Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Achievements - the irony of the gaming industry

I'm not sure what the opposite of an achievement is, but the gaming industry has certainly reached one with their willy-nilly adding of 'achievements' into every game released these days.

This fellow is suggesting that achievements are the best thing since sliced bread and can be added to most any game of any sort in any way to make it more fun.

I can not begin to express what pure essence of fail that sentiment is. 'Achievements' in their standard implementation are awful game design, rewarding idiotic tasks that every single player will achieve, usually accidentally while failing at the actual game itself. They're not fun, instead bringing out some obsessive-compulsive-addictive, completely ugly side of all of us.

That's not to say that achievements couldn't be fun in certain ways. I for one used to set goals for myself in games long before achievements became popular - complete on the hardest difficulty, without dying, with weak characters, solo, without anything beyond the basic weapons, etc - the purpose of this was to challenge myself, since overcoming the challenges was fun. There are a precious few achievements similar to those I've listed above in modern games. The other 95% are meaningless drivel that present absolutely no challenge and just aren't fun.

Cardinal rule of game design #38: if the achievement can eventually be obtained by a blindfolded monkey mashing the keyboard/mouse/controller, it's a crap achievement. Bad, bad developer, now go and stand in the corner.


Chappo said...

Here here, achievements are fun but not so if you are just getting spammed with them for really doing nothing.

Pete said...

Totally agree. It's just another indication of the imagination-rot that we're all suffering from. We can't take any pride in an accomplishment unless some developer programs it in for us. And there's nothing worse than being deeply immersed in a game and having some random pop-up announcing an achievement snap you out of it.

It's like people who constantly request a "Hardcore" mode in RPGs where death is permanent. (Duh, you don't need a game mechanic for that...just delete the character if it dies.) Or who complain that a game is too easy because of liberal save points (so don't use them if they make it too easy).

Thallian said...

Please forward this article to every gaming dev you know. Sheesh :P They seriously need to learn this.

Crimson Starfire said...

Hmm... I agree with you Melf, but only up to a point. Achievement systems can make a huge difference to the replayability of a game. The smaller the game, the greater the benefit of the achievement system. Take a game like Space Invaders and add achievements like 'Shoot 10 red aliens in a row' or 'Complete 5 rounds without losing a life'. Suddenly the game becomes more challenging and fun. The more achievements you have the greater the replayability (to a point of course).

I agree that we can all do without some of the nub achievements out there, especially the ones that alter the game for evil, but if done correctly I think achievements systems are a good thing. Take L4D for example. I really enjoyed getting some of the achievements like "Unbreakable" or "All 4 Dead". If L4D didn't have the achievement system it has, then I probably would have stopped playing after completing all campaigns and doing a bunch of versus games.

For an achievement system to do well, the difficulty of the achievements needs to look something like:

5% Very easy
5% Easy
20% Medium
50% Hard
20% Very Hard

You need a couple of super easy ones just to give the player a taste, and then a bunch of medium/hard ones to give them a challenge. The very hard ones are to cater for the hardcore players. I'm sure there will one day be a whole section on achievement systems in game design school.

I think achievement systems are a good idea, as long as the achievements are designed by competent games designers. They shouldn't be too grindy or have an adverse effect on the game.

Anton said...

I dunno, I thought it was awesome in WoW when I fell off a cliff and got an achievement for plummeting 65 meters without becoming a pancake. I think some achievements are just silly, and that's fun too, sometimes.

Others help you in WoW to track roughly how many quests you've missed in an area, or let you know how much more of the land you still haven't seen.

While some players may not care for the achievements, others will find lots of extra enjoyment from them. So if you don't like them, just ignore them. You can still make up your own achievements if you want.

adingworld said...

I think it may be ok if it is just badges/titles like in City of Heroes - a bit of fun things, but no impact on playing in general.

The achievements in LOTRO is something I do not really like - there are some rewards for them, but a lot of them are not really achievements but rather something one may end up doing anyway or if not, just require some grinding rather than actually accomplish something.

In that sense I would prefer that achievements were a bit more at the same level like protector, survivor, cartographer etc titles in Guild Wars - there is some effort involved and not just grinding.

Melf_Himself said...

Most of the achievements in Left 4 Dead are lame, and they lose their meaning when you can do them on easy or with a bunch of friends in versus mode.

However, some of the achievements would be cool if they couldn't be done on easy - stuff like completing a campaign without disturbing witches, or getting boomed on, or taking damage from boss zombies... these require skill, and most importantly not grinding.

Pete: re the hardcore mode. I actually loved hardcore in Diablo 2, because the hardcore characters were separated into a different league from the softcore. When you played a game on hardcore, you knew everyone else in the game was taking the same risks as you, and if someone died it was a huge deal. Plus you could see where you were compared to everyone else on the ladder. So for MMO's, I think having a formal hardcore system works well. You're right that it's pointless for a single player game though.

Anton, I have to disagree, the falling off a cliff thing sounds pretty lame. How is it an achievement to do it?

adingworld, I hate most of the titles in Guild Wars, they require massive grinding. Yes such titles add replayability to an MMO, but it's so boring, and often you need particular titles to get into groups etc, which somewhat forces people to do it. I think it's a massive game design crutch.

Once again to summarize:

Achievements to challenge the player = good

Achievements that take time and not skill = bad

Fluff achievements that take no time or skill = not to my personal taste, but I guess if you like them I won't nerdrage at you.