Men Do So Like To Collect Things

By Alec Meer on June 9th, 2008 at 4:58 pm.

50 Azeroth points for jumping off that roof

One of the many things that make me sigh forlornly (right up there with how goat’s cheese is always the token vegetarian option at those many restaurants who just don’t give a crap about me and my herbivore brethren, Nazis and fashionable haircuts) is achievement systems in games. Not the essential concept (a pat on the back for doing something awesome makes perfect sense), but what it can become – something that can overwhelm the game itself. I hear dark tales of people who buy/rent mediocre 360 games purely because they’re known to contain easy/excessive Gamerpoints. It’s not a surprise that World of Warcraft is, reportedly, soon to introduce achievements of its own – there’s arguably no game better suited to them – but I do wish the bloody things would stop popping up everywhere.

I entirely understand their appeal – it’s just chasing the place at the top of the high score table, as gamingkind at large has done for decades, but, personally, an arbitrary reward for following a pre-determined set of rules seems very much at odds with what I most love about videogaming: having unique, personal experiences. My favourite moments during my two or so years with World of Warcraft were those that only mad accident and random exploration could have brought about, so reports that Wrath of the Lich King will include an achievement system has me worried the scope for ultra-adventures are that much more reduced in favour of chasing yet more statistics.

That said, it’s very much the obvious thing for the game to do (the likes of LOTRO and City of Heroes are already doing it) and there’s a reasonable chance that having a specific, wider goal will increase the sense of purpose during those times when finishing yet another quest or increasing your tailor skill starts to feel a little grindy and futile.

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42 Comments »

  1. Nick says:

    Goats cheese is lovely. Mmm.. goats cheese…

    I don’t really get anything from most achievements in games, I liked the TF2 ones (pre-unlock) as they gave you little challenges in some cases, but every single player game out there with them in I couldn’t care less about.

  2. Phil says:

    Achievement points needn’t be a grind providing they are creatively integrated into the overall tone of the game (something I hope Blizzard would be exceptionally good at); the Simpsons Game’s ‘Press START to Play’ achievement, for example, was a nice opening moment.

  3. Theory says:

    If I ever added achievements to a game of mine, I’d make their criteria a secret. It’s great to do something wacky and get a wink and a nudge you weren’t expecting from the developer. :)

  4. Rook says:

    Guild Wars added achievements a while back. And whilst usually I distain the thought of games offering you gold stars for doing stuff, it’s oddly appreciated in GW.

    I think the main thing is that as long as we don’t get any of this gamerscore crap, then they’re actually pretty useful. It’s nice to know which of my friends are lying about having finished portal.

  5. Lucky says:

    The main problem with achievements is that they don’t really give you anything other than gamerpoints or the knowledge that you’ve wasted your time on something arbitary. Let me have something worthwhile! Cheat modes, concept art, extra skins, hidden maps, something!

  6. Dinger says:

    Tempeh = teh devil. Better an old goat than a new devil.

  7. houseinrlyeh says:

    @Theory: Exactly. That way achievements could also be connected to the way you play the game on your own initiative. Of course, you could find all information about the achievement system on the web sooner or later, but since nobody has to look, this way to integrate it would be much more interesting.

  8. Colthor says:

    They can be a problem if the achievement makes the game less fun. For instance, trying to get HL2:Ep2′s Rocketman achievement (on my first play-through) made me enjoy the game – especially the car bit – far less than I should have done.
    Yeah, my fault for carting the damn gnome about, but by the time I realised it was going to be a right pain in the car I’d already carted it too far to leave it behind.

    So developers need to think about them when they put them in; put a boot in the car, say, so you don’t have to stop every hundred yards to pick it up; to make sure they don’t detract from the actual game.

  9. Chaz says:

    When done properly, achievements can actually lead you to experience more of the game than you probably would have without those optional little goals to aim for. For instance the achievements might get you to do activities and explore parts of a game that you would have ordinarily just passed by.

    When done wrong however they can just be excruciatingly frustrating and no fun what so ever.

    When I bought my 360 I never thought I’d be that bothered with the achievements, but when my first one chimed up on screen it gave me quite a little thrill. Since then I’ll freely admit that I’ve gone out of my way, and spent many hours of game time purely in the pursuit of getting yet another achievement, all for that little thrill of seeing it popup on screen with its accompanying chime. I couldn’t begin to count the hours I spent on Assassins Creed hunting for every single flag for my full 1000G completion.

  10. Alex says:

    They can be a problem if the achievement makes the game less fun. For instance, trying to get HL2:Ep2’s Rocketman achievement (on my first play-through) made me enjoy the game – especially the car bit – far less than I should have done.
    Yeah, my fault for carting the damn gnome about, but by the time I realised it was going to be a right pain in the car I’d already carted it too far to leave it behind.

    So developers need to think about them when they put them in; put a boot in the car, say, so you don’t have to stop every hundred yards to pick it up; to make sure they don’t detract from the actual game.

    Surely you could’ve guessed beforehand that lugging around that gnome wouldn’t actually make the game more fun..?

    It’s a typical example of a “Fuck That!” achievement. Another one in Ep2 is the one given for saving all the buildings at the end, Neighbourhood Watch I think it’s called. Fuck that!

  11. Verdugo says:

    Do you actually get anything from doing these achievements? Or are they just for show?

  12. Colthor says:

    Bragging rights, I think.

    Alex: On foot it wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t until I got to the car that I realised how much it’d get in the way. I thought there’d be somewhere to put it…
    If only I hadn’t looked under that bed!

  13. CrashT says:

    Do you actually get anything from playing WOW? Or is it just for show?

    Sorry… To easy.

    You’re already chasing around so you can get the greens or purples or whatever (I care that much clearly), chasing after achievements is hardly a change.

    Done right Achievement are sheer one-upmanship, or proof that you’ve done or found something bizzare or awkward.

  14. CitizenErazed says:

    Achievements are the bane of gamingkind. No, seriously. I can’t play Halo 3 online because a good 60-70% of servers will be full of people boosting to get the achievements. Same with TF2. They’re full of people playing a certain way in order to gain the achievements. Usually with their friends, thereby breaking the game and – get this – gaining me abuse for trying to play the game normally.

    If you were to look up my 360 account, you’ll see I’ve played more games than most of my friends, but generally have less gamerpoints – because I don’t /care/. I can’t get excited about the idea of collecting 200 flags (Yes, assassin’s creed, I’m looking at you) for an arbitrary 50point reward.

    Verdugo: Depends. On t’consoles, they do nothing. In most PC singleplayer games, they do nothing. TF2′s the only game I can think of where they actually unlock things.

  15. Lake says:

    48 hours without a shower.
    Achievement Unlocked.
    Poopsocking.
    Achievement Unlocked.

  16. Duoae says:

    I agree Alec. As i posted on Kotaku (at the risk of being a dirty comment duplicator):

    They don’t offer anything to me… i want more content in games… not mechanisms trying to trick me into thinking there’s more content.

  17. BonSequitur says:

    I think that the XBox 360 “gamerpoints” are what truly ruins it.

    Then again, I just hate those inferior console gaming sub-humans.

  18. Sal says:

    When SWG pushed its achievement/collection system to the few people left, it was a horrible idea. i mean, a rush to be server first, a thing for your house, or some peice of clothing that will give a slight edge durning PVP…lame…

  19. Abe says:

    Achievements work well when they expose you to different styles of play. “Use the gravity gun to blow up a combine soldier with his own grenade” is a good one, because I might not have even thought of that tactic myself, or I might not have bothered trying it. Same with, “kill X number of people with Y weapon.” It convinces me to stray away from the comfortable weapons that I’ve probably used in a dozen other games (assault rifles, shotguns, etc.), and try whatever new and unusual things this game offers. (Bioshock – a game with piss-poor weapon balance, but a lot of fun methods of taking people out – could really benefit from more of this).

    Both of these are cases of the game using achievements as a way to teach me how to play it. It’s leading me down different paths to enjoyment. Unfortunately, very few games seem to use them in this way, instead going for the “collect 3,000 whatever from extremely annoying hiding spots that we let the design school intern pick out.” Which is just lazy, useless bullshit. It’s okay if seeking out these hidden items leads me to exploring areas I might have ignored, and finding interesting content that I could have overlooked. But more often than not, the only reason for exploring is to get these hidden items so I can get achievement points. Which is only fun if I have OCD.

  20. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    I can understand not liking them, but I do hope developers continue to put them in. I couldn’t care less about the points as such, but I think they’re great fun for comparing with your mates how far you’ve got in a game, and as people have said, done well, they can add extra elements of replay-ability or challenge that the creatively deprived may otherwise not have found.

    If you don’t like them they’re easy to ignore, but I for one am WELL CHUFFED that Valve have intergrated them with Steamworks and that more games will be using them.

    Day of Defeat just added them (along with a complete engine overhaul – I think I emailed you guys about it. It even adds the nemesis thing from TF2) and it’s inspired me to go back and have more games. Good stuff!

    I do completely agree that ” “collect 3,000 whatever from extremely annoying hiding spots that we let the design school intern pick out.”” achievements are gash, however.

  21. n3utr0n says:

    “I couldn’t begin to count the hours I spent on Assassins Creed hunting for every single flag for my full 1000G completion.”

    I hate these achievements. Collect x things for y gamerpoints? Damn fetchquests…

  22. sherwinpg says:

    Raised in competitive society so when we play video games we treat it the same way, everyone seems to have a need to be the best and show off be it in real life or video game

  23. Slappeh says:

    I think Valve have done it well, some of the achievements actually give game play changes and unlocks and others are just fun to do.

    Also the fact that they dont have a limit and that the gamerscore isn’t present means that most people don’t really pursue them in the same way 360 owners do.

  24. Calabi says:

    Surely even for bragging rights Achievements are worthless, a score works alot better for that.

    Its like the great sale of nothing. The marketeers are annoyed because they’ve sold everything. Until someone has the brilliant idea of selling phrases. Give them a stupid sounding title, telling the player how great they are, they’ll love it, and we’ll sell millions.

  25. xeallos says:

    “Napoleon once said,

    “All men are enamored of decorations…they positively hunger for them.”

    So by developing the Napoleonic system – the medal business – the government learned it could get soldiers for less money, because the boys liked to be decorated. Until the Civil War there were no medals.”

    Smedley Butler – War is a Racket

    “an arbitrary reward for following a pre-determined set of rules seems very much at odds with what I most love about videogaming: having unique, personal experiences”

    We buy “cook books” called “semi home-made” as our prepubescent children watch “High School Musical” as drool rolls off their chin. Your favorite independent minded and creatively forged past time is never as far away from becoming a bargain bin shrink wrapped commodity as you’d like to imagine.

  26. Zuffox says:

    Alec Meer:
    So. Achievements, huh?

    :P

  27. richmcc says:

    It’s dead easy to be aloof about achievements when you’re not sucked into the whole rigmarole. Once you’re even a smidge interested though, you’re essentially buggered.

    I’m not sure I agree that they exist purely as bragging rights. My 360 gamerscore is hardly monumental, but I’ve certainly made the effort to get some obscure or painful ‘chievies – not necessarily as two fingers up to my useless friends – but rather, like Everest, simply because they are there.

    The Rocketman example is perfect; once I’d heard the details of this arduous task, my mind simply would not let me carry on gnomeless. Had I gone further sans little chap, I’d have had a constant niggle, a pestering voice asking me why I had given up at the first sign of hardship.

    Now, as to whether that’s a good or bad thing, I’m unsure…

  28. Chaz says:

    @ n3utr0n

    Yeah the 200 odd flags or what ever it was in AC is a good example of the wrong way to do acheivments. I only bothered to get them all because when I completed the game I was about 50 points short of the full 1k. And well you know I just couldn’t leave it unfinished. And yep it was a real ball ache trying to get them all.

    A good few of the HL2 acheivments were very good. For all the years I’d been playing HL2, I never realised until the achievments came out that you could grab a Manhack with the grav gun. The same goes for the energy balls from the Combine pulse rifles, and grabbing the grenades from Zombines in EP1. So in that case the achievments managed to add an extra dimension to a game I’d been playing for years.

    On the other hand trying to light up 15 zombies with flares made me want to pull my hair out.

    I think by far the worst type of achievments are the multiplayer ones, such as “Kill 100 enemies with a pistol in a ranked match” etc. You then end up with lots of people just running around servers with pistols in MP matches for no other reason than to get an achievment. R6Vegas 2 was quite bad for that upon release.

    Anyway whilst we’re on about achievments can we also get “unlocks” scrapped from multiplayer games too. I really hate unlocks and being forced to spend hours and hours playing just to get access to features that, as far as I’m concerned I’ve bought and paid for and should be able to access right from the start. BF2, COD4, I’m looking at you.

  29. RichPowers says:

    Bonus points for referencing Smedley Butler.

    Achievements are dandy, provided they in no way impact gameplay. If you want to kill 50 scouts with a syringe gun to get some medal, be my guest; I’ll be busy having fun. But I get pissed once asinine, grind-intensive tasks are tied to unlocking (superior) weapons. I PLAY FPS GAMES TO ESCAPE THE GRIND.

    I can’t even unlock the “Head of the Class” achievement in TF2 because I always change classes. Hell if I play a sniper for more than 1 minute at a time :)

  30. Dean says:

    I have a feeling WoW will get it right with the rewards – stuff that will let you show-off in game but not effect the balance of play. I’m really hoping Blizzard take it to the next level though, something like, when you get 1000 points, they send you a mousemat, 3000 a pin-badge, 5000 a t-shirt etc. They can certainly afford it.

  31. malkav11 says:

    I love badges in the City of X games and the deed system in LOTRO. If I had any intention of playing WoW ever again, this would probably be great.

  32. Andrew Doull says:

    RichPowers: I would have agreed with you 100%. Then I had that one game where I healed 12000 odd with one life. I’ll remember that for a while.

    I believe the 50 scouts with syringes is to emphasise the fact Medics are one of the better classes at filling the air with scout killing goodness.

  33. Alex says:

    Actually, I’d think achievements are more suited to multiplayer – they might actually highlight some feature from some class you’d have overlooked.

    When I played Episode 2 for the first time it was a bit weird having regular pop-ups saying I did something – I’m not big on immersion in the first place (you’re playing a game, you know you’re playing a game, etc), but that was kind of annoying.

  34. Turin Turambar says:

    I don’t like them. Too arbitrary, without real consequences, too “meta”.

  35. Sam says:

    Andrew Doull: Well, yes – achievements are great when they’re used to point out alternatives you might not have thought of, like the fact that you can kill scouts with the syringe gun (although, actually, so far, I’ve killed… zero scouts as a medic, so make of that what you will). The thing that soured it for people was that you have to kill 50 scouts with a syringe gun to get a toy, which makes it less of a “look, you can do this cool thing, which we made an achievement for” and more “look, you can do this tedious thing, in order to get a toy”…

  36. Daz says:

    Achievements have been the single greatest motivating factor in getting me to play offline modes since, well, the internet didn’t exist. Their integration into the 360 experience has meant that when I’m bored of a games main mode, I go off and play somewhere else. In particular, sandbox gaming benefits from this for me as it gives me something to aim for whilst still playing around.

    Sure, a lot of their success is down to their implimentation. Crackdown’s orbs, for instance, are mildly frustrating at first but once I’d attuned my play style to their collection I found myself scanning the environment constantly, and they served to teach me how the architecture of the world worked and then lead me to understand my superhuman jumping abilities.

    The Call Of Duty 4 implimentation of achievments is also pretty neat. At first it’s “Kill X number of people with this gun”, then progresses from there to actually encourage careful, skilled play.

    And, the most important point for everybody that I’ll re-iterate for the umpteenth time in this comments thread, is that they are entirely optional. Complaining that you don’t enjoy something you have absolutely no obligation to do is, well, redundant unless you believe that it’s negatively affecting the bits that have you to do.

  37. Mr Pink says:

    And, the most important point for everybody that I’ll re-iterate for the umpteenth time in this comments thread, is that they are entirely optional. Complaining that you don’t enjoy something you have absolutely no obligation to do is, well, redundant unless you believe that it’s negatively affecting the bits that have you to do.

    The problem is though, in multiplayer shooters like TF2, they DO negatively affect the game. Unless you perform these arduous tasks, you will have less equipment to choose from. Also, many servers are blighted by people playing the game “wrong” in order to get achievements.

  38. WCAYPAHWAT says:

    “On the other hand trying to light up 15 zombies with flares made me want to pull my hair out.”

    I do this anyway…..to hear them scream.

    But anyway, I lost all respect for these so called achievement systems when a friend of mine was playing MoH airborne on 360, and unlocked an achievement for ‘jumping out of the plane’. Yeah….really makes you feel special, like you did something awesome. uh huh.

    since then I’ve payed slightly more attention to it, and realized half of them are awarded for things you cant actually avoid doing. seems stupid to me.

  39. Daz says:

    Hmm, in my mind there is a difference between an unlock and an achievment.

    Unlocks tend to be linked towards XP (or whatever a developer wants to call them), and I think they’re an entirely separate debate. For me, CoD4 does unlocks exceptionally well, as none of them seemed to be game breaking and I had as much fun and success with the opening weapons as I did with later ones (the G3 in particular encourages an entirely different approach to the game).

    Achievments, though? Well I guess they change the way people play but I’m not so impressed with how I play to label the way others play as “wrong” (and this is looking at achievements purely from the point of view of online gaming). The very fact that I can play against the world means there are infinite variations in play style, encouraged by everything from drugs to beer to sexual acts for kills to achievements. I can always just play against friends or in a clan if I want a particular style of play.

    In a single player environment, it’s optional. The example of an achievement for jumping out of a plane given above is a prime example – it’s a shit achievement, but so what? It hasn’t negatively affected the game.

  40. Little Green man says:

    Personally I don’t mind achievements in singleplayer games as I often don’t bother if they’re too hard, but also because some of them can be quite fun (not collect-um-ups). However, this business with the TF2 unlocks just means 1) People play the game wrong on a seperate server to get the equipment or 2) They nerf their team by playing the game wrong on normal servers. Some of the TF2 achievements are quite smart, but ones like “ubercharge a scout” mean that you are ubercharging one of the least useful players to do it on, when a pyro or soldier would be better, just so you can get that achievement. So that person will not play in the most efficient manner to win, and their team is at a disadvantage. And the fact that this means that idiots who don’t play the game correctly get more, in some cases better, equipment than you just shows it wasn’t thought through.

  41. malkav11 says:

    I think achievements in singleplayer are an excellent metagaming activity, and done properly can really encourage approaches to the game that might not otherwise have been obvious, or, with secret achievements, reward going off the beaten path. I’m not hugely convinced by the 360 Gamerscore bit (though I think having relative weight for achievements is a good thing), but I do wish there were a unified achievement framework like Live for PC games (GfW Live obviously isn’t going to work out in that role.) Steam is the closest thing, but it obviously fails to cover achievements in games like LOTRO, Mass Effect and Sins of a Solar Empire, which aren’t on Steam. And even the games that are, there’s no overarching “achievements” display, just individual game stats.

  42. harrumph says:

    Dinger — wouldn’t the devil be . . . seitan?