During one of the Steam sales, I decided to pick up a game that had some good buzz, but I knew almost nothing about: La Mulana. I know it is supposed to be a hard as nails, oldschool experience, and I am totally down for that. The only experience I had with the game was watching a Let’s Play episode or two of the game years back, and it seemed alright enough for me. So what is La Mulana? Well, its Spanish for “The Mulana” if that helps.
In all seriousness, I started the game this weekend and found myself rather liking it. It is an SNES game, but it just feels a bit bigger or more modern. You play as some dude with a whip in a world where everything can kill you. After Dark Souls, this sounds right up my alley! I wandered around for the first fifteen minutes, unable to find which way was forward. I tried to memorize patterns of very simple enemies, as to minimize my odds of death. I failed. I died. A lot. Then I started to get the hang of things, and explored all around the starting camp. There were birds and trees and rocks and things, and I had learned how to kill most of them, except the condors. Then I fall off a waterfall and drowned. I decided to explore to the left, where I found a healing spring and snakes, and a giant about twenty times my height who can kill me in two hits. Man. This game reeks of Dark Souls! A confusing beginning with no direction, minimal narrative, and a world that hates the protagonist? Check, check, and check.
Turns out, I missed a very important feature...going into buildings. In my defense I tried and failed, so this wasn’t all on me! After I learned how to do that, I finally got a quest, and more importantly, opened up the Hidden Temple, which I had heard many legends about. Then the game started becoming….obtuse. There are signs and stones that you can’t actually read. You need an item that lets you read. Fair enough. Then, they are in a language you don’t know. So you need to buy an item that lets you read them. Ugh, alright. You also need to buy an item that lets you use the map, which you have to find in a chest anyway. So its a little confusing, but I managed several trips in and out of the temple getting money enough to buy all these things. I was finally ready to explore!
As I mentioned above, I was given no direction, just ‘go for it!’, so I wandered wherever the game would let me progress. Until I couldn’t wander back. See, the game has weights as a consumable item. You need weights to trigger certain pedestals, and they are often placed in areas that are gates to other levels, or hell, even where you came from. So I got myself stuck in a pyramid, in a tomb, in a waterfall, and generally had a poor time. I tried really hard to make progress, but with minimal health and no way to restore it, I was a little bit annoyed. So I had to revert back to a previous save, grind out money, and buy stones. Now I was ready! Then I still would get lost, forget the way back, and die in the cold depths of the temple. I felt like I was missing something. I was.
I decided to take a turn for the archaic and find the games Wii release manual and do some research. There were a few interesting tidbits in there, but the most important one was the White Whale. Er...Holy Grail. Not figuratively, either, it is actually The Holy Grail, and the manual said you should encounter it early, and that it lets you warp around the map. Wow. Such utility. Much useful. Very want. Must have. Using my map.exe program, I found a room in the temple called something like “Holy Grail Room” and began solving puzzles. After some rather cleverly put together puzzles, I finally found the Holy Grail, which lets you warp between almost any save point, including the one at the surface, with the shop and healing area. Now we were in business! I found a smattering of odds and ends, including more health, a grappling claw, The Reverend Stabby McShankerton (my knife), and some other trinkets. Now I was making progress!
So I have been exploring the caves, slowly but surely, trying to solve the mystery of what the hell I’m doing here. I have the holy grail. I am a very rich man. But apparently I want more. Most notably, I solved the entire pyramid level, revealing an enormous monster boss, which I have yet to best. I have discovered many chambers with their own treasures, secrets, and monsters, and I can’t wait to keep exploring!
I also wanted to follow my friend’s advice, and use La Mulana as an experiment in some software dabbling. He told me I should try out streaming, so I figured I could give that a shot. I have the software set up now, along with an account, and a classical rock playlist to serve as the background noise. I am going to try to start streaming most of what I play when I play because what the hell, why not, basically. I will probably be streaming after 7:00 pm Central on Weekdays, and pretty much whenever I feel like it on Weekends at twitch as taterchimp_twitch (http://www.twitch.tv/taterchimp_twitch). Feel free to stop by if you want!
In a sentence that will surprise no one, I absolutely love Dark Souls. It is my most played game of...ever. On PC alone, I have put in 120 hours, after putting in nearly 200 on XBox. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot compared to people who really like games like Civ 5 or Skyrim, but for me, that is some serious dedication. So basically, I know a thing or two about the game, and hold it near and dear. With that, I wanted to talk about the preorder bonuses that everyone has been ranting and raving about, and why they don’t matter. At all.
1. The Game Isn’t About Your Gear
This isn't my accomplishment. I am not that masochistic
There are a lot of ways that you can prove this point to yourself. Consider level one runs where the character doesn’t have the stats to wield anything too strong, yet they can still beat the game. I know I have imposed many a challenge run on myself for the game, including using only a whip, only a fist, uppercutting bosses to death, only using a crossbow to kill bosses, and outside of that I have used a vast majority of the weapons during a normal playthrough. The only weapon I don’t think would be relatively easy to beat the game with is the broken sword. After the first sword you pick up, anything can take you from T to G. Taurus….to Gwyn….it sounded cooler in my head, OK? The reason for this is because Dark Souls isn’t about how good your character is, its about how good your player is. Everything is about how you play.
Think about what made Blighttown hard on your first playthrough. Assholes with poisoned clubs. Assholes with poison darts. Assholes that jump on to you. Assholes that shoot fire at you. A single asshole with tentacles. Also, the fact that you don’t know where you are going, and a single misstep can send you back twenty minutes of progress. And at the bottom of Blighttown, what do you find? Some asshole poisoned the entire bloody swamp, and you have to crawl through it. So now you have to wander by assholes with teeth, assholes with rocks, assholes with clubs, while on a timer, searching for a bonfire (assuming you thought it was there...you could just try and rush the boss). So what does your super awesome weapon do? Let you stab the swamp? Slash the poison out of your system? Just like you will slash the boulder trap in Sen’s? All in all, the design, the placement, and the war of attrition will bring down an idiot with a good sword in no time flat.
Finally, the bosses. I spent a run just trying to build the highest damage I could. The strongest weapon, crystal magic weapon, and power within. There was a lot of sequence breaking and grinding to get that going. And yeah, it helps a lot to have a weapon that can do 900 damage in a single hit to a boss. But do you know what I knew? Every single bosses animation, the relative timing to swing my weapon, and how long I have before they will counter. The strength would do me nothing fighting against a tough boss. A lesson I learned my tenth time fighting Kalameet.
2. Weapons Are (kind of) Balanced
Quick, name the best weapon in Dark Souls! Is it the low durability lightning katana? The long animation Avelyn? Slow as balls Dragon Tooth? The ‘30 seconds is all I need’ Ricard’s Rapier? As I mentioned above, every weapon is viable. In order for this to be possible, they all have to be within the same power curve, offering the same DPS, plus or minus a few. Why do I say ‘kind of’ above? Novelty weapons. The whip sucks something fierce. The shotel is cute. The bleed on the LIfehunt Scythe is symmetrical.
3. Invaders Will Always be Dicks
I saw a lot of people say things along the lines of ‘but then people who pre ordered will have better gear to invade people with’. Have you never played Dark Souls online? So many times I would make it to the Parish to be invaded by a player in full dragon form with a +5 lightning weapon. The only time where this is a valid argument is if you played the game on the midnight release for the first four hours. After that, you are going to have low level players with high level gear griefing those who know less about the game. The speculation is that the pre order weapons will have less scalability into the mid game, which means that you should replace them after maybe four or five hours. The good weapons will probably be maybe twelve hours in before someone figures it out? After a week, there will be a guide on how to rush to the most overpowered weapon at level one, just to invade people at the start of the game. There will be videos. There will be indictments. There will be Dark Souls.
4.Accessibility Doesn’t Suck and There is Some Custom Difficulty
I’ll go ahead and say it. I believe it. The first Dark Souls could have used some improvement. Especially to make it more accessible. You can’t play at the highest level until you understand equipment burdens, poise, and stability. It could have stood to teach you more about kindling and reinforcing weapons. Trying to beat the gargoyles with a +0 halberd and 5 estus was not fun for me. The game was torture. But it was pretty, and it was different, so I wanted to keep going with it. If items like the pre order ones let people get a little bit further in than they would otherwise, if it lets them get hooked into the game, then so much the better. On top of that, this in no way affects how you get to play the game. If you want to start with a slightly worse weapon and impose some more strict guidelines, you have that ability! I have been doing it since about playthrough 3, because otherwise the game is too easy, and too much the same. Or you could go Diablo on it and beat the ‘too easy’ version and go straight to NG+. Or run and get yourself cursed early. Turn off the HUD. The game doesn’t hurt for challenge if you look for it.
Yeah, I'm starting a blog with Fiddler on the Roof. Don't like it? There's the door.
A lot of my previous chart ons have focused on mechanics found inside of games, but today, I decided to go into something else behind the scenes in games, but not directly used in the game while playing: Matchmaking. There are actually a lot of different ways to match players of similar skill together, and man, do they ever get complicated. I’m not going to say that the subject matter is over my head, but the way it is presented anywhere else is what I call “pumpernickel”: it is very dry, and very dense. There’s a lot of greek, and just mathematical grossness. And when its me saying that? You know its bad. But with that, I wanted to talk about 3 methods.
This isn't relevant to anything here. Or anywhere. This is garbled math of use to no one, from one of the sources I was looking at. Scary stuff.
I just came to say "Elo"
The first method is the Elo method, often pronounced “E. L. O”, and not to be confused with the guys who sang Mr Blue Sky. Can we talk about music instead? No? Math? Balls. So Elo ranking comes from a guy who really, really liked chess with the last name of Elo. The system has you starting with an arbitrary amount of pointsl. When you play against someone else, the difference between your scores is the system’s prediction of who will win.
Getting a bit more complicated with this, each player’s skill level is on a bell curve, which is you have been reading these for a while means you know where this is going. The reason why you are on a bell curve is because the ranking isn’t completely precise: You are expected to perform at your skill, but maybe that day you are just on fire, or possibly hung over. And no, I don’t care to elaborate if that condition is supposed to aid or impede your performance. Basically, there can be exceptions to your skill, otherwise, there would never be upsets.
So sick of googling "bell Curve" for these
When talking specifically about Chess and the system that Mr. Blue Skies set up, the bell curve that was used was very specific. The intention was that if two players were separated by 200 points of skill, that the more advanced player should win 76% of the time. In my research I read 76% and found that to be quite odd...it doesn’t say if they figured out the math first and backed into 76, or started with ¾ and backed into the curve, but either way isn’t clean, as it returns a standard deviation of 283 units. How does it do this? Any normal curve shares some characteristics, which can be solved forwards to get the cumulative distribution for a given “X”, or backwards, to get an X value for a given percentage. This is what a z table actually provides, but fortunately I had Excel to back into my number! This 283 tells us that at a difference of 0 in skill, the game should end up in a draw, at 283 the better player is favored by 34%, at 566 the odds increase (or decrease depending on which side of a one sided ass beating you are on) to 47.7, and at 849 your fate is sealed at 49.7. Now, if you were curious how to figure this out yourself, you just need to create an imaginary bell curve, and place yourself at the mean, or center. Then, find your opponent's skill and draw a line straight up from that point on the curve. Any area under the curve to the right is your odds of winning, and any area under the left is your opponent’s chance of winning. In this example, a 50 point difference represents about a 7% chance for a player to win, so it is probably a close game. 25 would obviously be better, but you would be looking for people in a similar population.
The last piece of this puzzle is how your rank changes as you win or lose. The system that ELO uses is called a “K Factor”, and it is important to note that this number is debated to absolute death by people who are bad at the sport. Hah! Burn! But seriously, there are many ways to come up with a K Factor, but they all revolve around some key ideas. The first is that there is a floor and a ceiling to how many points you can gain or lose. For instance, chess sets this value to 24 per game. The next important step is how to distribute these points, and this is generally accepted (in my research) as your chance of winning minus the outcome, multiplied by the K Factor. The outcome is binary, so 0 is a loss and 1 is a win. If you are favored 10% and win, you get 10 percent of the K. If you are a supreme underdog (or not properly rated) you can get the full value. Some other systems have the K factor change as you play on. For instance, chess has a larger K factor for newer players, but as you play more games, the K factor decreases.
This system is also used by League of Legends, incidentally, and does also use games played as an adjustment for the K Factor, although I couldn’t find the explicit formula. What are the advantages or disadvantages? Well in theory new players will find their skill bracket quicker, for better or worse. Many people feel it is unfair at the early stage because it is more random, so pushing you into a lower bracket doesn’t really represent your skill. These people are also sore losers. Another concern is “ELO Hell” or being in “The Trench”. This effect is where you are ranked, and the system is confident, so you cannot escape your rank because each game doesn’t contribute enough points to get you out of your rank. That being said, the system is what it is, and has been good for chess for quite some time, with minimal in fighting.
I wanted to take a little bit of time to talk about Magic The Gathering, as it also used an ELO system in the past, with a K Factor of 8, if memory serves. However, the designers felt that the system was putting too many constraints on the players and wanted to change it. The main problems they wanted to solve were 1. players would sit idly at high ELO rankings to avoid losing precious points, 2. players would become nervous while playing, which would cause them to spend less money on cardboard crack, and finally 3. geographical concerns. If I play Magic every week against the same people, I don’t have an opportunity to change my bracket significantly. As a quick aside, League does solve for #1 by having an ELO decay, forcing you to play a certain amount of matches or else you lose your ranking. Surely, no one would sit idly just to get a 10 game winning streak though, right? Right?
Back to Magic, they actually switched over to Planeswalker Points, their proprietary system. How do those work? If you lose you get 0 points. Tie, you get 1. Win, you get 3. And that’s it.
This, in my opinion, is a terrible system for anything more than ego stroking. Let me explain: First of all, this assumes that games played equals an increase in skill which is completely incorrect. One of my DOTA loving co workers has a friend who refuses to learn from his defeats. He refuses to update his skill builds. He doesn’t counter pick. He doesn’t learn. His playing skill has capped out, and his learning skill refuses to grow. If he nurtured those while playing, his skill might increase, but as it is, he has been complaining about being stuck in “The Trenches” for a while. Anecdotally, I have played 80 games and found myself playing with people who have played anywhere from 150 to 400 to 1200 games. The biggest problem with this system is that a newcomer doesn’t get accurately ranked. You could be a strategic mastermind, but unless you play harder than people who have been playing their whole lives, your ranking will never ever reflect this, which goes against the idea of matchmaking entirely. It does breed a friendlier format, and also encourage people to play more (thus, spending more and more money on 100 dollar Planeswalkers).
By far, the most interesting thing I found in my research though was TrueSkill. Have you heard of True Skill? It is a matchmaking system designed in 2006 by Microsoft, specifically for XBox Live. Usually when people compare the PS3 to the 360 it is price against the stability against the community, but I think it really says something about Microsoft where they researched a new system for their matchmaking. I thought it was pretty cool. The XB1 has also seen some improvements of the online area, which they really brought up in marketing, so it is clear that they care about this kind of stuff. And just so I don’t lose people who hate Microsoft, this system is also used (in some ways) by DOTA.
So how does this system work? It still has the same bell curve system for your skill, but it adjusts the bell curve’s standard deviation by another factor: certainty. If you are a new player, you are assigned a rating of say 25, and an uncertainty of 8.3. Why 8.3? It assumes your skill is anywhere between your skill +/- the uncertainty times 3. So your skill is between 0 and 50. (Note: remember how the difference in ELO was 200? A significant difference here is actually 6, judging by one of my sources. Like I said, it varies a lot). There is a super fancy term for this uncertainty called Bayesian_analysis. As you play more games, the certainty factor changes. So if you are an 80/20 to win, and you win, your ranking goes up and the system is more confident in your skill, and vice versa (losing decreases certainty and ranking). There are some interesting interactions with all of this. The first is that if you play against a game with 7 other people at your same rank and certainty and you come out in first, the system figures increases the amount it distrusts your skill level. Why? You haven’t met your match yet! You never hit your skill ceiling this game. Unfortunately, that also applies to whoever was unlucky enough to get the biggest beatdown that game. The people who are in the middle are the people whose certainty moves the least.
The other thing that separates this system from the ELO ranking is that it can compare more than 2 teams. From what I have gathered, in ELO two teams of five are grouped together into a single ranking which is used to determine points allotted after the match. TrueSkill compares each player and each team against each other to determine how many points they should receive. Kind of neat that way. This also means that when you place you are ranked against each other player. In an 8 player game, your rating actually changes 7 times to its final results, depending on who you outperformed and underperformed against. In this way, the rating is much more a result of your actions in the game as opposed to the teams action, and your individual contributions to the result can be taken into consideration for your overall ranking. Sadly, I don’t have any hard math on this, because I honestly don’t follow a lot of the numbers because I am doing this at home with the comforts of Reptilia and Laphroaig. So sue me.
The drink of all statisticians
There were a few things specific to XBox that were rather interesting in there as well. If a game only has 2 players, it adjusts to a system similar to ELO. If there are outside factors, such as lag, it can update your skill based on partial results. That one had a URL labeled “math paper” behind it so I was not touching that bad boy. I clicked on it and saw “Bernoulli” and “Gaussian” and just about crapped my pants. OH GOD. I FOUND THE CALCULUS. No. Thanks. Finally, just because everyone loves a circlejerk, this same method is applied to Bing to figure out how best to deliver ads to people.
Last Note on Matchmaking
Now here is something that is really rather curious: in both Chess and Magic the rating isn’t as important as in TF2, DOTA, LoL, and Halo. Why? Geography. The best players in the world rarely get a chance to test their skills against the other best players, with rare exceptions of large tournaments. Because of this, ratings aren’t as important in the actual matchmaking process. But when you connect people to the internet? Both systems can search for matches they they feel are close. Matches where either side has a chance to win. On the DOTA side of things, they often try to even out teams across 500 points (the K factor is something like 32, if that helps you visualize how much 500 is). In addition, the matchmaking tries to match stacks of players (preformed teams) in an even way, as communication is often critical in games like these.
Below is further research if you are interested. And as a warning, you aren’t. This stuff is not written in a friendly format, except maybe the last one, but that links out to the real math. There are integrals, and sigmas, and I think I even saw some calculus hanging out there. I did my best to sum up.
I was going to ask a friend of mine if he thought that today’s topic would be interesting, then I remembered that interesting is highly subjective. Many people couldn’t care less about how and why a game works than if a game is fun or not. I am not one of those people. Once I get hooked into a game, I want to get an understanding of each of the systems behind it, and today I decided to indulge that curiosity as it applies to Psuedo Random Distribution, or PRD for short.
So what is PRD? If you are diagnosed with PRD, how can you still behave like a normal human being? Many times in games, the game will make a check on whether an attack hits, an effect ‘procs’ (activates or happens...get with the lingo!), you dodge, all sorts of neat stuff. Now if you were playing a pen and paper game, this would be done with an evenly weighted die, and would be subject to random chance. If you observed 100 coin flips 100 times, you would see that you expect to have 50 heads and 50 tails, but some of those trials would be 60/40 in either direction. Given enough observations, you could see it being 30 heads out of 100. Now consider the effect of this on a highly competitive game - if you have an ability with a 10 percent chance of activating, it can happen 10 times in a row, or it can not happen 29 times in a row. Why 29 specifically? Because I have the numbers, of course! The odds of missing a 10 percent chance 29 times in a row with random distribution are about 5%. Ouch. Obviously, either example is going to produce a bad time for someone, and isn’t refined for a competitive environment.
So what can be done? Remove random chance? That’s one avenue. The other is to introduce PRD into your game! So what exactly is it? It is any system that replaces a random event with a new system that works similarly to a random event, but has controls build around it, preventing it from being truly random. Instead it is kind of random. Semi random. The diet coke of random. Not quite random enough.
In DOTA (of course) the PRD system has a ‘seed’ value for the odds. That value is what gets used the first time you attack. The second time you attack, the seed is added to your current odds. If the seed was 5%, by 20 attacks, you would be guaranteed to see the ability happen. So lets get some concrete examples of what the system would do. If you wanted to emulate a 10 percent chance using this PRD method, you would need a seed of ~1.48%. By the 68th attack, you are guaranteed to activate the ability - although we will later see that you expect it to happen by the 23rd attack. Here’s how the math works (I think)....
Your first attack has a 1.48% chance of hitting. Your second attack has a 2.96% chance of hitting, but that only is relevant 98.52 percent of the time - when you miss the first attack. Taking the 1.48 plus the 2.96 x 98.52 gives your cumulative odds of the attack procing by that point. Using the 2.96 x 95.52 x 2 (the second observation) gives what I’m calling the EV for the observation. When you do this across 68 records, you finally reach a 100% chance to proc, given cumulative percentage of 100% and an EV of 10 - which is what we want for a 1 in 10 chance. Using this same logic for the random distribution means that we start with 10% instead of 1.28, but do not tick it up each observation, and also we never ever stop. If you were truly unlucky, you could miss 1,000 times in a row. But thats in ‘killed by a feral gerbil while being struck by lightning on the way to claim your winning lotto ticket’ territory. Theoretically possible. When you take the total EV for the random numbers, you get close to 10 as well, meaning the two systems are just about equal. Neat, huh? So what are the major differences? Lets look at our first chart:
This chart is showing the odds of the ability activating on the Nth hit. So the random attack has a 10 percent chance to happen on hit one, then a 9 percent chance to be on hit number two - you miss ninety percent of the first hits, then you have a ten percent chance. If I were to show the chart all the way out, the random distribution would never actually hit zero. It has an asymptote! (Ok, you got me, that word is just fun to say). Because we are messing with the percentages for the PRD, it actually forms a curve instead of just declining. This curve actually does reach zero by the 68th point, but as I mentioned before, it is practically zero after 36, so I cut off the scale there.
So now that we know what the chart means, what is it telling us? There are 2 places where the lines intersect, so lets talk about what that means. Before the first intersection at the 5th observation, Random has a significantly higher chance to proc over PRD. You are giving up 8% odds on the first attack, which is pretty crazy, actually. After the 5th observation though, PRD is significantly more likely to proc, up until the 20th attack. After that, random is more likely to activate - however, that is actually not desirable in this case, as you don’t want your 1 in 10 chance ability to hit on the 70th attack. So basically, the PRD set up makes it so that your attack is more likely to activate between the 5th and 20th attack than it would randomly. This is enough of a range where it still feels random, but is less likely to happen repeatedly. Imagine a randomized stun hitting three times in a row!
Now for a different view on the same data:
This chart shows the cumulative chance to proc by the Nth attack (instead of on the Nth attack), and is mostly included because I thought it looked cool. Here the inflection point is at about the 12th observation. Up until that point, your odds are actually better of procing the ability with random distribution, but after that, the PRD is better.
Now with all the numbers out of the way, it all becomes a question of philosophy. From the perspective of a designer, I think it is a really cool idea that makes it so that chance has less to do with the game than it would otherwise. As a player though? I don’t think I like it anymore. It feels like it negates the effect until the item has ‘warmed up’ a bit. After I see the ability, I know I have a much longer wait than I should to see it again, even though it is for the intention of being fair.
Finally, this is just one method of creating a psuedo random distribution. The numbers can be changed in pretty much any way that you want to as long as you create a system that has the same EV score. For instance, 100% of activating on the10th attack would produce the same results, but is obviously less desirable in a competitive scene, as you can prime it with 9 previous attacks. You could even weight it so it is more likely to happen between attacks 1 through 5, then through attacks 15-20 if you really wanted to. Is that a good idea? No. But its the same outcome, and that’s what really matters. So what are your thoughts? Totally lost? Intrigued? Angry? Suspiciously aroused?
Today is an incredibly exciting day. Do you know why? Today, we get to unravel the secrets of the gaming world by looking at through a lens of analysis instead of baseless conjecture. I have actually been very excited for quite a long time to be able to provide this information to you all, and to unravel its deepest secrets. As an aside, I work with statistics and data, in a very real way. I have several systems at my work with hundreds of thousands of records that I can use to try and mine out information from the data. My boss told me when I first started that one of the larger failings of courses in statistics is that analyzing the data is the last 5% of the project; the real bulk of the work is in collecting the information. So today, I get to that juicy five percent and get to find out information! What information? How long have I been collecting? Well...I have been collecting information starting on November 6th and ending December 30th. Every day I had it in my bookmarks to copy the results from Valve’s top 100 games by the current player count, which you can view
HERE (but don’t click just yet, it will be fun to see some stuff in the blog, I promise!)
And if you want to see the data I collected, it is available HERE
So, already, we have to talk about some of the flaws in this method. I am using current players at my time of sampling to determine a game’s rank. That is to say, 1 is the most popular game for the day, and 100 is the ‘least’ popular game (least being a very relative term considering the 1000’s of games for sale though). However, current players could wax and wane much more than peak players, so I am using peak players for some volume trending, which we will see later. Now, I tried to capture this data as soon as I checked my bookmarks on my computer, which for most Monday through Fridays would have been at about 5 PM. I think that the data may be a 48 hour period, but that timeframe should always be consistent. Weekends I tend to forget to check at the same time, and we also had 2 major holidays making my checks slightly inconsistent. There were even a few days that it slipped my mind completely! In addition, the holidays and the Steam sales will skew these stats in a horrible way, but they will provide some interesting details later, so I think the timing is just fine. It can also be neat to see how much a good sale affects a game! (protip...a lot) However, I still believe that the data is representative enough for what I want to show, so we will say that it is probably good enough. If it wasn't so bothersome to collect and analyze the data, I would be very curious to keep going with it, as there are some games I would love to see more on (Rust and Revengeance come to mind).
Also, one last side note before I get started: Anything that isn't Excel sucks. This makes me very sad. I tried to use Google Docs to analyze the data, but because it is cloud based it runs very slowly. In addition to that, the way that it creates charts is flat out terrible. It was unworkable. I would have done it on my work computer with Excel, but unfortunately, Docs are blocked as a site, so I couldn't move the data over. I ended up using OpenOffice, which is an open source office like product, meaning it is free. It has similar tools to Excel, but it just feels clunky...one of the biggest things I miss was being able to drag a range for a chart up and down the data set to change what the chart was showing, as that would let me see what the charts would look like for all 200 some games. I hate to say it, but when it comes to this kind of stuff, you really can't beat Excel. Who knew? Anyway....
WHAT IS A POPULAR GAME
So obviously, the most important thing it what the top five games played are. Going into this, I could have made a few guesses for one or two, but I don’t think I would ever nail the top five. In the number five slot, taken as an average of rank by the entire timeframe:
#5. Football Manager 2014.
Hah. Wait. What? With an average peak of 58,000 players, those crafty Eurpoeans with their sissy ‘no padding’ ball game managed to crack the top 5. It is worth noting that other iterations of the series are all over the top 100, making bald eagles everywhere cry.
#4. Civ 5
Boasting a lowly 48,000 average players, yet getting an advantage over football manager 2014 by abusing my numbers, the strategy game managed to work its way into the top 5. I actually don’t know much about Civ 5, but I am going to have to learn, clearly…
This game has been around in some form or another for at least a decade, and apparently shows no sign of slowing with 67,000 average peak players each day. Online, refined, strategic, and incredibly tense, its no small wonder that people still love this game today.
This doesn’t surprise me in the least. At 66,000 average peak players, it consistently ranks in the number 2 slot every day. Going free to play may have revitalized this game, or it could have always been this popular, but apparently, headware sells.
No, I can't write a blog NOT about DOTA. Its in my contract
Turns out, DOTA isn’t just ‘popular’ it is incredibly popular. How popular, you ask? Whereas the average rank for TF2 was 3.22, DOTA was uncontested in the number one slot. An average rank of 1. The best, and highest. So how many people play? Take a guess. In terms of TF2, how much more popular is DOTA?
Would five times be insane?
Try eight and a half. With a whopping 567,000 average peak players per day, DOTA is king of Steam.
INDICATORS OF SUCCESS
Successmanship 101 right here
Now, obviously, success is not just having people play your game, but in this instance lets define it as such. The more people playing, the more people bought the game if it was sold for a price, otherwise, the more chance you have to sell people microtransactions.
So let’s talk about these results a bit, while diving deeper into the top 25 games. Out of the top 25 games, 21 are online capable, with many focusing entirely on an online only, PvP or MMO style. Again, out of the top 25, 5 are free to play games, with a few more as the list goes on. So what can we learn from this? Well, if you are an executive in a suit looking at these games, it is almost impossible to argue against multiplayer. Successful (in our definition, remember) single player games are only 20% of the market. Naturally, there is a bunch of crap that isn’t on the top 100 with multiplayer - say, Homefront - but the fact remains that multiplayer PvP action is incredibly popular. Next, we see that the F2P model is wildly successful, with the top 2 most played games being completely free (and also super well made). Are these systems abused? At times. But are they successful? No one can argue.
As an aside, the wild success of DOTA really proves a point for the MOBA trend...it literally is as popular as the next 15 games combined. Out of the total of the 200 games on the top 100, DOTA makes up 31% of the total peak volume, and 7% of all players on Steam, assuming 7 million concurrent users. Any business man will tell you that is worth trying to crack into. Yet, we see Awesomenauts, another MOBA, sitting down in 148th...maybe not fantastic, but still in the top 100 at times.
Sorry, but I do have to soapbox just a little bit here, as well...out of the 200 some games that appeared in the top 100 games in a given day, Call of Duty shows up in 11 of those slots. Ghosts was in rank 18 for multiplayer with nearly 20,000 users (and 78th for single player). These games are actually really popular, and many iterations are still being played today. Despite the imbalance, despite the not updated engine, and all of its flaws, the games are still really fun and popular. Its sort of strange to affirm that with numbers, but there ya go….why Ghosts was made, and why we will see another one this year.
IS IT REALLY SUCCESSFUL?
So, what does the bottom of the top 100 look like? It should come as no surprise when good games do incredibly, but how many games are really in rotation at one time? It reminds me of a concept known as the monkeysphere, where we only consider a good 50 people as humans, and the rest as just filler space. The bottom of the top 100 has games like Poker Night 2. Mass Effect (the first one). Half Life 2. Serious Sam 3. Portal.
If someone asked me to name 100 games that over 2 months would have been more popular than the original Portal, I would have chuckled and rambled off any game made in the past 2 years. And yet...There really aren’t that many games out there. I don’t really know what I’m trying to say here, but it seems so odd to me that Half Life 2 is still one of the most popular games played on Steam, with 1,000 concurrent users at a time. It just seems like there should be more games to bump it off the top 100. And more recent! But maybe games just fall off.
Speaking of falling off..
BEING AHEAD OF THE CURVE
Arguably, the most interesting part of all of this is looking at what happens to games over the course of two months. How fast do we latch on, and how quickly do we forget? So to start, let's look at Path of Exile.
The game was released to the public in late October, meaning it was basically brand spanking new at the first data point. And after two months, we see that the number has fallen to about 15,000 players, down from its peak of 30,000. So in about 2 months, half of the player base dropped off completely. Now obviously, there is a good reason for this with any game: people have beaten the game. Once you complete the game once, you have less reason to go back to it. In the case of PoE, the game has a large multiplayer base, along with several different builds, so the 50% drop off doesn't seem too harsh. Another thing that I really like about this chart, and many of the others, is that you can clearly tell when the date is a weekend. When dealing with daily data, it can often resemble a ECG machine - or whatever those are called...I am on a long list of people you shouldn't ask for medical advice. In this case, we see the weekend volume get a small bump up, then decline when it is back to the weekday. Weekend gamers are really a thing.
So lets look at something else!
Haha! My dumb sampling time with the holidays pays off yet again, as Call of Duty was released just at the start of the window as well! As a note, all Call of Duty games have separate games for single player and multiplayer as far as Steam cares, so this is only looking at single player, for now. Remember the 50% drop rate for PoE? Well, Call of Duty actually drops off the top 100 within the same time period, meaning it has a horrid drop off, but one could argue it levels out at about 2000 (still, 14% is nothing to be proud of). Also, the time it takes to get there is significantly shorter than PoE. Then again, the campaign is much shorter, and is less robust as far as multiple playthroughs. However, as mentioned above, the game was still pretty successful, at least from a 'broke the top 100' perspective. But no one plays for single player, right! So lets look at the multiplayer:
For Ghosts, the playerbase ends at about where the single player begins, which definitely passes the sense check. No one really buys the games for campaign. Again, that dropoff of pretty horrendous. After what looks to be only a week, the game suffers a 15,000 player drop, with spikes for each weekend, as expected. However, we see that all of the multiplayers for COD are still well represented in the top 100, and are in fact pretty reliable. Apparently, people still have fun with these! Combining every non-Ghost game gives an average of about 30,000 players putting its combined count in the top 10 most played. Really, not a bad showing for a game that people shout about so often. Also, props to Modern Warfare 2 for staying relevant 4 years after release. A small community, sure, but still bigger than many others! Another amusing tidbit, is that I believe the popularity is more or less in order of year released. Now I know I'm being preachy here, but these are online focused games, and after years they still have a large player base. PvP keeps a game alive, folks!
On the topic of picking up momentum, staying relevant, and multiplayer, how about a game that was released 3 years ago (2010), and was recently given life by the modding community?
Chart is for multiplayer only
Wow! Talk about some good press! Pretty much out of nowhere, the game skyrocketed out to 10,000 players. Various avenues covered the mod, and word of mouth really helped the game's popularity rise up out of complete obscurity....for a little while at any rate. I think this shows a really interesting example in what good a little press does. There were several examples of games that went on sale and had similar trends, but this one was particularly awesome.
And finally, just because I thought it was funny, here is what Portal 2 was doing:
I just....what....how does it? What does it mean? It looks like there were 3 different sales in the 60 day window, but that doesn't make much sense. What is that middle hump? Was there an LP somewhere that revitalized the Portal 2 community? I missed it. Sometimes with data, you get your Portal 2's: somewhere out there is the rhyme and reason for what is happening, and if you aren't tuned into it, the data is just meaningless.
If you want to see the charts for any games, let me know, and I can pull them up and post what the chart is. Otherwise, what do you think? Is there anything on here that doesn't match up to what you would expect?
I decided to merge together 3 different things that I like, and make them into a blog today! They are a love of math, a love of video games, and a burning desire to use my video capturing software! So I decided to mix things up and talk over some video instead of typing out walls of text explaining some basic mechanics.
This chart on was heavily inspired by my playthrough of EDF. The game gives you an incredibly varied selections of guns, with new guns unlocking constantly as you play. So to a normal player, this is the opportunity to play around, see what each gun feels like, and determine the best one by feel, right? Well for a mad statistician, this is the perfect opportunity to talk more about numbers! My entire playthrough was based on the best weapon for each tier, as determined by its DPS: Damage Per Second. The formulas required weren't that hard to come up with, and it was actually very interesting to see how different some of the weapons would be.If for whatever reason you want to see the spreadsheet I used for EDF, you can view it here. As you can tell (or if you didn't click the link), the spread of DPS is actually pretty crazy...anywhere between 2,000 to 4,000 damage were represented in the second highest tier of weapons! Where it got really fun for me was, of course, the insecticide rifle, boasting an insane 100,000 dps! Thats with its incredibly slow reload animation included! And that doesn't even take into account burst damage, which was the main reason for using the Boham Bay grenade launcher as my primary weapon the highest difficulty. It also has a massive AOE explosion that was pretty critical when clearing out large waves of ants.
Naturally, this applies to any game that has a system where you deal damage over a period of time, so it is pretty flexible, but the math ins't all that difficult. So want to know all the secrets and listen to my soothing Midwestern baritone? Then watch this:
Ive got a few other episodes in the works, but I am starting to run out of questions as I shift deeper and deeper into my backlog away from RPGs and more into a territory of a sandbox, so if you have any suggestions for future topics, I would love to hear them!