Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Let's Talk Achievements: Some Basic Guidelines

As mentioned before, the entirety of this category was inspired by the countless thought experiments (similar to this one) that asks: What if old games had achievements? How would they work, what would they look like? OK, that topic may borderline on weird game fandom. Let's take a step back and look at how we got here.

At the launch of the XBox 360, Microsoft ushered in a new "feature", achievements, which were meta game tokens that "reward" players for certain goals and completion. However, the concept of achievements though go much much further back with simple tokens of rewards such as unlockable rewards such as videos, concept art and other bonus content that were popular with the advent of CD based media systems. With the XBox, MS has placed an interesting meta-game on top of all it's games, by drawing a level playing field for all titles regarding "goals", and basically telling players that competition and goals within each game contribute to the greater identity of the player (I'm not going to talk about the ramification of this idea, but it's interesting to think about it).

Within this group I think I'll have two separate themes of discussion:
  1. Let's analyze games with existing achievements.
  2. Let's give new achievements to games that didn't have any.
The former is relatively simple to explain: For games that have existing achievements, let's look at what works and what doesn't work, and figure out who things were designed in particular way.

The latter is more interesting: For games that didn't have achievements, let's make up new ones.

So, let's talk details (I've seen more via confidential documentation, but I'm going to dig up publicly available articles to show that I'm using publicly known facts). On the XBox, according to MS's own website explaining achievements and XBox360Achievements's own explanation, each retail game can have 5 - 50 achievements, totalling 1000 points; any additional DLC can total upto an additional 750 points, with 30 more achievements. Arcade titles feature a similar structure: 12 achievements, totalling 200 points; additional DLC adds another 3 achievements with 50 points. On the Playstation 3, Sony has been much less forthcoming with facts, with GiantBomb's article and AVForums agreeing on a few basic facts (Bronze = 15 points, Silver = 30, Gold = 90, Platinum = 180; retail games = max of 1230 points, downloads = max of 315 points), but details are scarce at best. Looking at cross platform games, most titles have similar if not identical achievements (sans Platinum trophy). For simplicity sake, I'll use the XBox one as the basis of creating new achievements in future articles. Outside of these hard rules, a few other obvious ones:
  • Achievements needs to be obtainable (without absurd rules, like wiping out save data)
  • No making up new features for the game (can't add an online component for a SNES game)
  • For simplicity, let's assume all games are full games, and not categorize what's a "full title" and a "arcade size" title
So, why the interest in achievements, especially in light of counter-arguments that achievements are not that good of an idea? I'm hooked (probably not a good reasoning)? More legitimately, I point to games like Geometry Wars 2 on why achievements can be a way to create new play experiences for the player. Rather than merely becoming just checkpoints or absurd goals, achievements can become something that suggest new play mechanics or ideas for players to play around.


  1. I think they've come a long way with achievements. Early games had achievements far too random, or too easy to achieve. However, later games definitely seemed to be striking a balance with the Achievement categories:

    -Progress (get to lvl 4. beat the game)
    -Skills (get 10,000 points. Kill 5 golems in 2 minutes. Perform an ultimate combo.)
    -Completionism (Find all the treasure chests)
    -Explore (Find the lost village. Find the highest point in the game.)

    If you want to only complete the game, sure you should have an achievement for that. But for people who like to really explore the game and its dynamics, it's nice to be rewarded on the side.

    I don't understand why people who complain about having achievements can't just ignore them. As an achievement whore, I can understand the pain of not having 100% achievements in a game (curse you, Prince of Persia!). But why complain about something extra if you don't care for it? I will be so bold as to say the complainers have some sort of personality problem and care too much about what other people think. ...excepting the trolls who like to diminish the achievements of others.

    Also screw that top link; Slappers only battles are hilarious.

  2. Totally agree that they've come a long way, from games like Earth Defence Force( or Avatar(–_The_Burning_Earth)'s minimum 5 achievements.

    Interesting observation on the categories of achievements, my understanding (without divulging stuff) is that the ones you've listed tends to happen a lot because they seem to work for a lot of games well.

    As for slappers only, yes, they are hilarious in small doses. Get's pretty ugly on a large map (like Caves) for 20 minutes.

  3. Since Blogger lost my post, I'll try to type in what I remembered.

    It's interesting for you to list those categories, without giving out info I've seen in docs, I can say that most games sticks to those categories because they've worked well in popular games and people expect them to carry over to other games.

    One discussion I've had with people (and I'll probably have a post about it later), is the level of reward that is expected for games in general. Analyzing what's out there right now, I've observed three different general types of scoring for a single playthrough completion: Low End (100-200, ex. Lost Planet), Mid Range (300-400, ex. Call of Duty), High End (500-750), ex. Halo). It's an interesting observation.

    As for Slappers only: Yes, awesome in small doses, until someone decides to have Slappers only/20 minutes/Caves, then it's a pain in the ass.