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Joined: 12/06/2008
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Bruno's post about Gold Players in History at https://fold.it/portal/node/2003115 got me in the mood to revive my old analytical skills and look at some data from this game.

FoldIt has been around since 2007, and has had hundreds of thousands of players come and go. The leaderboards suggest that there are less than three thousand currently active players. One such question I had was "who is still playing, after all these years?"

I mined the data of the top five hundred players (by hand... you'd be amazed how complicated that is) and determined that we have one player active from 2007 (waves to spvincent!),

twenty-seven still here that joined in 2008:

Steven Pletsch
Mike Cassidy
Franco Padelletti

ten from 2009:

Bletchley Park

178 from the 2010's, and 284 that joined just this year.

A spreadsheet with the join date of the current top 500 players is at:


Not all five hundred people have played, recently, particularly those who joined in 2020. One conclusion I have made from this study: we have a dismally low player retention rate.

Should we open a discussion in another post about why this is and what we can do about it?

donuts554's picture
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My thoughts for improvements on Foldit about your question

I think we should open a discussion in another post about why this is and what we can do about it. Here are my thoughts about your question, and I will try to make my thoughts as complete and concise as possible.

I think this is because they think that Foldit is not as fun as other games, and that they think that folding up a repetitive sequence of abstract shapes and cartoon proteins and squiggles is uninteresting and boring, and that I have heard Foldit beginners say that the Foldit tutorials are "frustrating" and that people are doing "random" things to solve the tutorials. Also, the Foldit beginners say that the tutorials are very hard to do, as many players ask for help in Global chat and/or the Foldit feedback and Foldit forums to get help to solve the tutorials.

I think that Foldit should be more relatable to other less abstract games, and be more relatable to things in the visual real world, such as humans, food, trees, magic, animals, spacesuits, racecars, candy, strings, puzzle pieces, spikes, pipes, fish, swords, pebbles, money, spoons, cars, ores, and ovens. If the proteins were more relatable, then they would be more interested in the game, as it is similar to other popular games. Also, folding up proteins repetitively can be boring, as you have to follow mostly the same steps in order to get a high score. The people
who joined Foldit in 2020 wanted to help make a real coronavirus vaccine in real life, as they are motivated by the danger of the coronavirus, and they are not that interested in abstract proteins in general. They wanted to know whether Foldit would actually make a difference in the real world, and whether their protein will actually get made into a vaccine.

I think it is like global warming. They know its important, and it has a large impact, but several people don't care about global warming as it is something that is not able to be seen in their everyday lives, and "not seeing global warming happen" in their everyday lives makes them think that global warming is "less often", more "rare" and less important.

I think that the same thing happens for proteins. They know proteins are important, it has a large impact, but several people don't care about proteins as it is something that is not able to be seen in their everyday lives, and "not seeing proteins happen" in their everyday lives makes them think that proteins are "less often", more "rare", and less important.

The limitations of Rosetta and Foldit being in perpetual beta are a significant factor in making people not "see proteins happen". I think that Rosetta is a protein modeling and potential energy calculating tool, not a thermodynamic, protein animatic kinetic energy modeling tool. This limitation by using a scientific analytical instrument to be used in a "game" is what makes this game not interesting, and make a dismally low player retention rate. "Logical scientific analytics" and "everyday fun games" do not match. The two phrases have very different moods and tones to them.

[UNLESS]... --- \/\\/ ----

I think people need to be able to actually "see proteins happen", doing what they are supposed to do, binding and interacting with other molecules, transporting, storing breaking molecules apart, forming molecular bonds, flowing around, moving, in action, not just standing by itself. This orderly action and movement would make proteins more lively, and what they truly are.

This movement would be more interesting to people, because the people would know that seeing moving squiggles in action would be more important than stationary squiggles in action, as in real life, people think animals are more like living things than plants, and that plants, which grow, are more like living things than rocks. They think that moving people are more useful than people who are not moving. Hunters used to think moving food is more useful than stationary food. People think that a ball moving around in a sports stadium is more interesting than a ball not moving around.

This innate human instinct to be more interested in moving things should be used in Foldit.

However, this kind of dynamic movement can not be implemented in Rosetta, so Foldit has to make use of what is available in Rosetta.

The processes modeled in logical scientific analytics are what make up and constitute the everyday lives and games. I think that the action that occurs, no matter how simple and small, can be combined to make a very fun game. The tools such as wiggle, the moving score, shake, remix, more little things like the moving stripes in hydrogen and cysteine bonds, the flickering of the bands, the varying conversations in the chat, the pulsing of the heavy bondable atoms, are what make the game interesting thus so far.

I think this action may be further developed and made more lively and more interesting by:

  • instead of the normal wiggle and remix, making the protein appear more lively by moving it into a slight random position, which is not shown on the score, and then making it into a its normal position (like the normal wiggle or remix)repeatedly, like the small waves of the water in a swimming pool. The random position would be only for visual purposes, and not be used as an actual position.
  • making the score flash green and show a green up arrow when it goes up, and making the score flash red and show a red down arrow when it goes down, like a game of traffic light.
  • making the sidechains move more when shaking, such as being in random different rotamers and then stopping at the normal stable position (like the normal shake), which is similar to a fidget spinner, a dreidel, or a Wheel of Fortune prize wheel
  • making conversations in the Global chat and Office Hours more lively by talking about interesting things and fun facts about proteins and talking about interesting strategies on how to get a high score from the developers, like training as a team for a sports tournament. (this could be of a lower priority because many popular games do not use chat)
  • making the lines in the hydrogen and cysteine bonds move around more like waves, or with sparkles around the bonds, and adding more special effects, such as sparkles and spinning, to the bands and bondable atoms. This would also be only for visual purposes, like glitter and string and glue in arts and crafts.

There are several other ways to make Foldit more lively, but the limitations of Rosetta might not make them possible.

Also, the tutorials should be really redesigned and be made more easier for new players, by showing more tips about how to finish the puzzle and to reset the puzzle if you worked on it for a long time. This is explained more in the "Better introduction/explanation needed for tutorials" feedback, at https://fold.it/portal/node/993594 .

Finally, Foldit should also take advantage of the randomness that Foldit beginners prefer to do to get a high score. People like to do things with randomness, from the randomness of rolling dice, to the randomly generated world of 3-D sandbox games, to the randomness in casinos. Me and Susume think that tutorial puzzles should have multi-start puzzles with similar real-life proteins from different species, so that there are small variations in between the proteins. These seemingly random small variations can show to Foldit beginners how a small "random" difference in the sequence of amino acids can affect a protein's shape.

Joined: 12/06/2008
Groups: Contenders

Your definition of "concise" is very different from mine.

joshmiller's picture
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Joined: 09/08/2017
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Wow, cool data!

Hey Boots,

Thanks for putting that data together! Really interesting stuff, and I really appreciate it!

Yes, Foldit's retention rate is abysmal. This is why I'm dedicating my entire PhD to fixing it ;) I'll be happy to share findings with the players as my work progresses. We unfortunately don't have many developer resources for making progress fast on this, but I have a good sense of what needs to change, it's just a matter of time to make it happen. Happy to talk about this more in a PM or vet chat (just say Josh and it should ping me).

robgee's picture
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Propz to the elders

Thanks Boots. Propz to you and the elders.


Developed by: UW Center for Game Science, UW Institute for Protein Design, Northeastern University, Vanderbilt University Meiler Lab, UC Davis
Supported by: DARPA, NSF, NIH, HHMI, Amazon, Microsoft, Adobe, RosettaCommons