Thursday, May 19, 2011

Let's Talk Achievements: Average Single Play Through Expectations

One of the interesting and self indulgent topics about achievements is the question of "How much/many rewards should the average player encounter in a single playthrough?" For most players, this isn't an important factor, but since optimizing this isn't going to affect their experience negatively, why not study and analyze it?

(For simplicity sake, and having a wider base of games to compare to, I'm only going to look at retail games, and I'm also going to ignore add-ons. Similarly, since Microsoft does have a numeric system I can manipulate and better demonstrate my point, I'll use that as my basis.)

While researching and categorizing my own experiences with games, I've noticed four general patterns, which was backed up by the now defunct wish I have a better site to show some of the observed statistics), they are as follows:

  • Low end (~100-150 achievement points, ~10 achievements): Examples include Lost Planet 2, Ninety Nine Nights, Rainbow Six Vegas, and Perfect Dark Zero
  • Middle ground (~200-350 achievement points, ~15-20 achievements): Lots of examples including Halo Reach, Bioshock (1 & 2), Call of Duty (all of them post Modern Warfare), DJ Hero (1&2) and Resident Evil 5
  • High end (~400-600 achievement points, ~30-35 achievements): Examples including Gears of War (1&2), Assassin's Creed (All), Forza Motorsports 3, Halo 3 and Halo ODST.
  • Maximum (1000 achievement points, all achievements): Examples include King Kong, Terminator Salvation, and the infamous Avatar: The last airbender
For me, these were general observations, and I don't think there's any specific reasons for or against fitting into any of those categories. I have noticed though that the extremes are usually not well received, where people complain that the game was stingy/the game was too generous, but even thing this still highly depends the context of the achievement and the game. However, two interesting observations:
  1. In general, games have started moving away from the extremes, and in general, have been rewarding players more in recent titles. In the list above, the bulk of the games at the extremes were released relatively early in this generation, where developers were trying to figure out what best to do with achievements. Recent games have mostly stayed away from such extremes, and also started giving more away for general playthrough. Rock Band, as a franchise, is perhaps the greatest example: Rock Band 1, for completely the Band World Tour, is approximately 150 points without any specific challenges; Rock Band 2 increased the number of normal challenges that the players will encounter on a typical playthrough, to approximately 250 points. Rock Band 3 goes even further and rewards players more for even less playtime.
  2. In multiplayer games, there's a great divide on whether the multiplayer warrants any rewards as part of an "average playthrough": Most games devote anywhere from 30-50% for online components, such as trying out a mode, to ranking up and fully play them. However, there are a few games, such as the Call of Duty series, and games like Dead Space 2, where online does not have any achievements. There's been an argument that sometimes you need to bait people into trying things by achievements, but Call of Duty's online popularity negates that argument easily.
If I had a larger pool of data, I can probably draw more interesting facts out of them, but I found this stuff fascinating and thought it would be interesting for people to take a look at.


  1. On the topic of games with multiplayer and achievement distribution, I think this ends up being really game specific. For one, how much of the "core experience" is multiplayer? Is this a primarily single player game with an added multiplayer feature (something like a GTA or Uncharted) or is it a game where it is multiplayer centric and single player is less the focus (I'd argue something like Call of Duty fits into this category).

    For the first type of game, you may require a bit of baiting to get people to try out the other modes since they most likely picked up this game to play single player. You also may want to have less achievements overall in multiplayer so you don't end up forcing the player to wade through it if they aren't interested.

    For the second type, you may actually end up doing the complete opposite and "baiting" some players into playing through your single player game.

  2. I agree with most of what you said, in something like CoD, there probably isn't much of a point.

    However, I'm personally wary of games that is achievement heavy on multiplayer. The issue quickly becomes "what if the community isn't there?" I understand the need to "gently nudge" players to try out multiplayer, but what happens if the game isn't all that popular? Would making an achievement "Win 5000 online matches" be ok, or is it just a slap in the face for the user who decided to buy the game?

  3. For single player games with limited replay value, most of them should be high-end. Achieve 1/3 to 1/2 the achievements by completing the games, with the extra bits picked up along the way if not too hard/monogamous. Too much generally indicates not much to explore outside of a linear game. Too little could indicate too much to explore, or too much of a hassle for little payout.

    The achievements for Perfect Dark Zero were brutal. Some of those modes are almost unplayable, yet you would have to undergo 1000 of the games for a particular achievement?! Plus beating the game on say normal (Secret Agent) would only give you 25 achievement points and 2 achievements. Hours and hours of work. Whereas an hour in multiplayer could get you at least 3 achievements, easy. Way too much skew towards multiplayer achievements in that game.

    As someone who never bought XBox Gold, I can say I get annoyed if I can't get more than 800 achievement points without going online. I feel almost 'cheated' by the game. This excepts fps where online is usually a given. But for fps, I feel like most people don't care so much for achievements compared to the satisfaction of killing the enemy.

  4. "Too much generally indicates not much to explore outside of a linear game. Too little could indicate too much to explore, or too much of a hassle for little payout. " - Very well put, however, without hindsight, how would you know how your game has "high replay value"? Something like this can be planned out during development, but still difficult to predict.