It took more than eight years to build: a one, followed by six pristine zeroes. It lasted only three days. Ray Cox, at least, let the perfect million sit there next to his Xbox Live gamertag for a weekend, an unusual pause for someone who, on average, racked up more than 300 points' worth of achievements a day — for more than 3,000 days.
Cox hadn't shut off his console or put down the controller, however. He kept playing. Instead of plundering video games for their achievements, though, now he was playing them while deliberately avoiding anything that could trigger one, lest it put a crooked number up inside that perfect, round million.
His nature eventually would take over, for after eight years, the Xbox Live achievement had long since been a daily goal for Cox; it was at least an hourly expectation for the man under the gamertag Stallion83, who quickly rose to the number one Gamerscore in the world and last week became the only one on the world with a total surpassing 1 million.
Cox, 31, who lives in Tennessee, has taken weeklong breaks before, going on vacation with his girlfriend (a saint of patience and understanding) for example. And he has creatively "banked" games when a milestone Gamerscore neared, playing up to the edge of earning an achievement and then saving the game, so that he could return to it and collect a score that allowed him to hit 100,000, 500,000, or 900,000 on the nose.
This was different. Here he was just ... playing.
"It definitely is a different type of gaming," Cox said. "I'd call what I do normally 'hypergaming' because you're going through so many different titles. It's different compared to doing something, maybe for the same amount of time, with just Call of Duty. It's different seeing everything."
Instead, last weekend he plunged into Ryse: Son of Rome, realizing that going for level 100 in multiplayer there would give him a good long stretch of gameplay without collecting any Gamerscore. He thinks it was the longest stretch he'd gone playing an Xbox game without earning an achievement since the Halo 3 beta in 2007 — in which no achievements were awarded, of course — or when he was driving for 10,000 ranked-match kills in the original Gears of War, the early days when developers were still figuring out how to set achievements, and created some that demanded unbelievable effort.
"I'd call what I do normally 'hypergaming,'" says Ray.
But old habits die hard. And as Cox approached level 100 in Ryse on Sunday, he decided to go ahead and get it over with, and put a crooked number alongside that one with all the zeroes. His Gamerscore still has more digits in it than any other Xbox Live figure, all of it legitimately earned, a fact Microsoft itself stands behind.
"I really just wanted to get it over with and move forward, kind of like ripping a Band-Aid off really fast," Cox said. "An account with lifetime Xbox Live Gold attached to it can't just grow old."
He bagged the 20-point achievement, then over the next four days racked 1,065 more Gamerscore. After that three day pause with the perfect million score — the ultimate achievement, one would think — Cox is back to playing the only way he knows how.
"I think the best way to demonstrate how much of a commitment it is, is simply by doing the math," said Dan Webb, the editor in chief of XboxAchievements.com, the leading publication for the achievements community. "The Xbox 360 launched, roughly, about 3,000 days ago, which effectively means that Ray unlocked, on average, 333 Gamerscore a day.
"Some of us, myself included, have struggled to score that in a week, sometimes a month, yet alone a day," Webb said. "It's truly a mammoth effort and most definitely must've felt like a full-time job at times."
Cox wouldn't disagree, describing his "hyper-gaming" as practically a career, one he has pursued with the hope of becoming a marketable gaming personality, to earn him a living off of YouTube videos and the advertising sold on them. Playing so many games could be prohibitively expensive, of course, but Cox keeps his costs low by renting games, trading in old titles and swapping discs with friends.
Ray unlocked, on average, 333 Gamerscore a day — for more than 3,000 days.
He has earned money from his notoriety but it wouldn't necessarily be called lucrative, nor all that sustainable. Cox says he's supplemented his gaming-related earnings with regular labor-construction, typically. His longtime girlfriend has been understanding, too, particularly as his gaming sessions could top 20 hours in a day at a time when she was studying to become a dental hygenist.
For as long as they've been together, this million-Gamerscore goal has seemed to stalk them both from the horizon. It was there when he completed his first Xbox 360 game, the unforgettably named Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie, about a month after getting his launch console. Within three months he had 10,000 Gamerscore. By September 2008, he was just short of 250,000 and was No. 1 on just about every leaderboard charting the top achievement-getters. And that's when the million-point goal materialized.
"I've often wondered how I could make it through without really making any money off of it," Cox said. "I've asked, 'Should I still go for this?' And she's said, 'You've come this far, you might as well go for it.'"
Let's be clear: racking up this kind of Gamerscore isn't done just by playing the best games and the most familiar series. Though it is all legitimately earned, there is, bluntly, a lot of crap on Cox's résumé. He has 690 Gamerscore in Zumba Kids ("A lot of people don't know that, because of the exercise titles, I'm in really great shape.") He scored 1,000 in The Smurfs 2. He even 100-percented Ride to Hell: Retribution, a console game of such haunting, primordial awfulness it seems impossible that it was made last year.
He has unlocked more than half of the Gamerscore offered by every game published for Xbox Live
"Sure, Ray would have had to commit to playing what would be scraping the dregs of the barrel of decency, but that comes with the territory," Webb said. "It's not just easy and crappy 1,000-Gamerscore games he'd have to play, though there's a surprising amount of Gamerscore out there if you want it. I mean, according to our database, at the moment there's a possible 1.84 million Gamerscore available."
That means that, to date, Ray Cox has earned more than half of the Gamerscore offered by every game published for Xbox Live since 2005.
He reached 900,000 with an achievement in Borderlands 2, on July 15, 2013; he recalls the date less so because it was recent, but because it was the last split marker in this marathon. About three months later, Microsoft reached out to Cox to invite him to New York, and also to ask if he could hit, say, a million Gamerscore there.
"Ray has topped the Xbox Live leaderboards for years, so we've been following his story and Gamerscore for years, even before press started to notice," said Larry Hryb, better known as "Major Nelson," the face of Xbox's community operation. But Cox told them that reaching 1 million by the Xbox Live's launch month was not possible on such short notice. Microsoft flew him to New York anyway and gave him two gifts. One was the rare, white, console that only Xbox employees could receive. The second was something unique — a gold card conferring lifetime gold membership in Xbox Live.
"The lifetime Live membership is something no one else has—even me," Hryb said. "What we did [for Cox] has never been done before."
This wouldn't be the end of the ride for Cox, though. The way he saw it now, he had two machines through which to pursue Gamerscore, and returned to Tennessee determined to hit a million. Microsoft approached him with another request: The Titanfall event at South by Southwest, the interactive festival in Austin, Texas, was a second chance to do it during a big moment for Xbox.
Cox accepted the challenge and went to Texas with a library of gamesaves already set up to cash in achievements and Gamerscore. "It's actually kind of what I'd been doing since October," he said, "getting to points in a game where I was close to unlocking an achievement and saving them. That's kind of how I was playing for many months."
"Because of the exercise titles, I'm in really great shape," he notes.
He arrived in Austin on a Saturday standing about 17,000 Gamerscore short of a million. Think about this for a second. A five-figure Gamerscore is an entire career for thousands, if not millions, on Xbox Live. Cox was trying to cover that span in a weekend. Again, it just proved infeasible.
"They had everything set up, and they had everything out there to help me try to get the million," Cox said. "As soon as I got to the hotel, I played all night, then I slept for an hour and got up and played all day. It was pretty nuts. Everybody else was drinking and having fun, and I was sitting there busting my ass."
He returned home and began to plan how he would reach one million. It's kind of like darts, plotting out what score you're going to earn before going out on an exact number. Cox chose "I Like a Challenge" from Titanfall, worth 50 Gamerscore, for his last milestone.
"It was fitting he had meticulously planned his points climb to land at one million with [that] achievement," Hryb said. "Ray obviously likes a challenge, and we loved watching him achieve his ultimate goal last week."
The achievement-hunting community is often met with derision and skepticism in the mainstream community, from those who disagree with the way in which these games are played, to others who accuse score leaders of outright fakery. For its part, Xbox says Cox's Gamerscore is entirely legitimate. "We can verify there is no evidence of cheating on Ray's Stallion83 account," Hryb said.
As for Cox's methods or his goals, Webb, the XboxAchievements.com editor, says they are often stereotyped by people who enjoy the same sense of accomplishment every time the alert pops up. "It's unfair to pigeonhole achievement hunters as people who just play garbage games for easy Gamerscore," Webb said. "Gamers are gamers at the end of the day, whether they're making castles in Minecraft, making mods in Grand Theft Auto, or grinding out achievements in Lost Planet 2."
'We can verify there is no evidence of cheating,' said Major Nelson.
Cox is obviously back to playing games and collecting achievements — at various drafts of this story over the week, he completed FIFA 14 and Madden NFL 25 on Xbox One, and beat the Dead Rising 3 DLC "The Last Agent," helping to bring his Gamerscore, as of the time this was written, to 1,001,738. Like a space probe that flies beyond the boundary of the solar system, it's not confronting the idea that there is nothing more to do; it's realizing the journey still continues past the last known destination, and finding a new purpose for it.
So what'll it be?
"That's a good question," Cox said. "I feel like I've accomplished all I can accomplish with Gamerscore, but it's not the end. You can go to 2 million but, Jesus, I don't know. I'm obviously still going to play. But I don't think without that goal I can play like I have in the past.
"Considering what it was — to crunch a million into eight years — if I spread that out to 16 years to get million, I'll probably have more fun. If you're always going at it, it makes it less fun, I guess.
"Still," he said, "I still like trying all the games."