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Achievement Unlocked: Read this article

Microsoft versus Sony, Battlefield versus Call of Duty and Forza versus Gran Turismo. These are some of the rivalries that can get people talking about console wars. “Game On or Game Over” is your place to get inside the minds of Nicholas and Andy as they seek to find the true meaning of gaming and tackle some of gaming’s most controversial subjects. Both are award winning authors – although the awards haven’t been mailed or created yet — but trust them. Would they lie to you?

Andy: I think it’s safe to say while you and I are both gamers, we play games differently. For starters I’m better than you, but that’s not the point of this week’s article. Instead I wanted to talk about our approaches to games. You seem, and correct me if I’m wrong, to be the type of gamer that plays the game and if you find a secret spot, hidden item, or stumble across a collectible you’re happy with that. But, you don’t go out of your way to find those things and you’re not one that’s worried about progressing through a level until you find everything. Me on the other hand, I’m a bit of an Achievement Junkie. If I’m playing a game and I know there is an achievement tied to a certain action, or for finding all the collectibles, you bet your ass I’m going to go out of my way to track it down.

For the most part I don’t do it because it’s fun, I don’t do it because the game requires me to do it, I do it for the inevitable little “Ba-dink” noise and an increase to a number that no one cares about. There’s no real reason to do it, other than to satisfy some weird ‘gotta have them all’ type mentality. I haven’t really thought much about it until a couple weeks ago I saw a list of last year’s top Achievement games. From the hardest, to the easiest etc. On the list as an easy completion was Murdered Soul Suspect. I played it, beat it, and got all 1000 Achievement points. I complained on Twitter about there being 242 collectibles in a 6-8 hour game. I then said the ending made it a decent game.

Here’s the thing though, it already is a good game. It has a pretty good story and those collectibles that I rued in each level, actually told some pretty cool stories once completed, but I was too worried about finding the next one to care about the big picture. I have been playing Zombie Army Trilogy for the past couple of weeks with a friend and I’m dragging him along in the quest to find every gold bar and bottle of blood. It’s something he doesn’t care about, but begrudgingly he lets me hunt for them and picks them up when he finds them.

Before I go too in-depth here, I wanted to get your opinions on Achievements/Trophies. Are they really a big deal? Should we really care about them? What are your personal opinions on self-proclaimed Achievement whores who will stop at nothing to get that next ‘ba-dink’?

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Nicholas: In my opinion, Achievements and trophies are perhaps the most significant development to video games since the introduction of online multiplayer. I know that seems dramatic, but the implementation of Achievements by Microsoft with the Xbox 360 really did change the entire way some gamers play games. In the good old days we used to play games for fun – the challenge lied in either amassing a higher score than our friends or finishing the game overall, but Achievements changed that. No longer was reaching the end of a level or defeating the final boss the point of most games, but instead, there were these new… achievements that people started going for. You might have satisfied a lot of the criteria that Achievements are based on before they became a ‘thing’, but now there was that extra insensitive and reward. So yeah, for me, Achievements are massive.

Well, perhaps that should be “were massive”, at least for me anyway.

When I first purchased my Xbox 360 I was really excited by that popping sound you described and I always loved to check out my Gamertag after unlocking a few Achievements to see what it now was. Hell, and I realize this might sound a little tragic, but I used to take screenshots of my Gamerscore on Xbox.com whenever I reached a new 1000. I would check out the Achievement list before I started playing and would do my best to unlock as many as I could along the way. There were seven games I unlocked all the Achievements for during the last generation and it was something I was proud of.

Nowadays though I find myself being significantly less interested, and borderline disinterested in them. With the Xbox One and for the final years of the Xbox 360, I started to care less about Achievement lists to the point I rarely check them. I didn’t bother with unlocking them and my Gamerscore doesn’t interest me anymore. I’ve even got an odd number for my final digit and I haven’t been driven to ‘fix’ it. That’s me though.

You asked the question, “should we really care about them”, but I think that really depends on the individual. I never considered myself an Achievement junkie, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with those who are. Like I said above, Achievements gave greater incentive and purpose to games, and if there are people who want to go for them – good on them. When I see those Achievements for collecting all the items I think it’s a waste of time mostly, but that’s just me – I’m lazy. If you want a high score then more power to you. If not, then that’s fine. What about your opinions on the significant of Achievements/trophies? Do you think I hit the nail on the head?

Andy: My opinion on Achievements, it’s hard for me to deride them as I have over 144,000 gamer score. There’s something almost intoxicating about getting them for me. The sound and the ba-dink make me want to keep going and get the next one, and the one after that. Even if, like I said before, I have to drag my friends along the way. The thing is though, you’re right (I hated typing that) there is no real purpose behind them, and it’s a “care if you want to” mindset. The reality is, for us Achievement junkies they can dramatically influence how we play games, and the enjoyment we get from them.

I mentioned Murdered Soul Suspect at the start because it’s a perfect example of what I mean. Without Achievements I am willing to bet I would have enjoyed the game more than I did. All the collectibles, wandering around, etc. made me not enjoy playing it. So, if those weren’t there and actual Achievements I would have just done the story and been more engrossed in the experience of it all. On the flip side of that coin… I probably never would have played it if I didn’t see it on the list of easy Achievement/1k Gamerscore games. So, the very thing that got me to play the game, is the thing that made me dislike the experience with the game the most.  It’s a terrible paradox and one that really makes no sense when you think about it.

You mentioned something in your reply that really hit home with me. The majority of the time when I get a new game, or am considering a new game, I look at the achievement list first before I play it. I will fully admit there have been a few games that I passed on partly due to their Achievement lists. Whereas before I cared about Achievements I’d find a game I wanted to play and play it. There was no advanced planning, no videos loaded up on my computer or tablet, it was just the game. Pure and simple, gaming at its best. Without a doubt, Achievements have changed how I play games which begs the question – when Achievements were initially created, do you think they intended to change the way gamers play games? Or is that just an unintended consequence?

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Nicholas: The simpleton in me would have originally thought that all these changes were unintentional, but if there’s one thing that I’ve learnt, it’s that there are creative minds out there which are far smarter than mine. Furthermore, there’s also a tonne of planning and foresight that goes into decision-making within the gaming industry. For this reason, I’m certain that the geniuses at Xbox would have known that the introduction of Achievements were going to be big. They would have surely known that tying a number to each Achievement, where that number was displayed with your profile picture and Gamertag would be a major bragging right within the community – and low and behold it is.

In my Achievement hunting days there were a few that I spent quite a considerable amount of time to unlock. As I think back, perhaps the one that stands out the most was the Achievement awarded for completing every event in Project Gotham Racing 3 on Platinum difficulty. I spent a heap of time perfecting each track and my driving to achieve it, and there was a massive feeling of relief when I completed that final cone challenge on a London track. Of the now hundreds if not thousands of Achievements that you’ve unlocked over the years, are there any which stand out to you as truly memorable? Perhaps one that took the longest amount of time and another which was the most difficult?

Andy: There have certainly been some memorable achievements, some have had funny names tied to pop culture, some have been an absolute nightmare to earn and others were ridiculously easy to the point that naming it an “Achievement” seems counter-intuitive. There was a feeling of elation for getting every Achievement in Fallout 3 for me, just because of how much I loved that game. An Achievement in Red Dead Redemption for hog-tying a lady and putting her on the railroad tracks and watching a train hit her was a little masochistic, but I still did it for the Achievement points. One of the more difficult ones was playing a Spec Ops mission in Modern Warfare 2 on veteran difficulty. A friend and I played that level for 3 days, trying to beat it. I won’t lie, there were times when we were legitimately pissed but there were also times we laughed at our own ineptitude. With that said, when we got through that level, and got the Achievement for it – there was certainly some elation and celebration.

The first part of your response above brings up an interesting point, and one I was hoping we could talk a little about. You are one hundred percent correct (man I need to stop typing that) in that those who came up with the idea and implementation for Achievements certainly knew what they were doing. That brings me to the sneaky side of them. That being when developers use Achievements to increase sales and make more money. Sure most DLC has added ones that’s pretty much industry standard now. Yet, at times it goes deeper than that, even if most gamers don’t even realize it.

Let me explain. About a year or so ago I read an interview with Cliff Bleszinski talking about Gears of War 3 and how they tailored the Achievements of the DLC to sell more units. Now, let me reiterate that. They structured Achievements to sell DLC, not the other way around. Take the ‘Help from my Friends’ Achievement from the ‘RAAM’s Shadow’ DLC. Complete “Raam’s Shadow” in 4 player co-op. This was their way of adding peer pressure and hoping friends would convince other friends to get the DLC to go after Achievements. I believe each Gears 3 DLC has a similar Achievement.

Now personally I like Achievements. I like that they keep me engaged in a game when otherwise my interest may dissipate faster. Sure there are easy ones and rage inducing ones. It’s all part of the big picture. Yet, when I hear about a developer purposely structuring Achievements to increase sales, and promote peer pressure it rubs me the wrong way if I was to be honest. I’ve always looked at them as an addition to the game, not the game being an addition to the Achievement. It comes across as overtly sneaky and underhanded. Being that you aren’t much of an Achievement hunter anymore, what’s your take on that type of structure? Is it something that you think will become more and more common?

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Nicholas: Ah multiplayer Achievements, how I hate them. When I used to care more about unlocking Achievements I always despised lists that featured them. I understand games like Call of Duty or Battlefield having them (since they’ve been online-focused for the longest time), but I always found it annoying when you’d have a single-player focused game with an online element, and 95% of the Achievements related to single-player while a handful were for online. I know that I don’t represent the gaming majority with the fact I tend to play single-player only and essentially multiplayer never, but it still bothered me.

Of course though, nothing compares to the sh*tness (yes, I’m creating new words here – take note Oxford and Webster) that is when games were completely offline-based, then include a tacked-on multiplayer element and with it comes multiplayer Achievements. Yes I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed and Tomb Raider. Speaking about this though, it just seems another example of gaming companies being clever with how they use Achievements. It makes sense that they’d create online-based Achievements to entice gamers to play online. More people playing online means a greater audience to sell over-priced DLC map and weapon packs too. As much as we mightn’t like it, it’s certainly smart of them.

As for whether I think it’ll becoming more common – perhaps. With Microsoft raising the 1000 Gamerscore limit per game there’s certainly room for these developers to exploit the opportunities further. They can make those online-based Achievements worth more, and since they can now exceed 1000 points they don’t need to care so much about what they add up to.

The question is though – despite companies using Achievements to force sales and entice people to play online, is it a good thing still? You mentioned it took three days for you and your friend to earn that MW2 Achievement. Yes it was frustrating, but certainly you had a few laughs during it? Is that the same aim for most of these Achievements? It might seem like a chore initially, but don’t gamers enjoy being social with their friends? Are we perhaps looking at it cynically and not as an opportunity?

Andy: I think, like anything, when done well an Achievement list can be a huge plus for a game. It can guide you to stray from how you normally play, to get you to explore out of the way areas and even get you to think outside the box. On the flipside, a bad Achievement list can stifle a game. When a list looks like every other title or has things like “get 50 kills with a shotgun” there’s little to no creativity. Sports games are notorious for crappy Achievement lists and many shooters fall into this as well. A good Achievement list can keep players engaged in the game for longer, instead of just going through the motions. If a developer doesn’t want me to just go through the motions of the game, make the Achievement list fun and not something I’ve seen from games before. Make me struggle with something, make me laugh at something and make me feel like I earned it.

Achievements (and Trophies on PSN) are this weird thing, that when they work they are amazing and can create some really cool moments. When they don’t work though and are the same thing over and over again, they lose their lustre and appeal. When my friend and I finally earned that MW2 Achievement it was an awesome feeling. Yet, the other friend I have who I drag around games to collecting items, letting me shoot him in the face or even letting me jump on his head 25 times in #IDarb… I’m pretty sure he’s not getting that same feeling of happiness and elation.

I do think Achievements have the ability to add something to gaming. I mean just look on the internet where there are websites dedicated to just talking about them. YouTube has a ton of videos and walkthroughs for almost every title. So, for us to say they don’t matter and mean nothing I think would be wrong. Sure the end result of earning all those achievements is just a score that to most people means nothing at all, but for those of us who care about them, they are a badge of honour.

I don’t think we are being too cynical looking at them. Mostly because there are some gamers out there who care quite a bit about their gamerscore. But, it’s disappointing when developers don’t take them seriously and seem like they add them in at the last minute and the actual Achievements are the most generic ideas possible. I get how some people don’t care about them, and it goes back to what we’ve said time and time again – if you don’t like it don’t buy it. In this case, if you don’t like them just move on and play the game as you will. But, don’t mind me as I’m off in the corner of the map trying to shoot bottle or find all the gold bars.

To wrap thing up this week, Achievements have been around for around 9 years now and very little has changed in the grand scope of things. Is there anything that Microsoft (or Sony for Trophies) could do to get you, and everyone else, to really care about them? What do you think of the idea of allowing gamers to ‘cash in’ their points for rewards? Should there be a reward or incentive for people to go after those hard to earn one? Or will the Gamerscore number always just be an e-peen number to measure who’s is bigger and nothing more?

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Nicholas: Without a doubt, allowing gamers to exchange their Gamerscore for rewards (or having a tiered structure where every couple of thousand Gamerscore entitles you to a special unlock) would certainly be a good idea to entice more players to care about Achievements. Every month or so I receive an email from Microsoft about my Xbox Rewards, and they’re usually always at 0. If I could earn Achievements that gave me a few dollars or a percentage off DLC it would be pretty neat I think.

Ultimately though, the main reason I stopped caring about Achievements in the first place was because of time. It’s hard enough to find the time to play games during the week, and of that time that I do get, I want to spend as much time as possible progressing through the story and finishing it. I just completed the ‘Forza Horizon 2 Presents Fast & Furious’ DLC and I unlocked all 1000 gamerpoints for it, but the last time I did that for a game was a number of years back – and only because it was relatively simple this time around. If an Achievement requires significant time and energy, and that doesn’t really link to completing a story/campaign, I’m probably not going to be bothered even if it means the difference between a dollar or two off my next DLC purchase.

For this reason, while Achievements are certainly fun to unlock and I appreciate the additional effort Microsoft, Sony and developers are going to make them interesting, at the end of the day I think they’ll remain just a talking point or badge of honour for those who care enough to unlock them. When there are too many simple games you can use to unlock 1000 points, assigning monetary value becomes risky if some developers give Achievements away for just pressing the start button. Regardless, they are definitely a great addition to gaming and I’m interested to see what else these companies decide to do them with.

Tune in next time for the next instalment of Game On or Game Over. If you have any ideas for our next article, feel free to contact Andy or Nicholas on Twitter.



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About the author

Nicholas Simonovski

Events and Racing Editor at Stevivor.com. Proud RX8 owner, Strange Music fan and Joe Rogan follower. Living life one cheat meal at a time.

About the author

Andy Gray

From the frozen land of Minnesota, I was the weird kid that begged my parents for an Intellivision instead of an Atari. My love for gaming has only grown since. When I’m not gaming I enjoy ice hockey and training dogs. I’m still trying to get my Elkhound to add to my Gamerscore though, one day this will happen.