Solvers, Cheaters, and High Scores, oh my!

Recently, Chris posted a comment on our blog that I started responding too, but realized that it probably deserved it’s own post. The topic: cheating.

We take cheating seriously and have a bunch of anti-cheat prevention already in our system. In the first 2 weeks that the game was out, there was a bug in the game that allowed people to get 80, 90, or more “words” by knowing how to force the bug at a very specific time. We quickly patched both our server and phone app to close this attack. Since then, we haven’t had any cheaters exploiting phone app bugs. In fact, if you look at our web leaderboards, you will see that our top player in the last 30 days (by number of words is foubs at 75). Foubs is a phenominal player and has been with us for almost a month, having clocked in many dozens of sessions and many hundreds of games. The other thing: foubs is a highly consistent player. When he or she plays, they consistently get high scores and high word counts. It’s part of the draw to come back and show the world how smart you are.

How do they do that?!? It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? It’s sad to admit, but some people are just better at things than others. Some people are fast runners, some people make beautiful works of art, some people invent great new things, and some people are just plain amazing at spotting words in a 4×4 grid and racing their finger around.

“Cheaters!” you say. Nope! That’s not the cheater’s profile. Cheaters “game” a system for some benefit. In the case of Wordament… what’s the benefit? To get your name on the top of the leaderboard. Great, then if you really wanted to cheat to get to the top, then you’d do it once… clock in your best score for the month, and then not come back. Or, you’d come back at play at your typical level. A great player comes back often and plays consistently every time. And, frankly, if foubs or any other player comes in here, uses a solver every time, and finds reading a word list and fingering it into the screen as “fun”—then more power to them. But, the reality is: cheating isn’t fun over time. Cheating is fun for getting attention, and then you stop.

Now, on to solvers. Solvers can’t really be “stopped.” They are an analog attack (you do it without us being able to know). So, what we look for in our server stats are things that make it evident that you are “one-off cheating” vs. “consistent over time.” In a few cases, we’ve knocked people out of the leaderboards because their leaderboard score was completely unrealistic compared to their average playing ability. We don’t like to do that, but when you are hundreds of points above everyone else and you’ve never done that before… it’s a bit suspect. And, we reserve the right to keep our gaming arena fair and fun for everybody.

While on the topic of cheating and solvers, one of my friends built a Wordament solver and tried using it. Two things were evident: the first was that their score was too high relative to their number of words found (because you don’t need many long words to get a really high score). But, in reality, nobody finds all the 6, 7, and 8 letter words without a big blend of 3 and 4 letter words. This is a clear giveaway. The second thing we see is that cheaters using solvers “wait a while” before they get their first word. Why? Because they are busy punching the letters into a solver!

So, know that we are watching for cheaters. Know that we don’t appreciate cheaters and want a fun place for everyone to play. Also, know that our best players have the right to be recognized as the best. Players like Briff05, butterqueen, breezywendy, hedish, nghi1129, robopuppycc, coffeyc1, WordsWithBryan, Cj KwikDraw, Hooraybeers, and foubs are in all the time, highly consistent… and better than the rest of us (especially me)!

Does it disappoint you to hear that people are better than you? There’s a cure for that: practice! So, get in there and play more! Also, know that we love having players here at every skill level. We tried to make the game fun for everyone, and possible to grow and get better over time.

– Black Snapper

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About Wordament

Wordament is a fun and addictive word game from You vs. the Internet, a Microsoft Studio.
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13 Responses to Solvers, Cheaters, and High Scores, oh my!

  1. Ioannis says:

    ETA (Greek: “ητα” or “Η”), is not a Greek number. It’s a letter of the alphabet and also a word which translates to “Loss”.

    Cheers!

  2. Foubs says:

    Wow, my name was used a lot in this post.

    Anyway, great post, and figured I should comment.

    Now, I can’t speak for the other folks that score consistently very high (Snapper mentioned them in the post), but I can attest that none of them are cheating. I used to play Scramble on Facebook pretty often, and it became ridiculously clear when people were cheating — one minute they get a decent score, the next game they have an amazing score that’s something like 200 points a game, and the behavior either fluctuates or happens in chunks, where all of a sudden they suck and then other times they’re amazing. As for consistent cheaters, they would be beating all of us by a considerably higher number than what we’ve been seeing — I’d see cheaters beating people by some 500+ points on Scramble. I haven’t seen that here at all.

    The people above never show that characteristic (and, therefore, it pains me to see them beat me, haha). I play against those people enough to see that they don’t seem to cheat (of course, they could *always* be cheating and know they should score on average 60 words in order to win by only a small margin, but seeing that Snapper can tell when they first submit words and not saying that they have — that’s very indicative that they aren’t).

    I also figured I’d comment on how we get scores that high, or how somebody could hypothetically score very high. When I play, I look very specifically for prefixes and suffixes. Suffixes include the letter S/IES (pluralizing words, or changing verb tense, is an extra 9+ points usually), ED (verb tense), ING (verb tense), LY (change any adjective into an adverb), ER (Make a verb a noun — example: read), AL/CAL (nouns into adjectives), and… that’s most of them. The most common prefixes are RE and DE (as you can probably imagine). So, when I first see a board, I specifically look for those and try to exploit it as much as possible. Also, if you get a word that has ING, for example, chances are its base word is a word as well.

    There are also very simple basic structures that form a substring for many many words. The one that props up in my head right now is “EAD” (Bead, Dead, Head, Lead, Mead, Read, and I think there are a few uncommon ones). There are a *bunch* of these.

    So, most of the time I am not even looking for words themselves. I’m looking for patterns for which I can take advantage. So, for instance, if I see EAD, I just start automatically fingering words in. I just look for any consonants around the E and start — even if I’m not sure it will form a word, I guess it anyway. Often time, it is.

    The other major tactic (for lack of a better word) I employ is to look for the highest value letters on the board. Q, Qu, K, Z, V… anything that’s 5+. 3 letter words (like Qua, Qat, Suq) are already 10+ points because of just one letter. Remembering these can make it very quick to rack up points. And again, I will tend to guess — sometimes I end up 5th because I guessed too often or focused too often on that letter — but usually it works out very well.

    Finally, the last bit of advice I can tell you is to know anagrams. The best example I have for that is for the letters T, A, E all touching. Almost every ordering of those letters is a word. (TEA, TAE, ATE, EAT, ETA) That already is somewhere around 35-40 points. The only one in that series that’s strange is TAE — the rest most people probably know already (ETA being the only other potentially obscure one — ETA is a greek number if you don’t know). I don’t even know what TAE means. I just know it works.

    As for finding 75 words, that was an unusually good board. I think it’s pretty rare to actually find that many words (though I do think the average highest word count is increasing). Furthermore, that doesn’t tell you how many 3, 4, 5, 6+ words that has. Chances are I found a ton of 3 letter words in that game, or there were 2 “S”, and maybe an IES, in that one board, along with some of the basic good structures.

    If you ever got a chance to look at the words I find, most of the words are “common” (by the way, Snapper, that would be really good to be able to showcase if this question still comes up). I am only very slowly learning the uncommon ones (specifically 3 and 4 letter ones — the longer ones are usually derivative of these by the same rules I mentioned above). I bet if the other players would say the same thing.

    So, really, Wordament is not necessarily a matter of knowing words (though that definitely helps for longer words). It’s a matter of knowing patterns or recognizing that words have commonalities among each other. Although I know most of meanings to the words I play, I definitely don’t know them all — I just know that they are words (and I will often go look up what it means later, but then forget because I never use them in daily use).

    Hopefully that will be helpful to some of you!
    See you in the game!

    • Wordament says:

      Wow! Hi foubs!

      Thanks for the deeply thoughtful and helpful post. “Scruff” and I (“Black Snapper”) learned a bunch reading this too! We knew about the letter clusters like T, A, and E, and also looking for words against high-value letters, but loved your commentary on the prefixes and suffixes.

      One of the things coming in our next update, will be support for Digraph puzzles (puzzles with tiles that contain two letter pairs, like “DE”, “ER”, “TH”, and so on). It turns out that English consists of about 39 unique letters when you figure in the top two-letter pairs. In fact, many two letter pairs occur more frequently than single letters like Q, V, and Z. With this change, I expect that high scores and high word counts will rise, but the challenge and diversity are worth it.

      The other thing we will be sharing–starting soon–are puzzles with solutions (found word lists) from our best players for others to look at, analyze, and learn from. We have some really exciting things coming–all based on player feedback.

      Thanks again for taking the time to write this up! It really made my day to read this.

      – Black Snapper

  3. Chris Gomez says:

    There’s no question you get to know some of the better players. You’ve identified and so have I. I am not so much complaining or whining as just wondering what the strategies are. As a developer myself, I began to think through possible detection strategies and came to many of the same conclusions about the word combination, time before finding first word, etc. To me, it would be like solving an engineering puzzle.

    I actually agree with most everything posted. On the rarer and rarer occasion that I do see a suspicious score now, that player either just leaves because it gets old for them or they must get tired of entering the letters into a solver because they drop back into the pack. It’s becoming very rare, quite honestly.

    I’m definitely not in the top tier like Foubs. I’m getting better and am usually consistent, but I can vouch for everything posted above. It takes time and practice and pretty soon you are spotting those letter proximities that must be worth 40 to 50 points because you know you can swipe 10 words out of it.

    • Foubs says:

      That’s more or less all it is — seeing common threads (akin to Ariadne’s thread strategies for Sudoku). That, and practice. I’ve always liked word games like Boggle and Scrabble (this game is far more addictive). I’ve been playing Boggle for something like 20 years now (since I was a kid).

      One thing that’d be interesting to see is if there were a mode that penalized you points for guessing (like Boggle). I’m guessing that would lower the top tier scores, at least for a while.

      • MrAndyPuppy says:

        Yeah – I was also thinking of the other thing Boggle does (and yes, I’ve been playing that for easily 20 years or longer too) – give less marks for words that others find. Well, I remember the rule as getting 0 for words that were common to other players but on a game the scale of Wordament that wouldn’t be fair.

        But maybe bonus points for words that only you find?

        I’m always disappointed when I absolutely rock a board and then don’t see my name on the leaderboard. I’m not to the level of you, or Briff05, HoorayBeers and others who always produce a smile in me when I see them on as it’s a personal challenge to get them (reminds me of trying to take my grandfather down when I was a teen). However, I *do* occasionally produce a great score – a perfect storm for words for me. As a result, I don’t seem to be as consistent as others like you guys and based on this blog entry I am assuming this might result in my scores sometimes being redacted.

      • Wordament says:

        Hi MyAndyPuppy,

        Score variation is expected and not a problem. We have only had 10 instances of score redaction and it was when a user was deliberately and maliciously attacking our game via a bug that we had in our original build. As far as we know (knock on wood), there are no cheating bugs possible in the current release. So, the only possible attack is an analog attack (a solver), but we watch for those and so far no one has gotten a standard deviation away from the rest of the pack. Your results are safe. :-)

        – Black Snapper

  4. thbech says:

    Another group of letters that can form many words is O-P-S-T:

    Post
    Pots
    Stop
    Spot
    Tops
    Opts

    Bech DK/

  5. DoenerBarney says:

    i think most of the “cheaters” are going for achievements, not for the Leaederborards…so wait some time till everyone has it´s cheevos and the cheaters will go away….
    i´m waiting for the german version to get my rank cheevos it´s nearly impossible for a none native english speaker to get them…

  6. veryblueapple says:

    I love this game and play all the time. I’m usually better than average if I’m focusing on the game and not watching a show in the background. I’d like to know how it’s possible to get in the range of 90 words or more? It just seems unrealistic. As I’ve read here, you take cheating seriously and don’t tolerate it. I know there are a lot of people that are better than me at Wordament…but if cheaters are getting in the way of me having a better score when I spend so much time playing this game, that I often have to recharge my phone several times a day, that’s when I get angry. Thanks for the amazing game.
    -veryblueapple

    • Wordament says:

      It’s actually the opposite! Folks who use word solvers get less words, but that are high-scoring. If you’d like to see some awesome high word count games, we have a few videos up on our FB page. You could also go to YouTube.com and see many videos that have been posted by our players including games played by Disco Pidgeon and Wicketewok69.

  7. messyellie says:

    Well, I was reading this site and though I was quite astounded about some people’s amazing scores, the thought of them eventually cheating hadn’t crossed my mind.
    But I asked myself if I could be suspected of cheating, because I’m in no way consistent. Of course, I tend to have scores between 400-500 points, but my high score is 988 (I didn’t win the game, anyway) and I’ve placed 10 in a round, and I sincerely believe I’ll be able to win a round one of these days, as I’m practicing a lot.
    Anyway, I’m Italian (though I went to high school in Maine and I’m a translator), and sometimes, during the game, I HAVE to stop and look at the letters, I’ve seen I can find longer words, that way. Maybe not being a mothertongue plays a part in this, as sometimes I really have to think. If I just keep busy rolling my fingers on my phone, some longer words really remain unseen. Would these brief “thinking pauses” be considered a sign of cheating? And also, I have a toddler son, two little kittens and my husband almost always at home with me, it’s not unusual that I have to check on one of them while playing, losing precious seconds.
    Oh, well, this was just a gamer’s response to these considerations.
    To all the players consistently up there in the first places: you’re great!
    Will we see an italian version of the game, too?

    On the gameboard, I’m Ellie171711, though I’m listed as GBR, it’s actually just my phone setting (I’m not really fond of my native country, and I like to receive UK updates on news, and so on).

    Bye!

    • Wordament says:

      Hi! Thanks for the nice comment. We have some amazing videos of our top players on YouTube if you want to see that the folks that clock in the amazing 70 – 130 words per game are in fact, real. Just do a search for “Wordament.”

      We have an Italian version coming soon!

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