Have you Achieved Anything?

Trophies, Achievements, Gamerscore, call them what you will but should people really care about them? Is games development even being hampered by the inclusion of such features?
I believe it is, achievements (as they will be referred to for the rest of this article) are just an easy way for the developer to make the game seem a bit longer as after you have completed it there is still seemingly more left to do to get “100%”. “It took me weeks to complete that game” you say? No, it took 4 hours to complete, it took you repeating those 4 hours over and over again for a few weeks to get the trophies.

Achievements mean that where a developer used to have to spend time to make extra content, be it dialogue for the plot or simply extra levels, now all they have to do is say, “they will play it twice if we put in an achievement to do it using only the pistol”. Nice, now they can save that extra level they were going to make for chargeable “DLC” [1]. Who needs extra levels when there is the lure of achievements to make you play the same one over and over again until, like a crazy blind man with his Beanie babies, you have collected them all. Microsoft have made the situation even worse, not content with just making games seem longer than they really are, their Gamerscore system keeps track of the achievements you have collected across all of your games giving you a total score which is visible to anyone who looks at your friends profile. A total score across all of your games, hmm wouldn’t that mean… Yes that is right, the more Gamerscore supporting games you have the higher the score you can get, I have heard of people buying games because they know the achievements in that game are easy to get, thereby increasing their score, Microsoft are making money from peoples vanity rather than by entertaining them.

Even if we forget the fact that Microsoft are using achievements to sell people games they are still a lazy way for the developer to make a game seem longer. most achievement are for completing the game with a limitation, only pistols, don’t kill anyone, kill everyone. We used to make up our own achievements like that, it isn’t like it is hard, but the important thing is it was completely optional, when you got to the end normally there no compulsion to go back and do it again, if you chose to it was because you really enjoyed the game. These days however anyone who is the sort of person who must get 100% on a game is forced to play it over and over again.

Things get even worse when there is a reward for completing the tasks set in the achievements, rather rewarding those who play the game properly to the best of their ability, it rewards those who find a way to cheat. Within a day of Valve’s first class update for Team Fortress 2 there were achievement servers set up where people joined purely to get the achievements and none of the other class updates were any better, all it meant was the people who decided they wouldn’t cheat [2] were not able to play with the new weapons anywhere near as quickly as those who did. It also meant that there were people on regular servers who were being less then helpful to their team as they were trying to do some of the more stupid things Valve decided to put on the list, double jump 1000 times? Yeah, you are really helpful to your team when you are sitting in the spawn room jumping (yes I did see someone doing that after the scout update).

You don’t actually achieve anything by completing these tasks that the developers set, the only people who achieve anything are the developers themselves as they make their game seem a lot longer with the minimum of effort. Achievements are a bad thing for games, developers should be keeping us hooked with additional levels and more interesting dialogue rather than a list of arbitrary things to do like a glorified version of Simon says.


[1] Another pet hate of mine but I am not going to go into today.
[2] I admit I got fed up and went on one of these severs.



4 Responses to “Have you Achieved Anything?”

  1. 1 Hermit
    August 20, 2009 at 20:16

    You know, last I checked all XBox 360 achievements are also optional.

    The achievement system is nothing new, but people like some recognition for doing something cool in a game – I’ll admit there are titles which fail to provide a decent set of achievements, but then those titles are generally a bit rubbish anyway. As you say, we used to set ourselves challenges like this back in the day, and they were good fun. You can’t really draw a graph plotting “number of achievements” opposite “game length”.

    Reasons for a repeat play are no new thing. Couple of examples off the top of my head:
    – Most classic FPS games like Doom had loads of hidden secrets. Sliding along walls mashing space bar, anyone?.
    – Deus Ex gave you bonus points for exploring the world and finding hidden secrets. It also had three different endings, and I played it start to finish fresh for each one on increasing levels of difficulty.
    – Plenty of games have rewards for 100% completion, or hard mode completions – Max Payne 2 has a different ending which players won’t see unless they finish it on the hardest difficulty. At least with achievements you don’t miss anything other than an arbitrary score.

    As a prime example of achievements at their best, let’s take the recently released Shadow Complex – a download game off the arcade which is essentially a modern take on a 2D metroid game. And it’s awesome.

    Achievement wise it starts with some simple ones – “50 Headshots” and the like. So now players aren’t just spamming the fire button, but learning to aim and take down enemies quicker. Then come some more complex ones, like completing the game with 100% of the items, encouraging players to explore the whole map. Finally, there’s achievements for runs on the highest difficulty, or for completing the game with less than 13% of the powerups, or a minimum item run, and some speed run times.

    None of these are counter to the game – One of the joys of metroidvania style games is looking to complete them faster, or find alternative routes and sequence break. Not everyone is going to enjoy that, but then they don’t have to do the achievements. For people who like the game, it’s a great incentive to look for some new ways to have fun with it.

    And yes, there are games out there which boost your score easily – but remember all the other players can see your games and awards, not just your score. If someone spots you’ve got the 1000 points from Avatar on your Gamerscore (Easiest 1000 points at the moment), you will be laughed at and mocked. Noone really cares that deeply about the numbers. The achievements are there to give you an incentive to get more value out of a game.

    Valve’s approach with the weapon unlocks was a bit different, mind. That system wasn’t ideal. Though, ironically, our whining about it gave us the new system, which is even worse.

  2. August 22, 2009 at 21:46

    I’ve been meaning to write something up about achievements for my own blog, but I can’t quite work out my opinion.

    I like achievements, they help you to discover new ways of playing and give you something to aim for if you don’t feel like tackling one of the larger game goals, or just fancy replaying a section. I also like that other people can see what you have done, not in a showy off-y way but so that other people can see what kind of gamer you are.

    I’ve never liked 100% completion of games, such as in Hermit’s example above:

    Sliding along walls mashing space bar, anyone?


    Achievements are borderline in this regard but I still think they can be saved. I’m not quite sure what the problem is, if you make them completely optional to the point where they don’t matter then what is the point? I like the occasional one popping up in the corner (small as possible of course) informing me that what I have done is somehow special or significant. Maybe the answer is billions of achievements, so many that only the most obsessive gamer could acquire them all, for the rest of us they are a sign of what kind of gamer we are. You’ll have more for games that you play often and less for those you buy and give up on.

    Maybe someone like Steam could even come up with a few scales and graphs, ‘Does this person play as a good character or an evil one?’, ‘Are they better at aiming or tactics?’, ‘What class do they play as most often’. Or maybe not.

    When I first heard about it, I quite liked the idea of Gamerscore, but after having time to think and reading what you have written I think I agree. Just like the percentage bar on Steam it’s suggesting that not completing them all is a bad thing. I know some people like this kind of play but it can be overbearing for the rest of us, taunting our lack of skill\determination\free-time\insanity. You could replace it with a single achievement but then it would be seen as a badge that says ‘You have completed all of this game, anyone who does not have this doesn’t understand the game’, games need to be open to personal goals.

    I think multiple endings have had a worse impact on over-stretching game lengths. I played both KOTORs through as opposing moralities, whilst it was fun and offered some nice variety it was basically still the same game. Two I can accept but some that have multiple endings convince you that you’re missing out somehow. What a game really needs is a changeable ending, where you get an ending based around how you played rather than one of a set group.

  3. August 24, 2009 at 09:33

    I probably ought to say that I am in no way 100% against achievements in games, I was simply taking one side of the argument for effect (it seems that did as intended and provoked some thought).

    I really enjoyed trying to get the achievements in Defence Grid: The Awakening, though I can’t think of another game where I enjoyed getting them, in other games they just sit there taunting me, saying “you are not good enough”.

    I also still stand by my accusation that Microsoft are cashing in on peoples vanity with Gamerscore. The fact that a full game is only allowed 1000 points and an expansion is also limited in the score available is evidence for this, if they thought that the Gamerscore had no influence on peoples purchases they would not be worried about one game having a higher number of points available.

  4. April 5, 2010 at 17:41

    The only achievements I like are ones that you can get by normally playing the game. More milestones than achievements I guess.

    The rest just seem silly to me, like a chore given to you by the developer.

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