Hunting for Achievements

This week’s blog post is about a topic that means a lot to a large number of gamers (even if they don’t quite realize it). I will be talking about achievements (or trophies) and why we find them so irresistible.

I spent the first few weeks of this blog introducing myself and what I’ve been doing since I entered the web industry. And then last week I did my first PHP Tutorial on how to use CodeIgniter’s Database Migrations.

Achievements

Most people who know me online know that I often term myself as a completionist (yes I do have the authority to make words up). This is more commonly known as being an achievement/trophy whore. To boil it down what this means is that I like completing games. I’ll always try to get all the achievements in a game (unless the game is as boring as Fallout 3), I’ll always try and find every last pigeon in GTA and I even went finding all the damn flags in the first Assassins Creed (that was a real pain).

I’m certainly not alone in this way of playing games though, there are sites that are specifically for gamers like me such as Xbox360Achievements. Like minded gamers post up achievement guides, youtube videos, location maps and sometimes organize in-game meet-ups so we can help one another get the more awkward (usually multi-player) achievements.

Why?

But why do some of us put so much effort into collecting what is effectively a meaningless award? Well we can spend up-to £45 buying a brand new game so it’s natural to want a sense of satisfaction from playing that game. It also sometimes helps people explore parts of a game that they might otherwise not have found. Gamers who usually frequent the single player might be tempted into a co-op mode or possibly even the full blown competitive mode.

Or you might pick up a new strategy in a game because of a particular achievement e.g.  Demo 2.0 (bringing a house down with someone in it) in Battlefield Bad Company 2 definitely led to a change in the way I approached Rush games. Plus I loved bringing the house down on players stupidly camping upstairs next to the bomb.

There are also some achievements which have such a sense of accomplishment that you’ll continue to remember them many years later. The standout one that comes to mind for me is the Mile High Club. This was an achievement on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and the goal of the achievement was to complete the final mission (Mile High Club) on Veteran difficulty within a minute. This had you fighting your way through several waves of enemies on a plane with no checkpoints.

This for me was probably one of the most frustrating achievements I have ever attempted. It required some skill, a lot of luck and a heck of a lot of patience. But in the end I managed to complete it and it was all the more satisfying because of the effort (during my numerous attempts) that it took.

Achievements are also often designed to keep you playing your games for longer than you originally intend as you might need to do multiple play-throughs to get all of the achievements (multiple endings for example or unlockable difficulty levels). In-fact I normally do at least two play-throughs and sometimes even three as I like to enjoy playing the game as it was designed to be played before concentrating on cleaning up the rest of the achievements.

Ultimately though the developers and also Microsoft, Sony and to a degree Nintendo all want to make their games sticky (keeping your attention) as the more you play a game, the more likely you are to recommend it to someone else. If you enjoy the game enough you might even be convinced to purchase DLC for the game which provides the developer (Sony/Microsoft take a share too) a continual revenue stream.

Strategy

Different developers/publishers employ different strategies with their games. Sometimes achievements aren’t given any real thought at all and are just shoved into the game last minute to make it compliant to Microsoft’s or Sony’s requirements. Other games though can be pretty imaginative with their achievements, such as Henry VIII in Fable 3 awarded for marrying six times and killing two of your spouses or Red Dead Redemption’s Dastardly achievement which involved hogtying a woman to a railway track and watching her die.

I know this might be controversial highlighting two achievements that are both about violence to women (especially considering the recent controversy over the rape in the new Tomb Raider). However these achievements offer us something unique that we don’t get in the games which simply reward you for completing a mission. It can remind us of historical events, or bring back nostalgic memories of films and games from our childhood. And whilst the rape in the new Tomb Raider game will be hard for some to stomach, it is real-life. It’s acceptable in movies so why not games as well? It’s not like raping is part of the game mechanics (only a matter of time until someone decides to do this).

Some developers instead ramp up the difficulty in the games and simply make the achievements incredibly difficult to attain. A great example of this is Namco Bandai’s Dark Souls which I’m sure has left the majority of it’s players pulling their hair out (in a good way of course). And that’s only on the easiest difficulty level! Yet this game received universal critical acclaim with it’s MetaCritic score being a very high 89/100. This just shows that there is a hunger for games that challenge us, games that push us to our limits. The harder something is, the bigger the accomplishment usually feels when we finally manage to do it.

Ultimately though these ‘pointless’ rewards gives us something to aim towards. A goal. The PlayStation 3 game Journey from Thatgamecompany took this idea to the most simplistic level I’ve seen in a game thus far. You start in the middle of a desert with just a mountain in the horizon to guide you. There was no 10 minute introduction video and there were only a couple of on screen prompts right at the start.

You’re just naturally inclined to head towards this ominous mountain. If you don’t then the game gently pushes you back towards the right path. Journey did also include Trophies (Sony’s equivalent of achievements), but for me at least these took a backseat to the actual game. I’ll no doubt go back and try to collect the trophies I didn’t get first time around (majority of them) but the game itself provided the sense of accomplishment that I usually receive by 1k’n a game on the 360.

Summary

Achievements should never drive the design of a game, that would be far too restrictive on the narratives, but I would like to see more developers taking achievements into account from the very start and including more imaginative ones such as the Red Dead Redemption achievement I highlighted above. From a personal viewpoint I’d also like to see less of the standard multiplayer ones. By all means include multiplayer achievements but please don’t make them feel like a chore (2 million kills, 500 wins etc).

PS: For those who are interested, I said the word achievement 28 times (including this instance) in this article.

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Posted in Video Gaming