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Xbox Live Gamerscore, Completion Stats Show Major Trends
Xbox Live Gamerscore, Completion Stats Show Major Trends Exclusive
October 27, 2009 | By Staff, Bruce Phillips

October 27, 2009 | By Staff, Bruce Phillips
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

In our latest in-depth Gamasutra feature, Microsoft Game Studios user research expert Bruce Phillips looks at a simple but vital problem - why people stop playing games, and what feedback we can give them to encourage them to continue.

Phillips notes that, despite common attempts to balance difficulty for a wide range of audiences, players will still experience failure -- and negative feedback doesn't just lose players, it creates detractors.

How serious is the quitting issue? In the following table, percent completion is found by dividing each player's Gamerscore by the total possible Gamerscore for the title; those numbers are then averaged.

The table below shows the average Gamerscore completion for each of the top 13 Xbox Live games for 2008. The data was drawn from about 14,000 players that Microsoft surveys regularly.

As you can see, even the games with the highest achievement completion rates (Fable II and Call of Duty 4) had players who, on average, attained less than half the possible Gamerscore.

Phillips comments that this particular cross-section of Xbox 360 players tends to be more hardcore than the average player, and he would expect the actual completion rates for the entire population to be lower than the numbers recorded here.

Of course, the Gamerscore tells only part of the story. Players could finish a game and do little else, resulting in a low Gamerscore but high completion rates. However, most games award achievement points for completing the single-player campaign.

In this next table provided by Microsoft, the bar graphs show how many players earned a campaign completion achievement -- in other words, finished the game -- for the titles listed.

This shows how many players finished a sample of the games listed in the first table as determined by whether they earned a campaign completion achievement (on any difficulty). For even the most popular games on Xbox Live last year, about 30 percent of our cross-section of players didn't play to the end.

Players don't finish games for many reasons, Phillips notes, but no matter what explanations arise, it's also likely that a significant number of players stopped out of frustration.

What leads some people to persevere after experiencing failure and others to give up? Why do some people anticipate eventual success where others only see continued failure? The full Gamasutra feature from Phillips explores the issue in much more depth, and offers design-oriented ideas to help address it.

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P Borges
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This is assuming that people are playing FOR achievements, which i know a lot of people don't. The real hardcore market doesn't really care about achieves. Lets be honest, they are a gimmick, not a way to quantify why people do or don't stop playing games. Don't get me wrong, achieves can be fun, and can ADD challenge to a game (if the DEVELOPER does them right), but i think you would be hard pressed to find player who play games JUST for their gamer-score (no one likes those guys anyway).

You can't make a system up, and then decided "this is why people play/ this keeps people playing". On top of that you FORCE developers to use them. You want to keep players playing? Stop releasing cookie cutter games, stop paying for review scores, stop focusing on games with numbers behind them and pay attention to your REAL hardcore market, not the people who burn out in 2 months.

Brandon Sheffield
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This is not assuming that people are playing for achievements. If you read the article you'll find the following paragraph:

"Of course, the Gamerscore tells only part of the story. Players could finish a game and do little else, resulting in a low Gamerscore but high completion rates. However, most games award achievement points for completing the single-player campaign."

If you had taken the time to read the feature you might find that the message is that developers should do more to keep players playing - achievements are just used as a wake-up call for people to realize that players aren't finishing their single player campaigns.

Jeremie Parmentier
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Outside the problem of achievement, a lot of these game are multi-player-oriented. We can imagine that some of the player that haven't finish the campaign never even tried it

Brandon Sheffield
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Jeremie - indeed, one of the points of the article as well.

Bryson Whiteman
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That second "Percent Completing Campaign" was the graph I wanted to see. I did the bare minimum when I completed Halo 3 and got something like 500 achievements and the same in GTA4 only got me about 130. So the amount of achievements you have doesn't necessarily correspond with how much you played the game, since GTA4 takes about 3 times longer to complete.

I'm interested in the concept of achievements. For the games that you love, if gives you an incentive to keep playing and challenge yourself to do ridiculous tasks. The stuff you used to do back in the day anyway, but now you have evidence.

Even with the shitty games that you end up with, it can give you a reason to keep playing. For me they're like personal goals for the completionists out there, I don't have any friends that care about the gamerscores. But it's interesting data to look at.

I like the data Nintendo collects on Wii. I think it's the Nintendo Channel that breaks down how many times you've played a game, average times, etc. There's data on who plays the game by gender and recommendations for other games and whatnot. Great stuff.

Ken Nakai
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Another interesting statistic would be the TIME taken to get to those numbers above. Are people chewing up content in a matter of days or do they draw it out over months? Would help to determine the best/ideal lifecycle for DLC dev.

Mike Lopez
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Achievements can indeed (for some users) be an added incentive for replay/continuation but by itself they will not overcome excessive player frustration from punishing gameplay. Other, more valuable incentives to encourage player continuation/replay can be practical rewards such as new attacks/moves/weapons/vehicles (Zelda), visual rewards via well constructed and varied levels (Halo) or character ability progression (Bioshock).

We also need to recognize that Achievements are typically not linearly distributed even across a campaign, so say making it 50% of the way through may only yield 15-30% of the available Campaign Achievement points (and an even lower percentage of the total 1000).

With respect to Achievements there is a Completionist player that wants to get everything no matter how hard but that is a relatively small segment (of which I would still call hard core). I would bet that most players look at available Achievements if they are still having fun with a game after finishing the campaign and they may selectively pick off those that can be earned within a limited amount of time but again they will likely eventually lose interest in those that are overly tedious/difficult/punishing.

I also feel that the argument that Achievements are a "gimmick" is absurd. Ask anyone who has both a 360 and PS3 what system they buy the majority of new games for and it is likely close to 100% of those people who buy first for the 360. That preference all comes down to the value of both Achievement rewards and Xbox Live functionality. The only thing that would make me buy a PS3 version first (assuming it is not an exclusive title) is that version had a substantially higher average quality rating (say >8-10% on Gamerankings/Metacritic).

Michael Kolb
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The thing I see more developers starting to do is to have rewards in game that aren't necessarily achievements. I think this is great, like games like Dirt 2 (with the missions you can finish to boost your next xp lvl) or Borderlands (gaining more xp for doing a certain tasks(like firing 10,000 shots!)). I'm a single player guy, due to horrible internet options in my area, but the industry is evolving into an online social medium so people probably play online more (survival modes or competitive play) than they would want to go through a scripted campaign. Not me though but I'm just guessing everyone else's opinions so take it with a grain of salt.

Fiore Iantosca
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I completed CoD2, CoD4 and Mass Effect and got 100% achievements. These had no MP achievements.

If you really love the game and you like achievements you'll want to get 100%. It's a nice reward, IMO. The CoD games on Veteran were very tough, but what a satisfaction I received when I completed them. They took many hours too. Different strokes for different folks.

If you want to have people keep playing the game, disregard the achievements. Make it have replay value and make the game fun. If it's repetitive it's likely people will stop after some time.

Joe Elliott
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Look at GTAIV, less than 30% completion rate, but still gets away with perfect reviews.

Can you remember a movie that less than 30% of the public finished wathcing and got good reviews?

I recently played Shadow Complex and Halo 3:ODST campaign. Both game's reviews were negatively affected by the fact that their campaign was too short (5-7 hours). But personally, on the 4th evening I spent with these games, which was on the third week after I had bought it, I was kind of hoping to finally come to a conclusion. It's sometime more insterresting to watch a few 30 min episodes of my favorite series, at least there's a satisfying conclusion every night.

Chris Clemens
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"Can you remember a movie that less than 30% of the public finished wathcing and got good reviews?"

Pretty much every Academy Award winner?

I think Call of Duty 4 got achievements right: all 1000/1000 were dedicated to single player pursuits, while multiplayer had a separate XP/ranking system. If this study had looked at some of the somewhat less popular games of recent years (Condemned 2, The Darkness, Stuntman: Ignition), you'll find a lot of titles that dedicate 300 or so points to some tacked-on multiplayer mode... which nobody will ever unlock... because the multiplayer scene is a ghost town.

This sort of thing can actually dissuade people from picking up the game years later.

Steve Watkins
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Agree @ online multiplayer achievements. I hate (not dislike - Hate) online multiplayer achievements because the vast majority of retail and arcade games don't have anyone playing them online a few days after release. Everyone is still playing CoD4 and Halo mainly. Also, the online achievs that require thousands or tens of thousands of kills or something else are obnoxious as hell. Fable II did a better job of handling online achievements. I haven't played CoD4 (played 2 & 3 and didn't like some of the achieves), but I hear they did it perfectly.

Also .... secret achievements. It's annoying when they are used for generic gameplay results that you get with blind luck. When they are (properly, IMHO) used to cover/hide important game benchmarks so as not to give "spoilers" to other people viewing your achievements, they are fine. "Ironic" in BioShock was a beautiful example of a secret achievement done right.

Danny Pampel
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Argh, yes online achievements. The latest Call of Juarez is a perfect example. I did not complete the game for achievements but I did go online to try and play a bit and practically nobody online, I then look at the achievements list and so many are for online play. I agree that COD4 handled it the best I've seen, although I have failed as I only have that one stupid achievement to get "Mile High Club". In fact, I think I'll go try it again tonight :)