Xbox 360 and Achievements (and Undertow)

So, I got myself an Xbox 360 the other day. While one of the primary reasons to get one was Microsoft's XNA, I also learned to like Xbox Live and Xbox Live Arcade. The Xbox 360 is not marketed as a "Casual Gamer" system (the Wii tightly holds that spot, and I don't think that Microsofts attempt to market the Xbox 360 Arcade console in that segment are too successful), yet some of the best casual games are available on there.

I played around with the Demo versions of Geometry Wars and Pac-Man Championship Edition, and I absolutely love them. Ironically, I like them so much because of the artistic style of the graphics, something that normally only Nintendo gets right. Yes, the Xbox 360 is a Triple-Core System with a nice graphics unit and Geometry Wars is possibly not using even 10% of the resources (wild guess), but it just delivers instant fun for a few minutes, or a few more minutes.

These are not the only examples, have a look at Sensible World of Soccer (SWOS) or Speedball 2 for other enhanced versions of the original games. The nice thing: For every single game, you can download a demo version for free. That way, you can test the games first. Most demo versions are quite lenient: They are usually with a time limit, but you can still play the game to make a judgment call on it.

I think that Microsoft got Xbox live well. Really well. Apart from it's stability apparently. Due to some recent problems with connectivity, you can currently download the Game "Undertow" for free for a few days, even as a Silver member. The game is quite fun. I don't like it as much as some of the other games i've tested, but it's free, so I recommend trying it :-).

Now, there is something else that makes playing games on the Xbox 360 a bit more interesting. It's a feature that has no functional use whatsoever and is best describes as "E-Peen", or in Microsoft Terminology: Achievements and Gamerscore.

Basically, in every Xbox 360 game, be it Retail or Arcade, you can unlock Achievements to gain Gamerscore.Xbox 360 Achievements (1) The number of Achievements varies from game to game - Perfect Dark Zero has 50 Achievements, Tomb Raider: Legend has 33, Forza Motorsport 2 has 44 etc. You can pick up some Achievement by simply playing the game (i.e. some games give you an Achievement every time you complete a level), some require more sophistication (i.e. getting all extras or beating time trial modes) and some are simply cruel (Dead Rising's "Zombie Genocider" which requires to kill 53,594 Zombies) or otherwise memorable (Six Degrees of Small Arms...).

Xbox 360 Achievements (2)As said, each Achievement gives you Gamerscore.In every Retail game, you can get up to 1000 Points, and some games offer additional 250 Points through downloads. For Arcade games, you can get up to 200 points and then a few more through downloadable content on some games (I think 235 is the limit). Your Gamerscore is displayed on Xbox Live, and you can use services like to get an image for your forum signature, your blog etc.Souvenance Gamercard as of 2008-01-24

So why are the Achievemets and the Gamerscore so nice? Why do they actually work? They are indeed absolutely useless from a functional perspective - You will not get any extras for a high Gamerscore, you can not buy stuff on the marketplace for it and they just seem to have the purpose to keep people playing. And they work.

I think it's because they return a sense of Achievement to the game (which means that they are appropriately named :-)). I remember the old days™ when I finished a game and had that feeling that I surely did something great. I don't know when, but somehow this feeling got lost or at least weaker among the years as I grew up and played more and more games. Finishing a game was nothing special anymore. Possibly because the next game already waited around the corner and games do not have a half life (no pun intended) of more than 6 months. Now with the Achievements, there suddenly seems to be a reason again to finish the games or play them again. Why play Tomb Raider: Legend a second time on the "Tomb Raider" difficulty or Gears of War on "Insane", as you already saw all the content and story? Why waste 6 hours trying to kill 54000 Zombies in Dead Rising? Why even try to get the Mile High Club Achievement in Call of Duty 4? Because you get a Reward at the end. It feels satisfying to try something over and over again and finally see that "Achievement Unlocked" message appear. And you can then show that you unlocked the achievement. Yes, it is stupid and useless E-Peen comparison, but it's deeply statisfying.

So yes, I like my Xbox 360, and I believe that Microsoft got - from a functional specification - the whole thing absolutely right. An attractive library of games, more casual stuff through arcade, the addictive Achievement system and a controller that finally deserves that name. Who knows, were it not for the Red Ring of Death problem, maybe it's reputation would be a lot better? I'm happy that I got a console with the newer Falcon Motherboard, so I should not need a towel.

2008 will be interesting, as Sony could finally have some success with the PS3. As BluRay is about to win the HD War, maybe the PS3 will have a similar success as the PS2 solely because of the drive? I doubt so because the PS2 came when DVD was already established and just waited to grow, whereas the PS3 works more as a "market enabler" for BluRay. I have to say that I did not test Playstation Network (PSN) yet (as I don't have a PS3 and don't plan to buy one before at least Christmas) and therefore can not compare it to Xbox Live, so I do not want to judge the PS3 yet. At the moment, the lack of a fair number of "want-to-have" titles does not give me any reason to buy one, so we'll see.

But it's definitely nice to see that finally, different consoles work in different market segments instead of trying to occupy the same.

Comments (6)

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RikNovember 24th, 2008 at 15:48

Hey, this a great post about the good side of Achievements. Hopefully you won't mind me linking it on my rather more negative blog post about the bad effects of Achievements on my gaming blog, as this is really well-written explanation for someone who doesn't understand them at all. Cheers!

To Strive, To Achieve « AgonersNovember 24th, 2008 at 16:20

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[...] 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 [...]

HeyaDecember 21st, 2010 at 09:35

Hey! nice post 😀 very informative.

[...] Achievements and would like to understand more about them or the good effect of them, here’s a really great write-up I found while researching for this post on a blog called ‘Not Rocket [...]