Friday, July 19, 2013

By the numbers, but without the math

Have you ever wanted to conduct a statistical analysis, but been deterred by the thought that math is not really your thing?

Then you have good taste, and will be pleased to know that math is somewhat optional. At least if you know where to get your data and how to interpret it.

For reasons that are very much statistical in nature, I recently stumbled upon this data set. It is a breakdown of how many percentage of Steam players have unlocked any given achievement in the game Deus Ex: Human Revolution, from the highest percentage to the lowest. Looking at these numbers, we can say some interesting (albeit not conclusive) things about how gaming happens.

One interesting stat is the percentage of players who've unlocked the First hack achievement. At the moment of writing, the number is 78.5% - slightly above three fourths, and slightly below four fifths. The interesting thing about this number is that you are forced by the game story to unlock this rather early. Not right away, to be sure, but early enough that those who find the game even modestly engaging will get there as a matter of course.

The fact that over a fifth of the Steam players who own the game hasn't as of yet unlocked this achievement is significant. In at least two meanings of the word.

An immediate conclusion from this might be that people lose interest before reaching this particular point, and that there's therefore something wrong with the game design. A 21.5% drop-off rate between the start and a rather early point implies a very steep learning curve, after all.

This, however, assumes that people have actually played the game. Remember - this statistic is a percentage of how many of the Steam owners have unlocked the achievement, and ownership is not the same thing as starting up the game. Especially not on Steam, where they occasionally sell games for next to nothing for limited periods of time. Which prompts people to buy the game when it is cheap, and then inactively sit on it until they get in the mood to actually play it - and, thus, creates a significant gap between those who own the game and those who gets achievements in it.

It is important to take these things into account before leaping to conclusions. Context matters.

Looking at the other end of the percentages, we find three achievements below 3%. Two of them might be expected, as they are rather hard to unlock. The third, however, is a strange one - and with a 0.9% unlock rate, a rare one.

The two expected ones - Foxiest of the Hounds and Pacifist - are conditioned on the player managing to not do certain things throughout the game. Not setting off an alarm or killing anyone, respectively. The hard part is not go for the appropriate game style - with enough game sense and patience, you can manage. The hard part is to not do it by accident - alarms can go off even when you're not around, and enemies can die due to bugs or circumstances beyond your control. In any number of ways, something can happen that invalidates the achievement, and nothing in-game tells you that this has happened. Until you either get it or not.

If you are hell bent on getting these particular achievements, you'll just press "new game" and try again when the achievement fails to unlock. Most people, however, will just shrug and move on to greener pastures. Which contributes to the figures we see.

The third one is the odd one. Doctorate. On paper, it is an easy thing to unlock. Just read all the various books spread around the world - there's even a handy wiki entry with all the locations marked out. One might imagine this being a more common one, well above the 0.9% level of achievementness. But for some reason, it isn't.

One reason might be that the very first book is in a very inconvenient location. If you play the sneaky way, you'll want to avoid this area altogether. Which is probably what you'll do, and by the time you figure you'll check the handy guide, you'll be far enough into the game to not want to restart for just the one achievement. This, of course, goes for all the other books you are likely to miss. But the fact that you miss the first one so early means that most players are effectively never going to see this particular achievement happen.

That's of course not the reason. But it's a reason, contributing in context.

So. Are you still up for some statistical analysis? In that case - go for it. There's a lot of fun to be had!

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