Video Game Sales Prediction with XGBoost

In this section, you’ll work your way through a Jupyter notebook that demonstrates how to use a built-in algorithm in SageMaker. More specifically, we’ll use SageMaker’s version of XGBoost, a popular and efficient open-source implementation of the gradient boosted trees algorithm.

Gradient boosting is a supervised learning algorithm that attempts to predict a target variable by combining the estimates of a set of simpler, weaker models. XGBoost has done remarkably well in machine learning competitions because it robustly handles a wide variety of data types, relationships, and distributions. It often is a useful, go-to algorithm in working with structured data, such as data that might be found in relational databases and flat files.

This section also shows how to use SageMaker’s built-in algorithms via hosted Jupyter notebooks, the AWS CLI, and the SageMaker console.

Exploratory Data Analysis

  1. Download the video-game-sales-xgboost.ipynb notebook.

  2. Access the SageMaker notebook instance you created earlier. Click the New button on the right and select Folder.

  3. Click the checkbox next to your new folder, click the Rename button above in the menu bar, and give the folder a name such as ‘video-game-sales'.

  4. Click the folder to enter it.

  5. To upload the notebook, click the Upload button on the right. Then in the file selection popup, select the file ‘video-game-sales-xgboost.ipynb’ from the folder on your computer where you downloadeded it earlier. Click the blue Upload button that appears to the right of the notebook’s file name.

  6. You are now ready to begin the notebook. Click the notebook’s file name to open it.

  7. In the bucket = '<your_s3_bucket_name_here>' code line, paste the name of the S3 bucket you created in Module 1 to replace <your_s3_bucket_name_here>. The code line should now read similar to bucket = 'smworkshop-john-smith'. Do NOT paste the entire path (s3://…….), just the bucket name.

  8. Follow the directions in the notebook. When it is time to set up a training job, return from the notebook to these instructions.

Model Training

  1. Now that you have your data in S3, you can begin training a model. You’ll use SageMaker’s built-in version of the XGBoost algorithm, and the AWS CLI to run the training job. XGBoost has many tunable hyperparameters. Some of these hyperparameters are listed below; initially we’ll only use a few of them. Many of the hyperparameters are used to prevent overfitting, which prevents a model from generalizing to new observations.
  • max_depth: Maximum depth of a tree. As a cautionary note, a value too small could underfit the data, while increasing it will make the model more complex and thus more likely to overfit the data (in other words, the classic bias-variance tradeoff).

  • eta: Step size shrinkage used in updates to prevent overfitting.

  • eval_metric: Evaluation metric(s) for validation data. For data sets such as this one with imbalanced classes, we’ll use the AUC metric.

  • scale_pos_weight: Controls the balance of positive and negative weights, again useful for data sets having imbalanced classes.

    You’ll be using the AWS CLI and a Bash script to run the training job. Using the AWS CLI and scripts is an excellent way to automate machine learning pipelines and repetitive tasks, such as periodic training jobs. As a reminder, in the Introduction module we recommended the use of AWS Cloud 9 for access to the AWS CLI and Bash environments. If you haven’t done so already, please set up and open your Cloud9 environment now as described in Cloud9 Setup. Below is a screenshot of what your Cloud9 environment should look like as you create the first script below and run the related commands.


  1. Create a text file named If you haven’t done so already, open a terminal/command window that supports Bash to enter commands. In the terminal window, change to the directory in which you created the file (if you’re not already there), then run the following command:

    chmod +x
  2. Paste the bash script below into the file, and then change the text in the angle brackets (< >) as follows. Do NOT put quotes around the values you insert, or retain the brackets.

  • arn_role: To get the value for this variable, go to the SageMaker console, click Notebook instances in the left pane, then in the ‘Notebook instances’ table, click the name of the instance you created for this workshop. In the Notebook instance settings section, look for the ‘IAM role ARN’ value, and copy its text. It should look like the following: arn:aws:iam::1234567890:role/service-role/AmazonSageMaker-ExecutionRole-20171211T211964.

  • training_image: select one of the following, depending on the AWS Region where you are running this workshop.

    • N. Virginia:
    • Oregon:
    • Ohio:
    • Ireland:
  • bucket: the name of the S3 bucket you used in your notebook. It should look like: s3://smworkshop-john-smith.

  • region: the region code for the region where you are running this workshop, either us-east-1 for N. Virginia, us-west-2 for Oregon, us-east-2 for Ohio, or eu-west-1 for Ireland.

    # Fill in the values of these four variables
    training_job_name=videogames-xgboost-`date '+%Y-%m-%d-%H-%M-%S'`
    aws --region $region \
    sagemaker create-training-job \
    --role-arn $arn_role \
    --training-job-name $training_job_name \
    --algorithm-specification TrainingImage=$training_image,TrainingInputMode=File \
    --resource-config InstanceCount=1,InstanceType=ml.c4.2xlarge,VolumeSizeInGB=10 \
    --input-data-config ChannelName=train,DataSource=$train_source,CompressionType=None,ContentType=libsvm ChannelName=validation,DataSource=$eval_source,CompressionType=None,ContentType=libsvm \
    --output-data-config S3OutputPath=$bucket$prefix \
    --hyper-parameters max_depth=3,eta=0.1,eval_metric=auc,scale_pos_weight=2.0,subsample=0.5,objective=binary:logistic,num_round=100 \
    --stopping-condition MaxRuntimeInSeconds=1800
  1. In your terminal window, run the following command to start the training job. Total job duration may last up to about 5 minutes, including time for setting up the training cluster. In case the training job encounters problems and is stuck, you can set a stopping condition that times out, in this case after a half hour.
  1. In the SageMaker console, click Jobs in the left panel to check the status of the training job. When the job is complete, its Status column will change from InProgress to Complete. As a reminder, duration of this job can last up to about 5 minutes, including time for setting up the training cluster.
> To check the actual training time (not including cluster setup) for a job when it is complete, click the training job name in the jobs table, then examine the **Training time** listed at the top right under **Job Settings**.

Model Creation

  1. Now that you’ve trained your machine learning model, you’ll want to make predictions by setting up a hosted endpoint for it. The first step in doing that is to create a SageMaker model object that wraps the actual model artifact from training. To create the model object, you will point to the model.tar.gz that came from training and the inference code container, then create the hosting model object. Here are the steps to do this via the SageMaker console (see screenshot below for an example of all relevant fields filled in for the Oregon AWS Region):
  • In the left pane of the SageMaker console home page, right click the Models link and open it in another tab of your browser. Click the Create Model button at the upper right above the ‘Models’ table.

  • For the ‘Model name’ field under Model Settings, enter videogames-xgboost.

  • For the ‘Location of inference code image’ field under Primary Container, enter the name of the same Docker image you specified previously for the region where you’re running this workshop. For ease of reference, here are the image names again:

    • N. Virginia:
    • Oregon:
    • Ohio:
    • Ireland:
  • For the ‘Location of model artifacts’ field under Primary Container, enter the path to the output of your replicated training job. To find the path, go back to your first browser tab, click Jobs in the left pane, then find and click the replicated job name, which will look like videogames-xgboost-<date>. Scroll down to the Outputs section, then copy the path under ‘S3 model artifact'. Paste the path in the field; it should look like s3://smworkshop-john-smith/sagemaker/videogames_xgboost/videogames-xgboost-2018-04-17-20-40-13/output/model.tar.gz .

  • Click Create model at the bottom of the page.


Model Serving and Evaluation

  1. Once you’ve created your model, you can configure what your hosting endpoint should be. Here you specify the EC2 instance type to use for hosting, the initial number of instances, and your hosting model name. Here are the steps to do this via the SageMaker console (see screenshot below for an example of all relevant fields filled in for the Oregon AWS Region):
  • In the left pane of the SageMaker console, click Endpoint configuration. Click the Create endpoint configuration button at the upper right above the ‘Endpoint configuration’ table.

  • For the ‘Endpoint configuration name’ field under New endpoint configuration, enter videogames-xgboost.

  • Under Production variants, click Add model. From the Add model popup, select the videogames-xgboost model you created earlier, and click Save. Then click Create endpoint configuration at the bottom of the page.

    Endpoint Configuration

  1. For the final step in the process of setting up an endpoint, you’ll use the SageMaker console to do so (see screenshot below for an example of all relevant fields filled in for the Oregon AWS Region):
  • In the left pane of the SageMaker console, click Endpoints. Click the Create endpoint button at the upper right above the ‘Endpoints’ table.

  • For the ‘Endpoint name’ field under Endpoint, enter videogames-xgboost.

  • Under Attach endpoint configuration, leave ‘Use an existing endpoint configuration’ selected, then under Endpoint configuration, select videogames-xgboost from the table, then click Select endpoint configuration at the bottom of the table. Then click Create endpoint at the bottom of the page.

  • In the Endpoints table, refer to the ‘Status’ column, and wait for the endpoint status to change from ‘Creating’ to ‘InService’ before proceeding to the next step. It will take several minutes for endpoint creation, possibly as long as ten minutes.


  1. To evaluate predictions from your model, let’s return to the notebook you used earlier. When you are finished, return here and proceed to the next section.

Conclusion & Extensions

This XGBoost model is just the starting point for predicting whether a game will be a hit based on reviews and other features. There are several possible avenues for improving the model’s performance. First, of course, would be to collect more data and, if possible, fill in the existing missing fields with actual information. Another possibility is further hyperparameter tuning, with Amazon SageMaker’s Hyperparameter Optimization service. And, although ensemble learners often do well with imbalanced data sets, it could be worth exploring techniques for mitigating imbalances such as downsampling, synthetic data augmentation, and other approaches.