Sunday, August 29, 2010

Opinion: We need quality control for achievements and trophies

There has been a great deal of exploitative use of trophies and achievements to try and attract groups of gamers to purchase games based on the ease of getting the point score up. But this is missing out on the value that trophies and achievements can bring to a publisher.

The PlayStation , Xbox 360 and Steam platforms all offer some variation on an achievements system. But there's more - on the iPhone, and iPad, Open Feint is supported across a number of the most popular games, building a form of achievements there. Even Nintendo gives players something to track - the Wii keeps track of raw hours and minutes played.

So everyone is doing it, but in many cases developers and publishers are not quite sure yet how to do it properly. There's no quality control as such on achievements, and as such we're seeing everything from games giving achievements literally for turning it on for the first time, through to a game like Demon's Souls on the PS3, where every trophy is an intimidating experience to obtain.

It's disappointing that there isn't a greater deal of consistency amongst the developers and publishers, because done properly achievements can actually be a valuable marketing tool. Not just for the promise of providing a reward that can be plastered all over the Internet, achievements can be used to build brand loyalty, it can be used to encourage responsible participation in online gameplay, or it could even be used for cross promotion.

For instance - if you have a FPSer with online deathmatching, you could help the process of introducing new players to the environment by rewarding skilled players who protect and encourage newcomers. A FPSer with a reputation for players who are welcoming to newcomers would certainly be a rarity in the current online environment - instantly providing you with a differentiating faction in the market.

Or, with the new wave of games featuring user-generated content (Modtown Racers, Little Big Planet), you could encourage community feedback by rewarding those who actively test, rate and review submitted content - again encouraging a collaborative environment even richer that the surface suggests, and leading to a greater engagement with your game.

Or, as a third scenario, achievements could be used to subtly promote a sequel, DLC or another title. An achievement could be linked to achieving a feature that will unlock a bonus in a second title or piece of DLC. Suddenly there's an incentive for the player to invest in that second title.

So I'm hoping that as this very new trend continues to mature, we'll see more thought put into achievements. As added value to the game experience it serves no point in asking the player to do the mundane (hi, Square Enix and asking me to earn a million credits in Nier), or rewarding players for doing something they're going to do anyway (believe me, Atlus, defeating the bosses in Demon's Souls in enough of a reward in itself, a trophy is comparatively worthless).


  1. One thing I like about Xbox Achievements (using purely for an example) is that they are regulated now more than ever.

    Developers have to allocate up to 1000g to the initial game, and each achievement must be possible to get without the need of DLC. If the game has MP then most devs split the achievements between the single player component and the MP. After the initial achievements the bar can be raised to 1750 with DLC. The achievements are monitored and they have to be realistically achievable.

    Now most devs know that when you get a game, the first thing a lot of people do is to try and get the most achievements from a game, most of the time on their first play. This causes one main issue, the life expectancy of a game goes down. I am also guilty of this, I play some games just to raise my already ridiculous gamerscore. In order to raise the life expectancy, some devs have made the achievements harder to get. Harder achievements means longer play.

    People are too focussed on getting achievements, what did we do before they existed? We played for longer, we played the games because we wanted to, not to get the little extra from it. SNES, PS1, N64, PS2, Dreamcast and Xbox all had great games. I spent longer playing them than most of the games I play today. The question you want to be asking is: Have achievements hampered gaming?

    My answer to that would be yes and no. If you think about it, because people are playing for the rewards, the achievements, people have stopped playing the games the way the were intended, which is over and over. They have stopped concentrating on how good the game really is. Then again some people do play the games multiple times, regardless of achievements. Me personally, I have played some games like Borderlands, over and over purely because its a good game. The DLC has extended the gameplay and the achievements but its one of the few games I have played that I know I will see something new. Achievements don't really offer anything in reality, just a way to show off to your friends that you have finished a game on a certain difficulty or you have killed a set amount of enemies. I think hidden achievements should be scrapped as they do not allow other people to see what you got the achievement for only that its a secret unless you get it too.

    You may find some of the achievements a little daunting, but what are you playing the game for? Are you playing it because you like the game? or are you playing it because you want something to show off to your fiends? Does hard achievements put you off a game? or alter your gaming experience any? Either way, if you really want them, you will get them and some games that have really hard ones, you will only think they are hard till you get them, if the game is good then getting them shouldn't be an issue, and getting them should be the last thing on your mind.

  2. Hi there,

    Thanks for the response - it's good to get different people's opinions! And thank you for clarifying the situation with the Xbox 360 - I'm not an owner of the console myself, so it's harder to follow what's going on with it.

    It sounds like the guys over at Microsoft are encouraging a maturing of achievements, and that's a good thing. Personally, I don't have a single platinum on my PS3 account, in fact most of my 20-odd trophy-enabled games I have less thatn 20 per cent of the trophies.

    But I do see the value in them in increasing brand loyalty, from a developer and publisher point of view.

    Be interesting to see how they develop - I think it's only a matter of time before someone figures out how to do them in a really innovative and intelligent way, and sets a new benchmark to follow.

  3. I enjoy challenges in games, like attempting to beat Call of Duty: World at War on Veteran, but I have never really gotten into the achievement/trophy stuff.

    I own a PS3, but only have a few games on it; and I never really went back to attempt to get trophies in them. Whatever trophies I received on my initial play-through, are what I stick with usually.

    So, being that I don't really use the function, even though the games have them; I'm not sure if there should be Quality Control for them or not...

  4. I guess that is my point, coffeewithgames (welcome to my blog, BTW - glad to have you here!) - I'm in favour of trophies or achievements being more than just an 'extra for the addicted to unlock.'

    I would like to see them become an important part of the gaming experience. Not a disruptive one - I don't think people should be forced to go out of their way to unlock trophies - but rather, they should be used as a way to encourage people to have a greater engagement with the developers and the game itself.

    I would like to see trophies rewarded for playing in the spirit of the game in online worlds, or coming up with innovative strategies for tactical games (whether they work or not), or creating popular user-generated content.

    Nothing frustrates me more than the idea that I have to earn 1000000000 gold to unlock a trophy. Yea, it's hard, but it's also a very arbitary achievement, and as a result it feels hollow to me.