Do Players Cheat at "Microsoft Solitaire Collection" Events?
Cheating in Microsoft Solitaire Events?
On average, 300,000 or more people all over the world take part in the Microsoft Solitaire events that take place four or five times per week. The games are Klondike, Spider, Free Cell, Pyramid, and Tripeaks, and the events are usually a mix of difficulty levels and game types. Sometimes all games are on one level and at other times one game type only is featured, with a mix of difficulty levels. The number of games in an event can range from 5 (for a mini-event) to 30.
I have noticed on the leaderboards that some people finish an event of 30 games in 15 minutes. I suspect that it is physically impossible to play 30 games in 15 minutes. This is not always due to difficulty but some games require too many moves to finish in such a short time.
It is also impossible to randomly select unseen cards correctly the first time. A Tripeaks game (and also the 3-card Klondike game) can require a tricky sequence of which the player can only uncover through trial and error.
I am not the only one contemplating the issue of cheating. This has has been posted and discussed several times on various forums.
I have not once seen Microsoft answer this question.
Microsoft Solitaire Events
In Microsoft Solitaire events, each player is grouped with 100 players (different each time). At first, I thought that Microsoft was using its information about player skills to make up the groups of 100 to represent a mix of skill levels (almost like the group stages of a soccer tournament). It turns out that this is much more random: After you have started the event (played one game), you are randomly assigned to a group of players who had started the event at the same time as you.
I have compared my group position to total position and found that if you end up in the first five of your group, your score would likely be in the best 5% of the total population who took part in the specific event.
Time Needed to Finish a Game
Freecell is the only game where all the cards are visible from the start. Since the clock starts ticking only when you move the first card, you can study the spread as long as you need before you actually make a move. The game also automatically moves available cards to the piles so this is a game that an intelligent player can finish really fast.
In Pyramid, you can also get a lot of information before you start the game, e.g., you can assess which cards are blocked by others and after dealing once some people may remember the sequence and finish quickly. The problem is that often you have to collect a set number of cards, e.g., 11 fives, to win the game. This implies a minimum of 3 spreads to collect 11 cards. That is 10 seconds per spread if you need an average of half-minute per game. Impossible.
With Klondike, Spider, and Tripeaks many cards are facedown and the correct choice of cards is not evident from the start so the player uncovers cards by trial and error. With Tripeaks, the player often has to do two or three spreads to finish the assignment, again 10 seconds per spread, which is not possible.
Game Forum Discussions
There are some discussion threads that I would like to respond to. This is my opinion based on taking part in the events.
- The clock only starts ticking once you move the first card. It, therefore, does not make a difference whether you are a premium (paying) player or one who has to watch the boring ads in between. The ads do not increase your game time.
- Many players complain about the time ticking even when you are not playing. I have found that this only happens to me when I have not completed a game. Once you started a game, all the time since you start, up to when you complete the game (with redeals, replays, putting off your PC to take the dog for a walk) is added to that game. Even though the specific game you complete (ultimately) may show you spent five minutes, the leaderboards will add up all the time in between and you may be shocked to find that you spent four hours on the total event.
- Although the leaderboards are for groups, friends, and the top 100, it is possible to see your own ranking in the context of the total population. For instance, over the weekend I ended 4th in my group and 11 695th from 450 579 players who took part. On the event results page, your ranking is shown at the bottom. If you go to "Show All" on the right and then back to the results page, your overall position is shown.
- In regards to service and internet speed, some players mentioned that they play much faster on touch screen tablets. I am also sure that internet speed makes a difference if you want to compete for the top positions (small margins, like cyclists shaving their legs).
- Some discussion threads are about strategies for different games—you do get better with practice. Sometimes I feel my intelligence and/or memory is limited and my progress has hit the ceiling. Personally I find Expert Klondike and Tripeaks most frustrating since you have to remember sequences of your trial and error journey.
Discussion Threads on Cheating
Many players have asked the same question in regard to cheating and feel that cheating is unfair. Since nothing is at stake, most players resign themselves to the fact. Strange to me is that, in all the threads I read, Microsoft has not once offered a useful comment.
How is it possible to cheat?
- The Dedicated Cheater: These players have a 2nd account where they practice the moves to perfection, and then go to their other account to finish the games in as shortest time possible. To me, this is not such serious cheating.
- Copycat Cheater: These players do the same as the first category, but they do not figure out the difficult moves. Due to the time difference (game start as well as a global factor), some players have already recorded and posted their solutions to the most difficult games, so it is easy to access.
- Short Cuts: Using a program or cheat codes for some games, e.g., mention is made of how the 3-card Klondike can be converted to a one-card deal. I suspect that was for older versions of the game so I would be interested to know if those are still around. Some cheats seem to give you an ultimate score so that if the game target is a specific score, you have already achieved the goal when you start the game. On that note, I wonder if it is possible to slow time on the device while you go through your arduous moves to solve the games?
- Bots: They are the most frustrating of all. A machine solves the games for the cheater. Since I am not in the programming field, I have various questions. For instance—even the bot has to work through known cards to find the best path, so the programmer would have to work on a 2nd account to make enough moves to uncover all cards, then put the machine to work. Is that assumption correct? Just getting to the target without actually playing would be just a cheat but putting the bot to work requires a bit more dedication (not from the player, but from the programmer).
My Thoughts on Bots
Most players feel the same about these bots—there is very little value in just having your name on top, without the pleasure of playing or winning anything. The battle of the bots is probably between programmers rather than players. For people who are trying to make the top 100 through sheer skill, this is really frustrating. I am in accord with what many suggest, namely that there should be a separate competition just for this category. Microsoft's silence is also rather strange. Is this some of their own programmers at work?
Should Microsoft ever do a real tournament with real prizes, this problem will have to be solved somehow. Is there a technical way for Microsoft to know (as against just estimating time per game) which games are being played by bots and which are played by real people?
I would be interested to know.
It's Still an Enjoyable Game
As for myself, I play to give my mind a break between other tasks and enjoy solving the games. Nevertheless, it is a good feeling to end up in the first five of your group. Like other players, I do not want to play against a programme.