Just The Stats Ma’am

Because part of the reason I’ve been writing about 2011 is this idea of a kind of disclosure about the experience of making games, I thought it would make sense to say something about the experience of audience. I’ve had the odd fortune to have a really weird trajectory in terms of a couple of my games ending up quite well known for their brief, bright moments on the internet, and that’s been an interesting thing. This post will thus be filtered through the process of watching site hits and “unique visitors” on statcounter.com.

When I started out with GuruQuest I had no actual audience, unsurprisingly. I told people I knew about the game when I’d made it (friends and the Kill Screen crew), and then watched eagerly as, one by one, a few people downloaded the game. My general experience of site hits for any of my sites (this blog, stimulusresponse) had been, until recently, that I had to make sure to block statcounter from counting my own visits or they’d completely dominate the results.

In short, no real audience beyond friends and family and some colleagues. But the interesting thing about that is that it was still exhilarating! This notion that I had made a game and then put it out there, and that some people had bothered to engage with it – that was magic. The instant someone who isn’t yourself plays your game, there’s this mystical other world created – the world of the game without you, the other person’s reactions to the game, unseen by you. It’s a beautiful thing – and that is ultimately what any given hit “means”, each and every time. That’s special.

That experience of at least mostly knowing who was playing games went on through Let There Be Smite!, but then Safety Instructions was featured on IndieGames.com, which meant that suddenly a lot of people played one of my games. Suddenly, more than a thousand people had played one of my games in a single day. And that’s where the audience thing just went a bit crazy to me. In one sense it became meaningless, because conceiving of 1,000 people playing my game is kind of impossible. Just going by numbers, it’s wonderful, of course – what a privilege.

But things kept getting crazier. The next game, The Artist Is Present, was featured on all kinds of websites and went berserk in terms of players. In that case there were a couple of days where over 10,000 people played one of my games. That’s definitely incomprehensible. You can’t really feel it, you just marvel at the bar chart and the numbers as they flow past.

And then of course, after a few other games that didn’t exactly make waves (I’m looking at you, Trolley Problem!), I did Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment and things went all out of control again. The image associated with this post is actually the graph of hits on my games subsite starting with the little blip on the far left, which is Safety Instructions, then the spike of The Artist Is Present, and then the utter madness of Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment. It even looks mad! This month over 200,000 unique people have played one or more of my games, apparently. This month!

I honestly don’t know what to make of that, or how one processes it beyond, again, looking at the bar chart and saying “holy shit!”. It doesn’t feel 200,000 times more amazing than knowing that one person somewhere played a game of mine, though it does feel like something different. I guess I just don’t know how to characterise it. Anyway, part of the point of this was really just to write down that statistical journey of 2011 – hope it’s somehow interesting.

It’s been a hell of a ride. I have no clue of where it might go from here, but so long as there’s one person somewhere out there who has a chuckle at something I made, then it’s all working according to plan.

19 January 2012
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