highest ratio without sacrificing on total GamerScore because of the time and effort required to get those last achievements which are worth the most ratio. They're high ratio because most people don't or can't get them--there's usually a reason.

These statistics, the ones tracked by TA, by Microsoft, or just in our own spreadsheets or even just in our heads, help give additional meaning to our hobby. We spend time making pixels light up in sequences that mean something to us, but not much to so many others. So it's not unreasonable that we'd look for additional meaning--quantifiable meaning. I think that we do this because the most important meaning is not quantifiable.

Fun does not computeFun does not compute

We play for fun. We have fun playing games. Critically for many of us here, we have fun playing games even when the games are objectively bad. I completed Yaris. That's not the worst game ever, but why on earth did I choose to go back and play that when I knew it was no good? I put hours into it for the sake of a completion and for GamerScore and a tasty bit of ratio. And if I am being honest, as I am trying to be in this blog post, I had fun doing it. I had fun because I got to experience the end of the game. I got to play with my buddy, V1p3rs bite and help him get the completion too. We had fun together and we got the rush of brain chemicals rewarding us for our success.

When we can get that for playing good games, so much the better, but why not take the fun an enjoyment we can even from the bad games? It's perhaps the best when we get that additional rush for playing a game we think is bad, and finding out that it's decent. Some of my favorite moments of GamerScore hunting have come, not from playing the good games, but from playing the acceptable ones that I thought were going to be awful such as Lost: Via Domus or more recently The Fall.

I, personally, find it fun to play a lot of different kinds of games: some hard, some easy; some free-to-play and grindy enough to take years to complete; others done in an hour, but cost $15. I don't think I have a type and my statistics seem to bear that out. I don't particularly enjoy the difficult achievement hunt, but I have managed some pretty difficult ones over the years on my own quests. I have a decent ratio, but not anywhere near top-tier, and it has sunk quite a bit this year as I have binged on cream puff games and easy GamerScore--and loved nearly every minute of it. I have a mediocre completion percentage, but it could easily be higher if I just stopped starting new games. But what would be the point? Delaying the fun I'd have in those started games, hiding my "true" statistics, even from myself?

And that's just where I should be. I've always been a bit of a generalist. I can do almost anything pretty well. Not as well as the best, but better than most people if I focus. It's not a surprise to me that I'm that way in my games as well. I can find fun just about anywhere. Which means that I can't say I'm not going to play to statistics. I'm specifically playing games for GamerScore. Achievements and the statistics around them are going to continue to drive me. But I can acknowledge that it is all for fun, that the hunt of any particular statistic isn't my goal, but the overall goal of fun is reached in hunting for all of them--at least occasionally.

I'm creeping up on 200,000 GamerScore, an impressive milestone. 200 full retail games worth of achievements, and look, I've got 187 completions. But I have to be careful. There's another statistic creeping out, unintentional and uncalled for. There's another way I could attempt to quantify my fun. Man, if I could find a way to complete just 13 more games before the 200,000 GamerScore, how awesome would that be? I totally could, too. I've got bunches right next to completion. Jeopardy! (Xbox 360) or Undertow. I can throw a few bucks at Ticket to Ride or Motocross Madness to get their DLC and get "credit" for those completions again with my settings.

I'd have fun doing it too.
Posted by Xpovos on 28 March 18 at 22:22 | Last edited on 28 March 18 at 22:22 | There are 10 comments on this blog post - Please log in to comment on this blog.
PermalinkAin't It Dead Yet?
No, I'm pretty clearly not dead. I've been fairly active in gaming, but quiet in terms of the blog and other things. So a quick run-down on some of the major motions of late.

The GTASC abides. The competition has gotten stiff enough that I've seen fairly competitive gamers get knocked out. Some high scoring guys, too, who though the line couldn't move as fast as it did on a Wednesday morning. I'm having a slow week this week myself. It might pay off in the form of a bonus, but I don't think I'm going to count on that. I should be dumping some more points tonight and tomorrow for:

The TA Happy Birthday Community Challenge. For those who missed it, the site has elected to give out 1-month of TA Pro to every member who completes the spelling challenge prior to midnight on Wednesday. A single month is not a lot, but I'll take free for a challenge I was intending to complete anyway, right? The downside is... I haven't even gotten my first H to start spelling 'Happy' yet. My weekend was not game-free, but it was differently focused. I spent a lot of it working on the stuff that pays the bills, rather than one of the hobbies that saps the funds. What did I play, though? Time for some more one-sentence reviews. I haven't done these in a while.

Crypt of the Serpent King It looks like it plays like Dungeon Hack clone, a 1993 D&D dungeon crawler; yet the original has everything the clone lacks.

Seriously, I knew Crypt of the Serpent King was a bad game, but I was amazed at how bad. The concept is solid enough that it could have worked, but it is remarkably empty. The 1993 SSI game, Dungeon Hack is better in every single way, except graphics. And even that is a more of a wash than a point in Serpent King's favor. Still, I like the style of the game, in part because I loved Dungeon Hack. I'll force myself through the rest of this soon, mostly on that nostalgia. This game has that odd feeling where it's clearly terrible, and yet... almost.

Manual Samuel Take literal control of every aspect of a day in the life of a douche. Seriously, how is breathing hard?

War Planet Online: Global Conquest (Win 10) Clash of Clans is huge, we should make a Clash of Clans clone and then obfuscate everything so that people don't realize.

Mafia II Open-world story-driven game about a criminal = the brown shooter of the second half of the decade.

I've been playing Mafia II (when the kids aren't around) to get to the H for that spelling challenge. Once I've got that I should be able to make some faster progress with the rest of the letters.

FIFA 12 FIFA itself is surprisingly fun, but the achievement design is arranged for maximum discomfort, particularly for hack victims.

Borderlands I was overly harsh on this game when I first reviewed it; it turns out that if you get good enough to shoot skags and find some powerful loot, this game has the solid bones that could be turned into the far superior sequel.

Bejeweled LIVE (Win 8) Yo, Dawg, I heard you liked puzzle-matching games; so have some puzzle-matching to match while you match more matches, because you're going to be here for a while.

Charlie Murder This is not the greatest side-scrolling beat'em-up, it's just a tribute.

I streamed my playthrough of the story portion of Manual Samuel. It's currently still available on my Mixer channel (http://mixer.com/xpovos) and will be as a VOD for a few more days. I haven't loaded it to YouTube yet. I did that as part of a community effort for the folks over at Zed to Zed. That was a fun little side-project. Also a nice infusion of points for the GTASC. I didn't get the completion, of course, but I did get over 400 GS in a little over 2 hours of gameplay on Sunday. The completion seems tedious, but mostly it is just pattern memorization. I've done worse, so I'm sure I'll get this done sooner or later.

I hit 10,000th place overall (and a bit above) on the total TA score leaderboard. There are fewer than 10,000 tracked gamers left ahead of me. And since we know the vast majority of anyone who is an achievement hunter in the world is on this site, either actively or having been added, it's probably fair to say that I'm pretty much in the top 10,000 of all achievement-hunting gamers now. Yet...

I'm still not in the top-10,000 for RPGs. Every other game genre I care about I'm well under. 4000-5000 regularly, often lower; sometimes much lower. My CCG score is 34th! Somehow, RPG has eluded me, and I haven't even "kept pace" with the average gamer in one of my favorite genres. I should fix that.

One other thing I wanted to discuss that I'm very much looking forward to is that I'm going to be doing a release day stream of Sea of Thieves. This is not because I'm super-excited about the game and want to. I am excited, but it's mostly because the opportunity is there in a unique way. Since Sea of Thieves is going into GamePass from day one, I can play it on Day One with a Game Pass subscription, which will net me a lot of other benefits as well. Des, my stream partner, has her trial periods, so she and I, and likely two others will be setting sail as a team to see what the game is all about. Come check us out at 9PM EST (UTC-4 due to DST!) on the 20th. I'm thinking it's going to be a hopping show.

Of course, feel free to join us tomorrow night as well, we'll be playing Shantae and the Pirate's Curse to continue the pirate-themed month.

*For those who didn't catch it, this was a Skinny Puppy reference:
Posted by Xpovos on 12 March 18 at 15:23 | Last edited on 12 March 18 at 15:28 | There are 2 comments on this blog post - Please log in to comment on this blog.
PermalinkA SMITEy Fortune
I am faced with an overabundance of gaming options these days. If I'm being honest, it's been like that for a long time. I have far more games already than I can realistically play, and yet I keep buying more. And then Games with Gold keeps dumping more games on me. And then we come to the final piece of the puzzle. The free-to-plays. I have mentioned my issues with free-to-play on many occasions, so I won't rehash them here. But some more do get released periodically and I feel their siren song pulling at me.

Using the popularity of Hearthstone as a gravity slingshot, the free-to-play market seems to have shifted orbit into another of my wheelhouses: the collectible card game. We've had a number of them on PC and mobile for ages, and they've existed on console, even, with games like my pet-hate project: Lies of Astaroth. But some folks with deep pockets and big ideas are coming to console now too.

A nicely complex Gwent matchA nicely complex Gwent match

Gwent: The Witcher Card Game has been in development for quite some time now and appears ready to burst out at any moment as a fully-fledged and robust competitor in this now crowded field. The game is impressively robust as a strategy title and the free-to-play collectible bits are fun to obtain. I was certain, given the level of polish already evident in the betas I've participated in, that this would be the first to release. Gwent also has the advantage of tapping into a solid bit of existing lore, rather than trying to build a new storyline, and it is a lore that is familar to the many rabid fans of the Witcher series of RPGs. There is no doubt that Witcher is going to be a successful stand-alone product, but the time in development indicates they want it to be a successful stand-alone product for a decade, not just for the next year.

CCGxTactical Grid combat?  How can it go wrong?CCGxTactical Grid combat? How can it go wrong?

Hand of the Gods: SMITE Tactics actually just released their live game earlier this week. SMITE Tactics splits the difference between a grid-based tactics game and a collectible card game. My experience with it in beta showed me that the game was going to be a fun one. The second layer of strategy helps to separate it from the generic CCG market, and SMITE fans are probably enthused because the God system is being recycled, so those familiar with the lore should feel more comfortable to start. For me, this was my first entry into this particular setting, so I honestly had little clue what was going on, beyond the fact that I was using some units with numbers to make my enemies units have smaller numbers. That's the kind of gameplay I can get behind.

Fable Fortune just had the achievement list drop, that usually means a launch is imminent. We got the SMITE Tactics list just a week before the game came out, and it's rarely more than a month before we see the actual game*. And just like the others, this game already exists and is playable, they just need to turn the achievements on. Unfortunately for Fortune, this was the least polished and least interesting of this trio, to say nothing of the even stiffer competition on PC. My time in beta here was filled with bugs, some of them which broke the game, insufficient guidance and a game system that was too similar to Hearthstone without really adding much of their own that was valuable. The most interesting thing Fortune has going for it is the attention to detail on multi-player vs. multi-player or multi-player vs. non-synchronous AI. There is also the Fable lore to pull from, and a delightful sense of comedy in playing, which is nice, but it still made it feel like cheesy Hearthstone. The achievement list is not impressive either, with there being just 17 generic acheivements and a grind ahead. In a way, though, I'm content with that. I can grind the game fairly happily, and I won't have to do anything too stupid to get all of the achievements in this game, which is the one I'm overall least interested to play from this selection.

Which is not to say I won't be playing it. Pretty much as soon as it goes live, I'll be playing. It's a Collectible Card Game and Free-to-Play. I basically have to.

*In the course of writing this it appears the achievements are live now, some people are unlocking them as I type.

*** Spoiler - click to reveal ***
Posted by Xpovos on 22 February 18 at 16:01 | There are 3 comments on this blog post - Please log in to comment on this blog.
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 6 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.