Interesting Write-up on Achievements

Check out Unlocking the Psychology of Achievements, via GameCyte.

I have an in/off relationship with Achievements; I love it when games use Achievements to highlight interesting gameplay native to the game, and I think they’re an interesting tool for creative teams.

But this part depresses me:

Based on personal experience, completionists need goals to achieve and do not enjoy open-ended game experiences.

In a way, it feels like Achievements cater to some inner obsessive-compulsive, rather than encouraging play in what I see as the right spirit. Is the player there to immerse himself in the experience or to carefully set up a situation where he can get three enemies in a straight line and headshot them all with one bullet?

Given the nature of our medium, I suppose both are actually valid in their own way.

16 thoughts on “Interesting Write-up on Achievements

  1. I am also one of those who far prefers (at least in games) to be given a carefully-crafted challenge to complete. I want the designer to set up interesting puzzles for me to solve. I do enjoy sandbox games to an extent, but not nearly as much as I enjoy a good OCD-tickling collect-em-up. Personal flaw – certainly. But it’s a common one, and the bottom line is that I still enjoy it and it’s legal in most states.

  2. I actively try and ignore the achievements whilst playing games on the 360. I realise it’s a hard-line approach but I don’t want to get sucked in by them! I’m certainly not interested in running around trying to find every last coin/bonus that might be dotted about a game. It’s never something that looked to be much fun to me – if I wanted to do that then I may as well just spill a bag of rice across a wooden floor and spend the afternoon picking them back up. Having said that, if I got a cool sew-on patch…

    I have a brother who is horribly completest. Upon finishing Morrowind he decided that we wanted to collect every type of armour in the game and store them in a building. I don’t think he enjoyed it one bit (it took weeks), but once he’d had the idea he had to go with it! I’m just glad he and his wife had a baby before he’s had a chance to play WoW.

  3. Heh, I would do, but he’s bigger than me…and he wears armour.

    Back on topic. What are the achievements like in Braid? I’m not on Live at the moment and am unable to play it, but given what Jonathon Blow has said previously about addictiveness being a slightly unethical measure of a games success, I wondered how he approached the problem.

  4. I liked the Achievements in Braid: None were dedicated to crazy, immersion-breaking actions, but instead they were rewards for completing or unlocking worlds if I remember correctly. In Braid, I loved the mood and the context, I enjoyed half of the puzzles and found many frustrating, and I finished the game to learn the ending of the story. I really cared about Tim because I had an emotional context undertaking all those worlds.

  5. I’m glad to hear that as I’m really looking forward to playing it.

    It sounds (in some respects) a similar experience to playing Okami, which I’m finally working through at the moment. I was scared that Achievements might break the magic of Braid. Okami has a few in game mechanics that are Achievement like but also incredibly rewarding and for me, the meaning and presentation enhance my emotional link with the game. Few things match the sense of inner peace and smugness I get from feeding seed to a small flock of cell-shaded song birds!

  6. Just to chip in on the subject of completionism, personally I think it may be generational. When I started playing games it was easily possible to follow up every lead. In fact it was the best and most rewarding way to play games, especially text adventures. Modern completionists clearly seem dangerously obsessive given the size and complexity of modern game worlds, but when you’re used to holding a large branching narrative structure in your head, full of clues and opportunities, it’s hard to just let some of those twigs go because there isn’t time in the universe to find out what they lead to…

  7. Interesting observation.

    As a player, I want it all. Deep and wide. Highly interactive and beautiful. Production is always something of a nightmare because we want to support more than players will ever see or touch. That’s key to what we do, imo. Because it’s often only when the player *senses* that he’s in an environment where he cannot do everything that the environment becomes interesting to me. The possibility space seems to exceed his ability to know it all; exceeds last year’s degree of responsiveness. I can see that driving some people nuts, especially completionists.

  8. The corollary of my point is that, in a few gaming generations time, nobody will be a completionist, because the illusion that a game world can in any sense be ‘fully’ experienced will never have been encultured in the first place. So don’t despair, you are gradually wiping the completionists out 🙂

    But to be more precise, it seems to me that there are different kinds of completion that presumably appeal to different kinds of personality. For example, there are lots of elements of the GTA games that are clearly aimed at completionists, e.g. reaching 100% completion and collecting all packages or oysters or whatever. But there is also the satisfaction of completing all main and side missions; achieving 100% in all training tests, collecting and exporting all cars, etc. And then there’s the satisfaction of being able to create your own goal such as collecting complete sets of all armour types in Morrowind and storing them on mannequins in a secret basement you’ve built under a house you’ve acquired somehow 🙂
    I guess my point is that the all those kinds of completion ‘obsession’ can co-exist with a vast open-ended game world, as long as the player doesn’t feel like they are missing out. Personally, if I haven’t looked under every rock to find every single widget or amulet or boondoggle, I won’t loose any sleep, but if I know there are *catagorically* different stories and areas and objects I didn’t get to experience, I feel a little let down – a bit like spotting a plot-hole in a movie.

  9. My favorite moments in GTAIV were entirely related to my interactions with the game systems; a series of personalized events that made for drama, driven by how I’d moved through the world and by how the characters had responded.

  10. Pingback: Rules of Achievement : Ghost Razor

  11. While I think the gnome Achievement was cool, it’s not an example of what I meant by highlighting gameplay native to the game. A better example is HL2 rewarding players for figuring out that they can catch and return a live grenade using the gravity gun.

    For what it’s worth, my favorite Achievement ever is probably Bioshock’s Irony Achievement, from my ex-roommate Jordan Thomas’ missions in Bioshock. (From the section of Rapture called Fort Frolic.) After doing Cohen’s bidding, killing and photographing his enemies, it seemed perversely appropriate to photograph Cohen’s corpse. Getting the Irony Achievement felt like the game was acknowledging not just a required mission goal metric or an unrelated, out of context collect-10-because-we-say-you-should activity, but a stylistic action…an action taken as a form of aggressive expression on the part of the player, underpinned by a related emotional context.

  12. I think one of the features of a good versatile game is that you can fit all kinds of sub-goals into it, and perhaps achievements encourage this, by providing examples. Just recently I spent time in force unleashed trying to use stormtroopers as human shields and so never use my lightsabre, as well as trying to hit other people with them! Now that’s just me enjoying myself by mucking about, I don’t care if someone congrats me for it, but someone else might go, “but that’s so inefficient, why would you get a reward for that?”.
    I find the completist attitude quite foreign too, but sometimes game behaviours that vear off normal are compensations for a life that vears the other way, so the completionist may never get to finish stuff properly where they work, etc. It does annoy me sometimes when they pop up on screen, particularly after designers have put such effort into more immersive feedback.

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