A UTD alumna broke the Tapper world record at Free Play Arcade in Arlington, scoring 14,000,600 points and making her the first woman to hold the record-breaking title for the game.
Lauren Featherstone first played the vintage arcade game in 2015 at Free Play Arcade in Richardson. She wasn’t a gamer, but was drawn to the machine every time she visited the arcade. Not long after she started playing, she held the highest score at the location. Now, two years later, she holds the world’s highest score.
Featherstone broke the world record on July 15 after playing for 18 hours on a Twitch live stream. She continued playing for the full 24 hours and walked away with $2,900 by earning $100 for every million points and a bonus of $1,500 when she surpassed the previous record of 10,361,550 points. She said she could have kept playing to increase her score but decided to leave her total where it was because she had already done all she had to do and was exhausted.
“At that point I’d proven everything I needed to prove. As far as the world record, I’ve played longer than anyone else has on one quarter,” Featherstone said. “I’ve had the fastest speed. The previous record holder got so many million at so many hours, so as far as pace goes, I was outpacing the previous record. And of course I got more points than anyone else has ever gotten.”
In Tapper, the player is a bartender who throws beers to customers and catches empty glasses. The game doesn’t follow a pattern and is completely randomized every time someone plays, so she didn’t memorize patterns, but relied on instinct and reflexes instead.
“It’s what’s called a time-management game essentially in that my eyes have to be in a lot of places at once because it gets very fast,” she said. “Keeping track, catching the glass right before it falls off, throwing someone a beer right after they finish the other because you can’t throw it too soon. It is a down to the second kind of game. I did a lot of what’s called point-pressing. I’d sacrifice lives to pick up money to get extra points.”
In addition to her strategies, Featherstone’s success was dependent on her supportive team of friends and the accommodations provided by Free Play. She and her team planned ahead and prepared for every possible situation. She opted for glasses instead of contacts, wore several layers, got a shoulder rub from her husband, limited her liquid intake and ate healthy food. Meanwhile, the Richardson arcade transported its own reliable gaming cabinet and a battery backup to the larger Arlington location where Featherstone made history, in order to allow for enough personal space and overcome any outages.
Her husband Josh Featherstone experienced her Tapper journey from start to finish. He says Lauren taught herself everything she knows about the game.
“She wasn’t so interested in looking for a world record or anything when she first started playing, she was just having fun with it. But then later, as a matter of pride almost, she never looked online for tips or tricks or anything else,” Josh said. “It was all just completely self-taught from the beginning, she would just trial and error, and she learned what would make her survive, what made her get points. There’s just this weird connection between her and the game, they’re made for each other.”
Chris Delp, the community liaison for Free Play, introduced Lauren to the idea of playing Tapper competitively and became her coach. As a professional gamer and Free Play associate, his connections and experience set the stage for her attempt at beating the previous high score. For the 24-hour event itself, he did everything from setting up the cameras to contacting Budweiser and coordinating her support team.
Although he was her coach, Delp said Lauren’s innate competitive personality and knowledge of the game was a better help to her than any coaching he could have provided during the event. A graph of her performance made by her husband showed that her split times were better as she was under more pressure.
“As a competitor, she came with the fiery competitive spirit initially. You can’t teach that. I just saw her unlock it … she gets to this point where she just gets dialed in. There are people who, when the bright lights are on, they perform better,” Delp said. “Most people fall off, they’re playing at 80 or 70 percent of what they’re capable of because they’re nervous in the spotlight. Lauren is the other type of person. When everything is down, she gets better, significantly better.”
Before her record-breaking score, Lauren only had a personal high score of 5,000,000 points. She was capable of tripling her score for some time, but going any further than her personal best would have exhausted her. Monthly arcade trips became more frequent as she and her coach trained for the big day.
When Lauren reached her point goal to put her on top, she felt proud, but also void of energy. She was awake for 32 hours by the time the stream ended and took no breaks except for short bathroom breaks during the marathon.
“Doing these endurance games, doing 24 hours of a pretty physical game, it’s not something you would necessarily want to do just because or every weekend or something. In fact, that’s why I’d gone to 5 million,” Lauren said. “It’s draining. My body is still recovering. I’m really happy that I saved up all of my energy for the world record.”
While Twin Galaxies, a subset of Guinness, finalizes Lauren’s score on the leaderboard, she will be accepting an award for her achievement and meeting others who made gaming history. Lauren and her supporters believe she is capable of beating her own score, but she plans to await another challenger before trying again.
“I may be the only woman world record holder for any arcade game currently, which is really cool. If I’m not the only (woman), there’s certainly very, very, very few. So it’s nice to bring some womanpower to it,” she said.