A couple of months ago I set out to revisit a whole load of games I never got around to finishing, with a mind to collecting as many trophies as possible. Although achievements in games have not been something I’ve ever bothered with before, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Why are some players so obsessed with collecting these virtual rewards – even resorting to titles they aren’t interested in – to collect these achievements?
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 achievement unlocked
What kind of achievements are there?
Almost all games have a basic selection of trophies that you are rewarded with as you complete the main chapters and check-points throughout the main game, often concluding with a major one for completing it. These appear to take up around 50% of most games’ achievements and encourage the player to complete the game at least once.
Grinding through a repetitive task, such as collecting 10,000 coins or killing 5,000 enemies, are often the hardest achievements to attain and usually require many hours of play. These are the kind which add very little to a game for me personally; perhaps making these goals more attainable with one good play-through of the main story would be an improvement.
Achievements requiring either co-op play with friends or on-line play are often combined with repeated tasks or hi-score goals and appeal to the competitive player. The success of these will depend on whether the player actually participates in on-line play, which overall is still only a minority, and the strength of the on-line element of the game itself.
Uncharted Trophy Unlocked
New Ways to Play
Forcing the player to change the way he approaches the game, perhaps playing without shooting in a game that normally involves all-out action, can show a different angle of gameplay i.e. stealth. This is probably the best example of how achievements can potentially extend the life of a game, albeit if implemented well. The reason there are few examples of these types of achievements is simple: if a developer actually comes up with a fun/challenging alternative approach to the game then why not have it as a main element?
Hidden & Bonus Achievements
These are secret achievements that either don’t appear in the list or only become visible once you’ve reached a particular point in the game. They can also be hidden to avoid spoiling any of the plot and are often the result of developers’ in-game jokes. Bonuses like these can be rewarded for doing something silly e.g. pinning an enemy to the wall with a crossbow. Depending on the type of the game and player these can be quite ingenious. If you’re the kind of player who likes to explore the boundaries of the game; discovering that a developer has already thought of what you might like to do next can be rewarding. The problem with achievements like this is that many players will never find them without the aid of guides and lists, thereby spoiling their suprise.
What have I actually achieved collecting all these trophies?
As I played through these titles I discovered some reasons why well-crafted achievements can make a difference to a game. Firstly I finished several games I hadn’t had chance to play through thoroughly. I believe that the majority of players will never finish a huge percentage of the games they buy. How to remedy this? If setting good story-based achievements with suitably staggered checkpoints pushes a player through the main game, encouraging them to complete it, then that player achieves satisfaction, and not just virtual rewards. If players don’t complete a game, they are less likely to purchase a sequel, but if you can encourage a player to not only invest more gaming hours but also to try alternative methods of play then surely you increase the chance of a them buying into your brand long-term.
Saying that, I have also wasted a lot of time on futile tasks, and gave in, frustrated with several achievements after being asked to collect 5,000 inane objects or play numerous death-match games against 12 year old brats.
Noby Noby Boy 100% achievements
How do we make players care?
For many players a virtual ‘gamer score’ isn’t a good enough incentive to try and attain achievements. So I suggest developers introduce some further incentives such as:
Unlockables – Don’t just give the player a trophy, give them a new addition to the game, be it a new character, costume, or even a wallpaper for their desktop.
Points – Give players XBLA/PSN points to purchase more content – trade gamerscore for cash.
DLC (Downloadable Content) – If a player puts in the hours and plays all the way through your game then what better way to reward them than to give them a further piece of content. Players who don’t want to play every aspect of the game can still buy it but if you encourage players to be playing your game to get it for free you get immense player satisfaction, and thus brand loyalty.
Early access – Give players exclusive previews to games, DLC and betas before other players. Who better to have playing and talking about your new titles than the people who have loved your previous games so much that they’ve completed it all. Nobody knows your games as well as those fans, so get them involved in your beta tests.
Above all, a good achievement encourages a player to complete and play a game, and if a player buys into a brand and dedicates their time then they should be rewarded for that loyalty.
DJ Hero Achievement
How can developers improve achievements?
Achievements should not be an afterthought; if they are all story-based or consist of too many repeated tasks then it’s a wasted opportunity. It’s clear to me that too many developers are not even play-testing their achievement goals. If they are asking players to undertake repeated boring tasks then they risk turning players away from their game.
Track the progress of achievements for players, informing them how close they are to attaining their goals. If a player doesn’t know about an achievement they can’t attempt it. If a developer can’t be bothered to tell a player how many more kills they need and that it will take 5 solid hours, why should a player give up their valuable time?
Create dynamic achievements, basing them on players’ gaming habits and abilities. If a player is easily beating a game, encourage them to increase the difficulty and award them the ‘didn’t die in 3 levels’ trophy. Cater for various demographics- if a player only gets to play an hour or so a week, don’t set him a task of achieving 100 kills, lower it to something feasible for that player. Intuitive achievements would allow advanced players’ goals to be set differently to that of a novice’s.
Introduce more goals after title launch by studying the community and reacting to how they approach the game. For instance, if players are in need of further challenges then introduce more; conversely, if they are struggling with some then tweak them accordingly. Let players set goals for others, and show them their friends achievements mid-game. There’s nothing as satisfying as being informed you just bettered your friend’s score, and more importantly, a target set by a friend may be better than any developer set task.
Interact with players by competing online. To a player there can be nothing more rewarding than beating the people who actually made the game, people who lived and breathed every pixel of it, knowing that they should be that much more proficient at it.