Good or Bad: Achievements
Over the course of time, video games have changed, as all technology does as we progress. However, for those of us who have been playing video games for much of their lives, we’ve noticed some considerable changes in the way that games are made. With the new age of “next generation” consoles and games being released; including but not limited to the now constant connection to the Internet, new standards in high definition and the most recent introduction, or some may say RE-introduction, to movement controls. The question we have to ask though, is are these changes good ones, or bad?
It all started with the Xbox 360 in 2005, and over the course of the past five years, has become almost an industry standard for new video game releases. In an effort to allow people to be able to share how many games they’ve played, or how good they are at those games, Microsoft implemented an achievement system, which gave people a score based off of what certain things they did in-game to achieve that status. If you’ve been living under a rock, basically it means that by, for example, completing the first level of the game, you would unlock an achievement which would give you a certain amount of “gamerscore”. Past that, there isn’t much else to say. Having more gamerscore than someone else is nothing more than something to use as a bragging right. And nowadays, putting achievements into games is nearly a mandatory requirement.
Following this, however, Sony noticed that it also had to step up it’s game and jump in with their own system, or else they would fall behind. In order to come up with something original, they introduced a trophy system for the PlayStation 3, which works nearly the same way as the achievement system. By completing a certain activity in a game, you would unlock either a bronze, silver or gold trophy, and by unlocking every trophy in a game, you would be awarded a platinum trophy. Based on these, you were given a progress bar and a level, which some intrepid trophy hunters have found the values of. Once again though, other than to be able to show it off to your friends, this level is not worth much of anything. Of course, not to be left in the dark, other companies, and even single games, have begun using systems which help track achievements, such as Steam and World of Warcraft.
When you think back, video games never had these achievements. You could look back all the way into the ages of the original Nintendo, but even think about the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Games were created for the sole purpose of completion, and in some games, they had collectibles, or something along those lines, which you could grab to feel as if you completed the game more fully. But with the lack of a persistent Internet connection in most cases, you weren’t sharing these accomplishments with anyone, unless you went up to them and told them personally. Yet, most people didn’t care; when they played a game, it wasn’t for the purpose of earning a certain gamerscore, it was to be able to complete it, and the enjoyment that came with it.
While it’s doubtful that the achievements placed in games makes a game more or less fun, the question still remains: are achievements a good or bad addition to video games? Many people will make the argument that by adding achievements, you essentially extend the life of the game by making the player want to do more in it. Players may go out of their way to explore more of your game, or may play different modes that they may not have before, for the sake of earning more gamerscore. Also, after they finish the game, for some achievements, you need to beat the game on a higher difficulty level, so it’ll add more replay value to your game as well.
This brings up the question of how many achievements are too many. The best example to use is the game Team Fortress 2 on Steam. That game has a total of 368 achievements, an unprecedented amount which is nearly impossible to accomplish unless you play the game religiously. However, with that example, you also have to understand that this is a multiplayer only game, and you earn these achievements by doing various kills with each different class, so in that case, it forces people to use different classes and not just stick with one the entire time. This brings up the next negative point of achievements: farming. Using this same example, people have created certain maps and servers which are made specifically for farming achievements. Certain things will happen in this map in order to get you these achievements without you ever having to lift a finger. And this is where the system is flawed.
Situations like this happen in many multiplayer games as well. Some games that have both single and multiplayer modes in it have achievements for each of them as well, meaning that if you want to accomplish them all, you have to do both. Sometimes this can lead to people opening private servers where people only get kills with a certain weapon in order to farm an achievement, or you’ll see people trying to do certain things when you’re playing with them online, just so that they can get the achievement, and not necessarily doing what needs to be done to win the game. It creates a barrier between people who are just trying to play the game and win for the sake of the fun in the game, and between those who are only playing just to enhance their gamerscore.
Achievements aren’t a terrible system, and in fact, are probably a better thing for games nowadays, as it will keep people playing that game for longer, in order to accomplish everything that they possibly can. However in some instances, they can cause grief in games where there shouldn’t be any. While they may not have existed a few years ago, the times and technologies are always changing, and this is one thing that we should expect to see in video games for some time to come.