RPS Asks: Steam Achievements?

By Alec Meer on September 14th, 2011 at 1:42 pm.

Look how well I did at something or other!

An open question for the floor: how much stock do you put in Steam’s achievements, now they’ve been around for a couple of years? I only ask because they’re cropping up in more and more games, yet yet they don’t seem to have hahahahaha achieved the same game-cultural significance as Xbox 360′s ones, where folk from all walks of life seem invested to the point of violence in their Gamerscores.

Steam’s don’t appear to go towards a global pool of gaming accomplishment in the same way, but instead appear to only reflect upon the specific game they’re from. But have they quietly managed to become of great, fervent import amongst the more dedicated PC gamers? Do you do a happy little clap when you earn one? Or are they entirely incidental to you? An annoyance, even?

They haven’t really clicked for me, I must admit – when a box pops up saying I’ve done such and such I don’t perceive it as having any impact on me, unless I’m fairly sure that it’s going to lead to something new activating in-game. But they’re increasingly prevalent (which I guess to some extent goes hand-in-hand with the proliferation of Steamworks), which would imply they’re doing something right.

So, thoughts? Do you even know how many of ‘em you’ve got? DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR CHILDREN ARE RIGHT NOW?

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281 Comments »

  1. Stevostin says:

    Not giving a flying fuck here, although it’s rather pleasant to have those existing.

  2. Rob Lang says:

    I like them, they increase the longevity of games I enjoy playing. Like Just Cause 2 – once I had run out of things to blow up, I wanted to play more but wanted more challenges.

  3. WingNutZA says:

    I enjoyed the garden gnome to space achievement for HL2E2… aaaand that’s about it.

  4. SpinalJack says:

    It’s good when a game recognises you’ve done something though, like the DXHR kill no one achievement. The game’s recognised that you’ve decided to play the game in this way though it would have been better to have an NPC tell you in-game rather than a pop up.

  5. mpk says:

    The achievement from Half Life episode 2 (or 1, cant remember) where you have to carry a gnome through just about the entire game before launching it onto space is one of, I dunno, one steam achievement that actually merits the use of the term.

    Killing x amount of y monster in a game which features xn monsters isnt an achievement, and neither is driving 100km in a game that feautures cars. Thats a byproduct of playing the game properly and rewarding players for doing so is like giving your toddler a gold star for pulling hia trousers up properly. Its condescending and borderline insulting at times.

    Make achievemenys something that players have to work to get and they’ll be worth more.

  6. unangbangkay says:

    I’m alright with them. I’ll admit that I’ve played a game or two longer than I might have otherwise or done something I’d not have otherwise bothered with for the purposes of “ticking off” an achievement’s requirement.

    The factor that’s preventing Steam Achievements in particular (GFW Live achievements simply contribute to your Xbox gamerscore if you have one) from having the same cultural impact is the fact that despite its market domination and ubiquity, Steam isn’t synonymous with PC gaming (not yet, anyway).

    There are a billion and one ways to play games in ways that have NOTHING to do with gaining achievements. Whereas on the console toys the addition of Achievements and Trophies is mandatory, not every Steam game has Steam achievements, nor do retro games that don’t use steam, or most indie games that don’t use Steam. As long as there are PC games that “don’t use Steam”, Achievements won’t have the same level of cultural penetration, for better or worse.

    Also, despite Steam’s community features, I’ve still yet to find a way to compare my achievements to those of others, which means the bragging value associated with having a high gamerscore or a bunch of platinum trophies (the latter of which is FAR more valuable as a measure dedication/effort/talent) is reduced.

  7. ShineDog says:

    Good achievements can encourage the player to try things in new ways or do things they wouldn’t consider doing, and so are worthy.

    Mirrors Edge is always my example, where there is an achievement for completing the game without injuring anyone with a firearm. Fantastic, a nice, unobtrusive way to encourage the player to play the game in character, without any arbitrary limits in game to force you to do so. It’s an interesting and fun challenge, entirely optional, but you probably wouldn’t considering it without that little nugget encouraging you to do so.

  8. Gundato says:

    I view them a lot like how I view PS3 trophies. Nice to get, and I’ll go out of my way if something sounds fun. But that is it.

    Like with Space Marine. I actually did have fun shooting for a lot of the Steam achievements (stuff like “charge 150 enemies to death” or “kill 10 enemies in a row with bullet-time shooty death during Fury mode”).

    And I actually do like the Steam approach of actually showing progress toward a lot of those achievements (do any of the consoles do that?). Is nice for the “Wow, if I just run over 12 more Lost and Damned, I get a meaningless achievement! CHARGE AWAY!”

  9. Redem says:

    I put no real value in them, but they do sometimes give a little impetus to try playing a game in a way I wouldn’t normally, and they can commemorate a particularly good session with a witty pun (or not) in congratulations.

  10. spruce says:

    They’re fun for TF2, I find, even if I generally don’t strive to get them. They feel more like genuine accomplishments there, because a lot of them require fairly complex maneuvers. And people on more polite servers will congratulate you for getting a new achievement, because I think others feel the same way. It also feels more organic the way you gradually acquire them.

    In other games, they’re generally tacked on and completely inane. When you create an achievement for when a player does something as basic as figuring out the WASD movement keys, hitting a basic checkpoint or even when they fail, then it’s just dumb noise cluttering the screen.

    I have an Xbox, but I guess I didn’t realise that achievements were taken more seriously in that erm, culture. I don’t play online with anyone I don’t know, however, which is probably why it’s a surprise.

  11. Cyberpope says:

    i see achieves as a little something extra to do with a game if I go back to it. Assuming its not a “look at the sky!” or “play a game!” one that is.
    It sort of becomes an I Bet You Cant Do This with me, TF2 being a good example. Cant jump 1000 times? youve never seen me play scout good sir! Be first on the point as a heavy?! ACCEPTED!
    But yeah other than that whatever. I wouldn’t cry if they went away

  12. MonkeyMonster says:

    Darksiders had some weird ones in that – you basically got them for playing the game to certain points. You had to do A, but you then got an achievement for doing it too… Whoopdedoo.

  13. Ian says:

    When one pops up I’ll have a look to see what it’s for, but I’ve yet to do play a game in an attempt to get achievements.

  14. juandemarco says:

    I like to think of achievements as a way to know how much of the game I’ve got left to play. If I unlock them all, then it may have nothing more to give me, at least nothing *new*. But being an owner of an X360 as well, I have to say that Microsoft’s way is more effective: you have a score (and we all know how an high score is important) and when you unlock them there is a nice sound and a box appears right where you can see it (and not in a remote dark corner of the screen). It’s addictive stuff.

  15. arienette says:

    I care only in so far as I want that little grey box to disappear more quickly.

  16. thegooseking says:

    I care very little (but more than not caring) when I get an achievement. It is, however, very interesting to look at global achievements to see how many people did a certain thing in the game.

    However, I will buy a game with achievements over a game without, all else being equal.

  17. henben says:

    Good achievements:

    set you a metagame challenge (“play through the game and don’t kill anyone”, “carry the gnome all the way through the next 3 levels and put it into the rocket”)

    recognise you’ve done something which is allowed by the game systems but which isn’t obvious (“jump off the tower and land in the water and survive” [both Crackdown and the slightly underrated The Saboteur], “kill someone by pushing a crate off a ledge”).

    Bad achievements (which is 90% of them) are the ones which unlock simply because you completed a level/did some standard action 1000 times. Or require you to do something in multiplayer where you might be wasting other people’s time. Or are just there to stop you trading in the game before a certain date. There’s no reason to pay any attention to these.

    The key to enjoying single-player achievements is not to look at them at all until you’ve finished the game. Once you’ve finished, you then have a whole list of new things you can try when you replay the game (if it’s actually good enough to replay at all).

  18. sakmidrai says:

    If I like the game and I want a challenge for my self then Im trying to do some achievement. But I dont really care for them in my 1st playthrough. They give some replay value in my opinion.

  19. Megadyptes says:

    I don’t really care much about them either way. Sometimes they can be kinda cool, like rewarding you for something awesome you did, other times it’s just ‘Watch intro’ or ‘complete tutorial level’ stuff which seems quite pointless apart from for stats tracking.

  20. johnpeat says:

    Some astonishingly narrow-minded comments on here – as a developer, I find the level of bile spitting quite disturbing – it suggests people don’t understand or are even against something for no rational reason (which as a programmer I find even more disturbing!!)

    I’ve yet to see a game where Achievements are in any way mandatory or force you to do anything you don’t want to do. There are some limited situations in online games where Achievements can spoil things – but no-more than any idiot can spoil a game by playing it selfishly…

    They can be done badly of course – achievements which are entirely arcane/hidden or achievements which are just tick-boxes for completing the game are pointless – but whilst implementations vary, most carry merit in my experience.

    Done well, achievements can even enhance a game – pushing players into playing in different ways, encouraging experimentation and even offering help for players who get stuck!

    I personally use achievements to offer hints as to where secrets or alternative paths/techniques are available – they’re not just about making a game last longer (tho I’m struggling to imagine why that would be a bad thing so long as it’s optional).

    The reason Steam’s Achievements don’t get the attention of XBLs is that there’s no overall score or status – which means that everything is on a game-by-game basis. This offers less of a pissing contest – basically…

  21. Merus says:

    I think the first Geometry wars did a lot to teach people how to use them well. They’re external rewards in a medium that’s more or less about doing things for rewards.

    There’s a ton of really pointless achievements, though, but I’ll usually try and round them up because otherwise I’d probably just get to the end and quit.

    • phlebas says:

      They’re external rewards in a medium that’s more or less about doing things for rewards.

      This thinking is pretty much precisely why achievements are a vile cancer on gaming. Narrowing the concept of games to ‘push button, get reward’ pushes the medium backwards and discourages emphasis on worlds and stories to lose oneself in. They’re fine in a game like TF2 or Magicka that’s just a bit of silly fun (and I don’t mean that scathingly at all – silly fun is important too) but for anything trying to encourage immersion or emotional investment they detract considerably.

  22. Khemm says:

    I’d say GFWL, Ubisoft and Blizzard do achievements right, especilly Ubisoft – UbiPlay achievement points you can use to buy in-game rewards.

    Steam achievements are pointless and exist there just for the Valve Fanboy Brigade to have an argument in the discussion. “Use Steamworks instead of X. It has blah blah blah AND achievements!”.

    • thegooseking says:

      Because dismissing people’s statements in favour of a particular solution by calling them ‘fanboys’ rather than criticising the statement on its own merits is a much stronger argument. That’s totally how proper discussion works.

  23. Xan says:

    I like achievements that make me go “Oh I forgot to check some area / find some secrets”, otherwise they are kinda pointless besides being a good statistic indicator on how people play games.

    Check the Braid achievements on Steam for example, seems a lot of people who have the game didn’t even finish World 2.

  24. Anthile says:

    Still proud of killing a Fleshpound with only a knife.

  25. CaLe says:

    They are very valuable to me. I judge the value of my existence by how many achievements I unlock.

  26. Jim9137 says:

    If they were gone, I would not blink an eye. Perhaps I would lament after Steam’s free spirit, now streamlined and corporatized, that has turned serious, but not serious sam serious.

    But I would not blink an eye. Because if you blink an eye, you are dead. And it’s kind of hard with fingers.

  27. Pathetic Phallacy says:

    I absolutely adore the venomous hatred some people have toward achievements.

    Achievements simply provide the player with an alternative goal than the common end-game objective. If an achievement is cleverly constructed, it can provide the player with hours of enjoyment; he or she attempts to achieve the goal, which simultaneously provides the player with a different way to approach the game. Achievements can encourage further interactivity and creative thinking. What the hell is wrong with that?

    For those of you who believe the point of a game is simply to complete the game, perhaps you’re missing out.

  28. Kefren says:

    I don’t see the point of ‘achievements’ set by other people. They annoy me on Xbox, they annoy me on PC. As much as possible I just ignore or disable them. I favour games that have none at all.

    • johnpeat says:

      I suppose you’d prefer games which have no objectives, or levels, or even content then – given that they’re all just hoops which have been made for you to jump through.

      Real life must really piss-you-off too…

    • LTK says:

      That is a spectacular non sequitur, John.

    • Kefren says:

      @john I’m happy with levels and objectives that make sense within the game. I need to track my enemy to his base, and it is a level? Fine, makes sense. My objective is to build a mine and defend it from skeletons? Fine, I’ll do that. All those things fit into the story.

      ‘Achievements’ are outside of that, and usually go AGAINST the story. Why would this character try to make 100 bodies go into a pile? Why would he want to attack an enemy with a loaf fo bread when there were weapons nearby? Going further, why set up achievements for completing parts of the game? Surely immersing yourself in the world and playing the game doesn’t need extrinsic meta-nonsense (unless the game is shit).

      “Real life must really piss-you-off too…”

      Yes, it does sometimes. If anyone tells me they’ve never been pissed off then I would suspect that they are either lying or in some way ‘weird’.

  29. nokill says:

    Think they where pretty cool in TF2 when you had to do things that you’d normally never do and explore all the classes during it… but most games now just slap them on if you walk trough area’s in a game where you would have gone trough anyway so that is just demotivating for me.

    And I don’t really care about them what so ever anymore.

  30. Horza says:

    Achievements are good, when they present a challenge that’s actually fun to do.
    Although most of the time you seem to get them from some unfun grind or just playing the game so I don’t really care.

    Oh, and I learned from the achievements of DXHR that I missed a sidequest =/

  31. GeForceFX says:

    Is it just me or PC players are just not stupid enough to care about arbitrary points?

    • johnpeat says:

      It’s just you – and your comment suggests that you personally are plenty stupid enough for most things…

  32. JFS says:

    I like them in Atom Zombie Smasher. There are also some other games where it can work, say L4D, TF2, Alien Swarm, you get the impression. For the most part of it, I don’t care that much, however. I believe that’s rooted in the problem that Steam achievements aren’t really featured prominently anywhere, you can use Steam for months and not once come across them. This means they’re not usable for boasting (unlike the Xbox stuff), which robs them of a lot of value.

  33. AlexV says:

    I’d say, cautiously in favour.

    There are 3 types of achievements.

    1. *You reached this part of the game* This is the achievement you don’t have to do anything special for, you just get it for having played through far enough (or long enough). At first glance, it appears worthless, but it can actually be pretty interesting to see the global stats for these to find out how far most people get (or fail to get!) with games.

    2. *I see what you did there. It was awesome* This achievement should be a surprise. If you’re playing the game and pull off something impressive, it makes it that bit sweeter to know that someone noticed. Even if ‘someone’ is an insentient algorithm silently judging your performance.

    3. *Bored? Why not try…” This achievement should be a suggestion of an alternative way to play the game. Do it without taking / dealing any damage. Do it using only the… etc. These achievements can extend the longevity of the game, if well designed.

    I think there’s definitely a place for all of these types, and when done well (and named well!) can enhance the game.

  34. abigbat says:

    I have always liked achievements, whether they occur on PC or XBox or as trophies on PS3. Gives me added incentive to try out different things on a second or third playthrough, something I often wouldn’t do without them.

  35. Urthman says:

    I turn off the Steam overlay whatever so that I never see an achievement pop-up while I’m playing.

    That means I’m not using whatever functionality that thing offers (in-game screenshots? multiplayer mumble? Twitter integration?). Whatever it is, if Valve wants me to use it, achievements have made me turn it off.

    The only time I’ve paid attention to Steam achievements was during the Summer Camp hootenanny when you could earn points toward some free DLC.

  36. worbat says:

    I smile and go, “Ooo an achievement I wonder why I got that.”
    Thats about it.

  37. mlstrum says:

    I think achievements are much more a console culture. At least in my circles; console fans brag about their gamerscore and how they did X or Y achievements whilst my pc crowd usually dismiss this kind of mechanic labeling it useless and douchey.

    I don’t care about either Steam or Xbox achievements; they are a minor annoyance and good-for-you to those who find stimulation in them.

    • mlstrum says:

      Although I do wish I could turn them off for myself ingame: they break immersion.

    • trigger_rant says:

      As far as Steam goes, you are always free to turn off the Steam overlay, which also will stop achievements to pop up, if you are that annoyed by them.

  38. Calabi says:

    I hate them. There the marketers dream. Things that dont exist that everyone wants. There find some way to sell them soon and then it will all be over. Everyone sucked into the black hole of there own making.

  39. DoctorBrain says:

    The issue with “Achievements” is that, in most cases, they don’t hold any meaning. This article’s picture is a perfect example – all of those achievements are unlocked by killing enemies. But, the main point of the game is (presumably) killing enemies. So essentially, these so-called “achievements” are awarded for playing the game. That hardly seems to be an “achievement” at all.

    Achievements mean something when they are actually challenging or require effort to obtain – for example, Human Revolution’s “Foxiest of the Hounds” achievement, which is awarded to players who can complete the game without setting off any alarms. That actually requires some measure of effort, much unlike the “shoot a hundred mans” achievements that seem to be so common.

  40. Vexing Vision says:

    I don’t even notice if I made an achievement, because I always, always have the Steam overlay off.

    Occasionally I check for achievements to see additional challenges. I also find it interesting to see how I compare against other gamers owning the game.

  41. Applebam says:

    Soviet Missle Mastar out of Alien Hominid on xbox had me, but i never finished that game. Bioshock for PC has been done multiple times without em.

  42. Advanced Assault Hippo says:

    I love games, but I’m trying to think of something in this world I give less of a shit about than achievements.

    I can’t. I find the whole concept of them laughable.

  43. Arca says:

    If Valve made the developers put them in every game that comes onto steam and like Microsoft had a visual way of showing the points then they could work and people would probably be more interested in achievement hunting on the PC.

    Only problem with that at the moment is Steam Achievement Manager.

  44. LukeAllstar says:

    As always, Extra Credits covered that topic really good, i 100% agree with their opinion on achievements
    http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/achievements

    • LionsPhil says:

      Argh, enough with the false squeaky voice and image macros. Otherwise, mostly agree, but in singleplayer everything but the most beaten-path types can naff off and stop screaming “you are playing a game” at me. (Also, there’s a certain undermining of doing cool things in games if they then fail to register for an expected achievement. That is bad.)

      Also obligatory: Red vs Blue Achievements PSA

  45. Klydefrog says:

    To me it depends how well done they are, I like achievements when they come as a reward for exploration like they did in Portal 2 or a reward for doing something unlikely like in TF2 but I never really set out to get them. Having said that I suppose I’m implying that I like achievements that come naturally through playing the game but I don’t like games where you get an achievement for completing the first level or doing things that you have to do anyway to progress because that makes them pointless. Dungeons of Dredmor achievements are good too because again they reward you for actually achieving things and they’re often quite amusing. Still, I’ve never been a completionist in games or been obsessed with collecting every hidden item or coin or whatever in a game. I did collect all the shovels in Lee Lee’s quest though because that was amusing and not very hard to do.

  46. deadly.by.design says:

    I have fun achieving them in Valve games, like the ridiculous Gnome one from HL2:Ep2 or some of the L4D1&2 ones, but that’s it. Oh, and Magicka… but otherwise…

    IMO, Achievements are best when they challenge you to play the game in different ways that you normally would.

  47. Joe Duck says:

    I do not care about achievements. Some are funny, but that is all. The only ones I liked a little were L4D’s, but not even those made me play differently.
    Honestly, I fail to understand why anyone in the console space cares about achievements or even worse, gamerscore.

  48. HexagonalBolts says:

    They do nothing but piss me off popping up in the corner smashing any immersion after any particularly dramatic or difficult part of a game.

    • LionsPhil says:

      This, hard.

      (Maybe the spam filter will at least let me agree with someone else’s wording of that sentiment.)

  49. el_Chi says:

    In a game like Team Fortress 2, where achievements can subtly direct people towards playing constructively (ie: medic achievements meant more people playing the as oft-neglected medic) they can be a Good Thing.

    In single-player games like HL2: Ep , or Deus Ex: HR, the little pop-up windows saying “You have completed utterly arbitrary task X!” it just breaks the immersion and reminds you that, not only are you playing a game, but you’re playing in exactly the way the developer knew you would. Dance, little monkey.

    Also “Congratulations on completing the first level!” type achievements are borderline insulting. They’re real Everybody Wins a Prize Day stuff.

  50. Blackberries says:

    I don’t really pay them much mind. It can be amusing to see a record of little things you’ve accomplished in your play – killed so many enemies with X weapon, beaten every level on the hardest difficulty, etc. – but unless they unlock additional content (looking at you, TF2) then I’ve never found myself deliberately pursuing achievements. I don’t bear them any ill will, so long as they remain unobtrusive bits of quirky information.