About a year ago, I wrote a post about XBox 360 Achievements. A few days ago, someone called remy77077 linked to that post from his own blog post, which is a rant about multiplayer achievements (which contains a highly inappropriate, yet somehow fitting Picture). That got me thinking again about achievements.
If I look at my Achievements, I see that there are usually 3 groups of Achievements:
- Single Player
- Collaborative Multiplayer (aka. Co-Op)
- Competitive Multiplayer
Now, think for a moment what Achievements give: Gamerscore. Now think further: What does Gamerscore mean? Absolutely Nothing. Really, it means nothing. It is a number, but it’s neither an absolute number (“If you have X gamescore, that means Y”) nor is it relative (“If you have twice as many Gamerscore as player X, that means Y”). It is a completely useless number. I actually think Microsoft should have removed it when they made NXE.
Wait, wait, wait. You may now think “Well, a High Gamerscore means that the person is playing much, so possibly they are a good gamer!”. Or maybe “Well, someone who has all the Achievements in a Game surely spent so much time with it, he is good at this game!”. Well, in both cases, you are wrong when you try to generalize. Let’s have a look at an example. As I’ve been playing the new Street Fighter HD Remix, I of course stumbled accross David Sirlin, the Designer and Balance expert. Now, let’s look at his GamerCard. 2199 GS vs. my 5985 GS. Look at his SuperStreetFighter2THD: at the time of writing, he only has 3/12 Achievements for 60/200 GS. (i got 2/12 for 30/200) So what does this tell us? Nothing. If I were to play against him, he would kick my ass while playing with his feet. By looking at his gamercard, I get absolutely no information about him, about how good he is, on which games he rules and on which he may not be good. Does anything about his Gamercard tell you that he is (at the time of writing) #1 Ranked in Super Turbo HD?
No. And that’s what makes Gamerscore and Achievement points useless. Now, that being said, let’s go back to the topic of the article. Look at the Achievements of any Game (except Gears of War 2) and you generally see that there are Achievements like “1000 Kills with Weapon X in Deathmatch”, or “Won 100 Online Matches”. Now, go to any Gaming Website that has Forums, i.e. Gamefaqs. What do you usually see? “Looking for someone to boost” or “Is anyone still playing this game”? Those two examples are the two sides of the same medal: Honest Players may have problems really earning the achievement because the game is old and dead now. Dishonest Players do not care about the “achieve” in Achievements, and are just looking for ways to get the Achievements fast.
But why? Because Achievements give Gamerscore? Maybe, but what does Gamerscore tell us again? Nothing. And what do Achievements tell us? Nothing. Well, not really. Achievements tell us what a person has done in a game. They are a bit like a “Code Coverage” tool. Usually, there is an achievement linked to each area of the game – single and multiplayer, mandatory and optional parts. But, do we care about the Achievements of strangers? Usually not.
So if Gamescore is worth nothing in the big anonymous Xbox Live world, what are Achievements worth in that world? Nothing. But let’s “zoom in”. Go from the anonymous Xbox Live world to your Friends list. Who are the people in your list? Friends? Coworkers? Almost certainly, it’s people you know, either directly, or through some website or by playing with or against them. But generally, they are not anonymous.
When playing against your friends in Deathmatch, does a “1000 Kills in Deathmatch” achievement count? Usually not, because you know each other, so you know how good the other people are. There is no additional Knowledge gained through a Deathmatch Achievement. In fact, it could even be hindering, because you may be tempted to boost the achievement. Feel free to do so, but don’t blame me after you started to hate the game, now that you spent hours mindlessly repeating the same boring task just for an achievement and 20 GS.
In my opinion, Achievements work best for Single Player and Collaborative Multiplayer. I’ve been playing Gears of War Co-Op with a friend, and after we killed RAAM on Insane, the achievement was really a reward. If you excuse that cheesy comparison, but the “I Can’t Quit You Dom” and “Commando” Achievements are like a bond between us now. If we look at each others Achievements, we sometimes talk about it and remember what great fun we had. That’s right, I dropped the F-Word: Fun. And now that Gears 2 is out, we are going to have the same fun again for “Suicide Missionary” and “Friends with Benefits”.
Co-Op Achievements are great, because you are not competing against someone, but you have to work together with someone towards a common goal. So even when you are tempted to boost, you usually can’t or if you do, there is always someone who knows… The main downside is that you need a friend with that game for Co-Op, or hope that the game is still alive on Xbox Live to find strangers (But be warned: Co-Op can be very frustrating at times, and frustration is best dropped on friends rather than strangers :-))
Single Player Achievements are also equally great. If you want to boost, feel free to do so, you’re only cheating yourself anyway. But Mass Effect’s Long Service Medal or DOOM’s RAMPAGE always bring back some memories – usually good, sometimes frustrating, but almost always fun.
So yes, in my opinion, Achievements are something personal for you or for your friends. But they mean nothing to the rest of the Xbox Live world, and if you do not know any person, Achievements/Gamerscore will not tell you anything about this person.
When I told you earlier to look at Achievements of any game, I said “Except Gears of War 2”. Why not Gears 2? Because I want to use this as a positive example for how achievements could and possibly should work.
It contains Achievements for finishing the campaign on any of the 4 difficulty levels, and it has Co-Op Achievements. It was three “Collect Stuff” Achievements. And it has the achievements like “Kill 10 enemies with a grenade while down but not out (any mode)”. Did you notice that “(any mode)”? That means: Single Player, Co-Op (either Campaign or Horde), Multiplayer. All of the “Kill X while Y” Achievements are available in any mode. This is great, because it does mean that the honest player can get them in any way they want, even when the game died on XBL. The dishonest player can still boost (they can always), and it’s rather quick and easy to boost. Even the few Multiplayer-only Achievements are reasonable. “Win 3 matches of King of the Hill (public)”. Yes, 3. Three. Not 30, not 100, not 1000. Three. Same logic: Honest players can actually get the achievement, dishonest at least don’t have to repeat boring stuff for hours. Sure, since it’s only on public games, boosting is a bit harder, but still possible. But would you even want to boost? It’s reasonable.
I think that’s the important word: Reasonable. Achievements should be hard at times (If you don’t agree, look up “to achieve” in a dictionary), but they should reward skill instead of grinding. If you can win 3 matches of King of the Hill, you have proven that you understood the game mode and that you have some skill. If you can win 3, you can win 10, 100 or 1000 if you only play long enough. There is no further point to be proven. Here, Achievements cover a second topic: Making the player try out all the stuff in the game. You have to play King of the Hill to get the achievement, so the Achievement serves as “Hey, did you already know King of the Hill? Try it out!”. If you like it, you are playing it anyway for fun, and if you don’t like it, you can get the achievement still and then move along.
Gears 2 has 2 achievements that are a bit “over the top”. The first one is still reasonable: Play 1999 Rounds in Multiplayer (any mode). Now, 1999 sounds like a ridiculous number, but it’s rounds not matches, and you pick up a large number of rounds already when trying to get the other achievements. If you like multiplayer, you should be able to get this faster than you think.
The second over the top achievement is cruel: Seriously 2.0, which requires 100000 Kills. Yes, one hundred thousand. But again: In any mode, including Single Player. You get around 900-1100 Kills in a playthrough of the campaign, so if you do co-op you have to finish the campaign at least twice (once to unlock Insane, and then Insane), but you may want to have a third playthrough unless you played it on Hardcore the first time around). Horde mode also adds tons of kills. Seriously 2.0 is on the other end of the boost-scale: This is near impossible to boost, so you have to play much. That way, it rewards the honest player. I don’t think that too many people will get this one, but it is not out of reach for anyone.
So yeah, I think that Gears 2’s achievements are perfect. Any my definition of perfect achievements is:
- Reward the honest player. Give them the Achievement for achieving something, not for grinding.
- Cover all of the parts of the game. If there is an Achievement for a game mode, players are inclined to try it out.
- Allow people to play the way they want. This greatly depends on the game, but in the example of Gears 2, most achievements work in any mode.
- Be reasonable. If your game has multiplayer, then there is no need for 100 or 1000 Kills/Wins when 5 or 10 are enough to prove the point. If people don’t like a game mode, they might still try it long enough to get a reasonable achievement and then move along (or maybe discover that they DO like that game mode?)
- Again, this depends on the game, but usually, if you can kill 10 people, you can kill 100 or 1000 as well.
- Leaderboards work to compare against other players, Achievements do not.
- Don’t spoil the game. I do not know if that is a new feature, but all the Story Achievements in Gears 2 show up as “Story progression in Act 1, Chapter 2” if you do not have it. Only after you’ve gotten it, it turns into “Successfully defended the hospital”. This is excellent. Think of the alternatives:
- Make all Story Achievements “Secret”. That way, people are not spoiled when they check the achievements, but it could be frustrating if you want all achievements without relying on spoiler-sites like Gamefaqs. BioShock, The Force Unleashed or Assassin’s Creed are examples of this. This is the most method so far.
- Make them non-descriptive. Fallout 3’s Achievements look like this: ‘Picking up the Trail: Completed “Picking up the Trail”‘. Yeah, try to remember what that was in a year or two…
- Spoil them. I have yet to come across any game that spoils the story in their achievements. There are some minor Spoilers sometimes, but nothing big.
So yeah, this rant went on for a little bit longer than I intended, but I hope that the point was clear: Achievements and Gamerscore mean nothing to an anonymous crowd, so developers should focus on reasonable achievements instead, and Gears of War 2 serves as a great example on how achievements should look like.