Thursday, April 15, 2010

... Game Score

The other day I was playing an arcade game on XBox Live when I received a private message on the service asking me how I could have racked up so large a Gamer Score in so short a time?

To clarify, according to my Gamer Tag on XBox Live at the time I had only been playing for 1-Year (my 2-Year anniversary was yesterday and my tag now properly reflects that I have been active on the service for two years) so it looked to the average viewer like I had racked up better than 60,000 Gamer Score in only a year.

Now, 60,000 Gamer Score in two years is not such a big deal when you consider that the average game has 1,000 GP (GP = Gamer Points) in it, and can have more if there are DLC expansions offered for it. Viewed that way it would only take about 30 games a year to see that sort of score if you were getting all of the Achievements in them - I rarely ever do that though, and if you look at my played games list you will see that I average around 500 GP per game, which means roughly half of the Achievements.

The reason for that is simple enough - I do not pick my games based on their Achievements and I do not play the games with unlocking Achievements as my primary goal. If an Achievement is unlocked as part of normal play I will probably unlock it, but if it requires me to jump through hoops or do something I am unlikely to do anyway, well then I will probably not unlock that one.

Achievement Whores

Before my timer ticked over and the service reflected that I had been playing for 2 years and not just 1, I had been accused of being an Achievement Whore more than once.

"Nobody gets 62,501 Gamer Score in a year unless they are an Achievement Whore!" one message declared. This was a message from a person I did not know and who, I am certain, my only contact with was a single pick-up game in multi-player Modern Warfare 2!

Essentially what the player was saying was that I had picked games and played them to get a high Gamer Score. I can only assume that the guy never actually looked at my games list, because if he had, he would have realized that if I was anything it was not an Achievement Whore!

In the world of Achievement Whoredom there are certain games that you are always going to see in a players list of played games - these are titles that are practically a dead give-away that the person is an Achievement Whore. Titles like Avatar: The Last Airbender - a game that you can get 1000/1000 GP in for playing less than 5 minutes, requiring you to hit a wall over and over to do it. I mean the game only has 5 Achievements in it!

There are other titles - often called "Twink" games - that routinely appear in the game lists for Achievement Whores. "Twink" in this instance is short for "Twinky" which is an angel-food and creme snack cake, and in this instance is supposed to represent a very easy and therefore shameful accomplishment.

Some of the "Twink" games you will see in lists include King Kong, some of the Madden NFL games, in fact a lot of sports games that allow you to have the computer play itself and still unlock Achievements are on that list. There is Open Season, Up, a few fishing games, and some games that are based on comic book heroes.

The point here is that you will not find any of those in my played games list - not because I refused to play them, but because I have never had to play them. I have never needed to because for the most part I play two types of games - the ones I actually want to play, and the games I have to play for work. Mostly the twink games do not appear in either list.

At this point you might be asking yourself if this is really an issue at all? Bear with me for a moment...

Boosting is as Boosting Does

Ever heard of the term "Boosting?" It means getting together with another player or players expressly for the purposes of helping each other fulfill the requirements for specific Achievements in a particular game. For example players "boost" together in games like COD, where they join the same multi-player game, and then find a private corner in the game and take turns shooting each other in the head to unlock the achievement for X number of head shots!

Before you wonder - yes, this is considered to be cheating by a vast majority of the players online. In fact there are even players who spend part of their day actively combating this sort of gaming behavior - Google the name "Sandy Ravage" some time if you are curious about how this might be.

Some game studios will even ban players for doing this - and for more egregious violations of this sort, the XBox Live official service often not only bans a player, but zeroes out their Gamer Score and slaps the word "Cheater" on their Gamer Tag!

To say that this sort of thing is a problem is probably the understatement of the decade. It is a Big Problem, and an organized one. There are actually web sites and chat boards online whose only purpose is to help players connect with each other to boost GP! To help each other acquire Achievements.

Grey Market Economy

Hovering around the edges somewhere between the blatant cheaters and the regular players are the people that are often called Achievement Whores. There are websites that exist to publish hints and tips for unlocking achievements in games. They often provide road maps that a player can follow to unlock all of the Achievements in a game - though usually that means playing a game in a way that takes most of the fun out of it.

The vast majority of these sites are legitimate - I want to make that clear. The vast majority of Achievement Whores are not technically doing anything wrong, and they are not really breaking the rules - they just happen to have a different set of goals and values than most players, really. The point is, despite the fact that what they are doing is not "wrong" it is still not something that your average player wants to be accused of being.

What is in a Rep?

When I heard that there were web sites that offered pay-for-play Achievement services I was stunned. Basically these are people who, for a fee, will log into THEIR Xbox or PS3 using YOUR account, and then play a game and unlock the achievements that you want them to unlock. Why would anyone pay for this sort of service?

Well, it turns out that a lot of players consider their Gamer Score to be the visible representation of their reputation as a Gamer. In fact there are sites on the web whose purpose is to promote contests between members to see who can rack up the highest GP total in a given day/week/month, and other sites that feature the top 1000 Gamer Scores out there.

It is - for a lack of a better phrase to use - the Meter from which Bragging Rights originates.

Who cares? That is the question that most casual gamers are likely to ask. Clearly there is a fairly significant percentage of gamers out there who do care!

Judge me Not

If I am asked I say that I do not care about Gamer Score - I know that because I have been asked and that is what I say. The question is, am I being honest here? On one hand I really do not care about Gamer Score in the sense that I want mine to be higher than yours, or that I want to reach X score by Y time, but am I really completely immune to the pull? Does it really not matter to me?

The other day I was playing the Arcade game Ticket to Ride - one of my favorite Arcade games on the Live service and the game that I often play to relax after coming off of an 8-hour long run on a game I am playing for work - and I caught myself doing something...

I joined a game with three other players, and as I was waiting for the game to start, I jumped into the Friends Screen and checked the Gamer Scores for the players I was about to play - and specifically I checked to see what Achievements they had unlocked in Ticket to Ride!

Okay, it was a legitimate thing - after all knowing what 'chieves they have unlocked will tell me several things - how long they have been playing, and how skilled they are. And yet.... I was judging them by their Gamer Score. Not intentionally, but if I am to be honest with myself, I have to admit that in this instance, at that moment, yeah, their Gamer Score mattered.

We live in a very strange world, us gamers. I have not made up my mind about this Gamer Score thing... It needs some more thought.


You might think that the only group aware of the whole Gamer Score thing is the players - but you see that big G in a circle that I used as the illustration for this post way at the top? That is the symbol used to identify the website Gamerscore Blog - a site that is created by some of the employees over at Microsoft!

Now to be fair the content of that blog is not specifically about Gamer Score, but it is an interesting and anecdotal shading of the entire topic that it is used as a means of identifying the blog to the world, and its connection to the phenomenon. I am just saying...

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