The achievement system (formally introduced with the Xbox 360) has fundamentally changed the way we play games. Whether they’re called “achievements” or “trophies” or something else, the system is a mechanism which, if done properly, can add value to a gaming experience by increasing rewards and exposing gamers to content they might otherwise have missed out on. Further, gamers can (and are meant to) compare their achievements online with their peers and use them to win bragging rights. But for all the good that achievements can do, they’re a mechanism that are very easy to get wrong, and when they’re a requirement for developers (as they are on the Xbox 360), console manufacturers are creating a recipe for disaster. Continue reading ►
It should be noted that “achievements” as we understand them today are not a unique institution. Traditional “high score” achievements have been an essential feature implemented on most of the games made in the early ’90s and prior in the form of a high score table that is displayed to everyone in the room, though the “reward” was merely implied by the recognition of the player’s effort (a notable exception to this is when game companies would run promotions to reward high scores with tangible trophies, such as Activision’s patch giveaway or Nintendo Power’s high score contests). Non-traditional achievements such as completing an entire game without harming anyone or using only the weakest weapons available were rarely recognized at all within the games themselves, and were also difficult for gamers to boast about to others, since people required some context and prior understanding of the game.
The addition of achievements and a “score” based on them changed all of that. Now, rewards could be given to players directly for good performance, all types of achievements were quantifiable, and everyone in the world would see your score attached to your name online–indicating whether you were a veteran gamer who could be a desirable wingman in a game ofHalo, or whether you’re an uncommitted casual who should be hunted down and farmed for easy kills in Battlefield. A gamer’s score became a part of their identity, and suddenly gamers were in a position where they were motivated to excel not just for the love of a game, but for some external incentives and a certain stake of their pride. A service even emerged that offered to boost GamerScores for a steep fee, demonstrating the irrational value the score has for many people.
When done right, achievements extend the life of a game and reduce the burden on developers of creating content by motivating players to fully explore everything a game has to offer. And while external rewards are optional on some platforms, others (such as the Xbox 360) have minimum requirements for the number of rewards and the total values conferred to the player upon achieving them. This requirement has led the vast majority of games to distribute their 5+ achievements in random or lazy ways (upon completion of levels or after beating the game on various difficulty settings). For gamers who are already given incentive to complete as many achievements as possible, this creates a litany of issues:
This article was written by Eric Yockey
Eric is a Global MBA candidate at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and a Certified Personal Trainer with the NSCA. Click here for more information or to contact him.