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Oh noes! Dots high scores disappear

Even as Dots hit 3 million players and 250 million plays, some used an exploit in the old version of the app allowing unfairly high scores. In the new version, those scores are gone.

A screenshot showing that CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman's Dots high score list has disappeared.
Daniel Terdiman/CNET

If you know anything about the new hit iOS game Dots, which has already logged 3 million players and more than 250 million total plays, you know that for any serious player, it's all about high scores.

So I've been a bit upset over the last 24 hours after noticing that the Dots high score system had gone awry. On the one hand, my entire personal high score list had disappeared. But perhaps more troubling, the all-time high score list had regressed, with someone's world-beating score of 800 simply having vanished.

If this is all Latin to you, then take a trip over to the iOS App Store (Android users, help is reportedly on the way) and download Dots. Before you do that, though, clear your schedule for the next week so that your inevitable new obsession doesn't interfere with important meetings, dates, dinners, or even sleep. Now you're ready.

Once you start playing, you'll quickly discover that you're basically competing with yourself. You feverishly try to make dots disappear, and once you realize that the way to achieve top scores is to search for -- and destroy -- squares of the same colored dots -- your numbers will start to rise. At first you'll hit 250, then 300, then 400, and perhaps beyond.

I've been playing for a couple of weeks, and my top score is a mediocre 446. All told, I've topped 400 three times. But to look at my personal high score list, all I see at the moment is a top score of 363. Oddly, the Dots system also knows that my "best score" is 446. But the full list of top scores has been eviscerated, and now I have almost nothing to show for my hours spent ignoring all my other responsibilities.

That's bad for my self-esteem. But I feel even worse for the player who hit 800 a day or so ago. I remember seeing that number show up on the worldwide high score list and being very impressed. I wondered how in the world someone had managed to double my own personal best (which was 400 at the time). I wanted to meet this person and study at their feet. Learn their methods. Become more like him or her.

Dots has quickly become one of the most popular mobile games in the world, with well over 100 million plays so far. Screenshot by CNET

Well, today, as I was trying to figure out why my own scores had gone away, I also noted that the current global high score is 748.

I knew that Betaworks, the company that unleashed Dots onto the world (to distract us while they achieve total authoritarian control?), had just last night put out an update to the app -- adding iPad support, multiplayer functionality, and more color blind-friendly colors -- so I thought that perhaps the problem was that I was still running the older version on my iPhone 5. But when I updated, nothing changed. My scores -- and that enviable 800 -- were still AWOL. And though it seemed to work better on my iPad, I'm pretty sure it killed one of my scores.

Is this a problem that should be taken to the highest levels of government? Should Silicon Valley conduct a giant sit-in? Well, probably not. But then again, when I posted to our newsroom that I had discovered this problem with the high score system, a colleague quickly wrote back, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I had just gotten the dang thing figured out and was on my way up!"

As many others have noted, part of the fun in seeking an ever-higher tally is not only besting yourself, but also besting your friends. My first convert -- that seems to be how Dots spreads: you show a friend, and he or she quickly gets obsessed, and then does the same to others -- and I were soon trading screenshots of our high score lists. Along with subtle, but biting commentary. Well, how can I taunt my friend if my high score list has gone utterly invisible?

When I contacted Betaworks for comment, Paul Murphy, senior vice president of product, told me there really wasn't that much to worry about.

First, Murphy said, the Dots team had noticed that some players had been using some sort of cheat in the previous version of the app -- he didn't elaborate -- to notch unfairly high scores. Presumably the person with the 800 score was one of those. As a result, the Dots team has purged all global high scores from the previous version, as well as the exploit. Murphy did say he suspects those whose scores were removed will soon reappear on the top scores list "because they are good players."

But he also said there had been a server-side issue that had been causing some problem uploading certain players' high scores, and he said he thought mine were part of that issue. Ultimately, he said, the Dots team is small, and wasn't really expecting 3 million players. "We're playing a bit of catch-up," Murphy told me. "We have a backlog of about a dozen features we want to get to over time."