The Committee: A sense of Achievements

February 9, 2011

The Committee is in session. We’re taking on various issues in gaming, and our word is final. This week, we look at the impact of achievements on the industry.

In support

Mike Clark: Achievements are visual indicators of accomplishment and success. They chronicle certain feats we undertake as we go through the games they exist in. No matter the game, having these as a more substantial indication that we accomplished something helps the games they’re in.

Why? It’s nice to look over your achievements and see what you managed to get during gameplay. Those that are notoroiusly hard to get become badges of pride, and the whole of them serve to be a form of extrinsic motivation to give a gamer a little push when we start to become tired of the game. Just like getting trophies or ribbons in contests, achievements provide extra goals, additional motivation and a source of pride once you’ve obtained them.

In opposition

Gerry Pagan: A game should be able to shine and motivate people to do things on their own, with achievements serving as a drive to explore every nook, cranny and possibility of the game. As an example: Red Dead Redemption has achievements for participating in events that are in no way required to beat the game, but by doing so I might find some alternate source of aid to help me or find an alternate playstyle that suits my liking. The achievements for a huge majority of games simply involve things like “clear X event that you were required to do anyway”. As long as achievements like those exist, it’s a sign that they aren’t always there to make the game better.  


In support

Mike Clark: I’m a gamer who enjoys getting achievements. Visual progress, a reflection of my accomplishments, and motivation to do little things I would have passed on, achievements do all of this. Unfortunately, they can use these attributes so well that they become a selling point for games that people would otherwise pass on. Whether or not a game is horrible is one thing, but being able to pad that Gamerscore or Trophy List can sway some to throw their money at games that most would sneer at purchasing.

Achievements pull some of the focus away from a game’s worth. Utterly terrible games, like Operation Darkness, or movie tie-ins will get purchases that, had they not had achievements, would not have occured. Not just games, but DLC as well: throw some superfluous DLC at a game and tie a couple hundred points or a few trophies into it and you’re guaranteed to get sales. With more money thrown at nonsense and trash, this encourages more of the same to be made since people know it will sell, and the industry suffers as a result.

In opposition

Andrew Passafiume: While I’m personally sick of achievements and trophies in games, I don’t see how they could possibly hurt the industry. They allow developers to give players more incentive to play (and replay) games and sections of games. Not everyone is a completionist, so the advent of achievements really helped inspire many games, young or old, to strive to play games more and do more than they might normally otherwise ignore.

Other than that, if you don’t like them? Just ignore them. They don’t hinder the actual gameplay experience at all. While I don’t think they have necessarily helped the industry, they definitely haven’t hurt it either.


In support

Justin Last: In-game rewards are always better than numbers that don’t mean anything. Don’t misunderstand me – I love the “ding” that accompanies a new achievement unlocking in a 360 game or a new trophy unlocking in a PS3 game. What I like even more, though, is when a robust in-game system rewards me with multiplayer skins, cheats, or other bonuses for accomplishing things in-game.

I like that when I unlock achievements in Mass Effect that it affects how I build characters for subsequent playthroughs. If I play as an engineer and unlock the “AI Hacking Specialist” achievement I can take the “Reverse Engineering” talent on future characters. “Pistol Expert” nets me increased duration for the “Marksman” skill. There are a few that only impart gamerscore, but most Mass Effect achievements reward you for obtaining them. Burnout Paradise (PS3) offers trophies, in-game achievements, and rewards for completing some of those in-game achievements. I got a toy version of the DeLorean for smashing all of the crash gates on Big Surf Island. Sure, I already had a full-sized DeLorean and a bunch of other toy cars to drive, but there was something waiting for me at the end other than a pop-up saying “Congrats! You did it!” And that drove me to find them all. Achievements and trophies have changed the way we play games, but tying in-game rewards to those criteria makes the change worthwhile. I want infinite foam in Shadow Complex for reaching a high level. I want the ability to create more custom classes in Black Ops. I want more than a “ding” with an arbitrary number next to it. And games that give me that keep me playing for longer.

In opposition

Shawn Vermette: Self-contained achievement systems are all well and good, but give me a system-wide achievement system any day. Seeing an overall score go up with each game I play is satisfying in a way that individual achievement scores per game just won’t ever be. Additionally, there’s no reason that a system-wide achievement system can’t have in-game rewards as well, which is the only reason to prefer the self-contained system. Right now on XBL and PSN, in-game rewards tied to the system-wide achievements is optional, but has happened in a number of high-profile games, such as AC2 and ME. Due to the overarching and all-inclusive abilities of the system-wide achievement system, it is obviously the preferred choice between the two achievement models.


We’ve weighed in. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.