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Correction to This Article
In previous versions of this article in print and on the Web, video game aficionado David Dreger's online name was rendered incorrectly. His Xbox identity is "Knuckles Dawson." This version has been corrected.

The Points of It All

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By Mike Musgrove
Sunday, November 11, 2007

I recently spent at least a half-dozen hours playing a video game I'm not sure I liked very much.

It's not just me -- nobody seems to like CSI: Hard Evidence. Every review I've read has pretty much ripped apart the new game based on the hit TV series. "If you buy this, the only thing that needs investigating is your head," wrote one annoyed critic.

And, yet. There was one game feature that most reviews tended to note under the "pro" column. The game, you see, coughs up 1,000 of some of the easiest-to-attain "gamerscore" points available on the Xbox platform.

What's a gamerscore? It's a clever system built into Microsoft's game console, designed to hook gamers by doling out bragging rights to dedicated players. Every game for the console coughs up the points as you play, whenever you complete assigned tasks or "achievements" in a game.

Every Xbox user sees his gamerscore alongside his online moniker whenever he logs on, and so do his friends. Some games are generous with the points, some are stingy. My score, thanks to a little padding from Dr. Gil Grissom and the rest of the CSI team, is up to about 9,000. Also, I'm now a huge fan of the show.

To be clear, the points are worth nothing outside the quasi-social network of Xbox. Even within the world of Xbox Live, which turns five years old this week, the points are only good for some vague, and nerdy, street cred.

If this all sounds rather goofy, well, that's because it is. Goofy and effective. In a recently released study, one research firm found that a game with the right mix of gamerscore-building "achievements" built in could sell up to 50 percent more copies than a similar game without them.

"A good group of achievements generates buzz you wouldn't see otherwise," said Geoffrey Zatkin, one of the founding analysts at Electronic Entertainment Design and Research.

Zatkin said the system is particularly effective in increasing sales for games in which players win points for pulling off feats of viral marketing, such as designing levels and posting them online. "The system is turning gamers into advocates," he said.

One Xbox 360 owner in Vancouver recently earned a small measure of fame for winning points every day for nearly 700 days in a row. His streak ended last month.

David Dreger, known online as Knuckles Dawson, owns all the latest game consoles, but he's been spending a disproportionate amount of time on the Xbox. That's partly because he is busy feeding his gamerscore, which is up around 52,000.

"It has changed the face of the gaming industry," he said of the system. "It will make you play games that you otherwise wouldn't touch."


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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