Achievements: Unlocking Negative Gameplay?


Achievements have definitely had a huge impact on the way I play games. A few years ago I played Oblivion well past the point of enjoyment because I knew for a fact that if I just played long enough I could get all of the achievements. It’s still the only game I’ve ever managed to 100%, but there have been several other times I’ve come close. Achievement hunting appeals to the obsessive collector in me, and if I don’t burn out on a game, I’m usually more than willing to spend a few hours after the endgame running around trying to do the oftentimes arbitrary tasks required to make them unlock.

That said, it didn’t surprise me to read designer Keith Burgun’s article about how achievements negatively affect gameplay. Burgun argues that “at their best, [achievements] do nothing at all. At their worst, they influence player behavior.” Now, I’m sure we all have stories of achievement hunters ruining multiplayer games. After all, if there’s an achievement for getting X kills with a knife in multiplayer, the end result is that you’re going to have a bunch of dudes running around trying to stab each other whether or not it actually makes tactical sense. It’s easy to see how achievements could negatively influence player behaviors when it comes to playing with a group of people, but what’s the big deal when it comes to playing solo?

Burgun argues that developers have already put in a huge amount of effort designing and balancing a game, and when achievements are (oftentimes arbitrarily) thrown into the mix, it only serves to direct player behavior in new and unexpected ways. Instead of being guided by the narrative and the gameplay, players are instead focusing on external goals created by the achievements.

I also think that achievements have a bad habit of breaking the fourth wall and killing your concentration. Whenever I get an achievement, I oftentimes end up pausing the game to find out what I did to unlock it. Eddy told me that he usually tries to wait until he’s done with a game to look at the list of achievements so that he won’t be tempted to track down secrets before he finishes. However, restraint isn’t really workable as a universal solution; instead, Burgun proposes what he calls “variants”.

As Burgun defines them, variants are “a new goal that you actively choose before the game begins, and only that single chosen ‘goal’ is active during this session”. It seems like the sort of thing that is already common in certain multiplayer games, but I could also see it making sense to have variants specific to single player games that involve replaying a level under certain conditions that can only be unlocked after you’ve completed the campaign. Diablo 3’s hardcore mode comes to mind.

Personally, I’m not quite as achievement-driven as I used to be. Part of it may be that I’ve played a lot of PS3 games over the past year or so, and trophies have never felt quite as addictive as achievements for whatever reason. However, I think it’s also the case that I no longer have patience for games that overstay their welcome. Padding is padding, even if it involves achievement points. I no longer miss achievements when playing games that don’t have them, so I’m definitely open to other alternatives.

How about you? Do you think achievements negatively affect the way you play games? Is there a better alternative? Let us know in the comments!

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Someday I will die under a pile of books, movies and music. Until then, I'll eke out my time spent in sunny Los Angeles, California by working on the Great American Blog Post.

12 thoughts on “Achievements: Unlocking Negative Gameplay?”

  1. The only achievements I have been driven to do, was when the jak and daxter HD collection came out and that’s only because I have played the games so many times. But besides that I feel like there is sometimes too many achievements, the type of thing in like Bad Company 2 where it was like Kill and win enough rounds to unlock the next equipment seemed to work well but, when it starts having you go out for specific item kill requirements it starts to get to be too much unless its a single player game then Its fine.

  2. Achievements have kind of poisoned my gaming experience. I remember working day in and day out on inFamous 2 just to get the platinum trophy. I made a little mistake on one of my playthroughs and it set me one trophy back. I was so frustrated I quit the game and haven’t touched it since. Even worse was that I had to trudge through the game’s awful user-generated levels just to get some trophies. Those things are terrible.

    The first Borderlands had a fantastic achievement system: The achievements were both in-game and in-interface. When you earn an achievement on Steam, on your Xbox, or n your PS3, you get rewarded with XP in-game. It made some of the things you had to do to get the achievements (Kill X amount of skags, buy X amount of guns) that much more bearable because you were being rewarded in the actual game. Spiderman 2 did the same thing. If you achieved certain milestones, you got XP rewards. I actually 100-percented that game, and I had a blast doing so because I was being rewarded, not notified.

    Metroid Prime 3 was really the first Nintendo game to have some kind of achievement system, and by unlocking achievements, you got access to music and concept art. It was another cool way of getting players to maximize their time on the game.

    I do agree that achievements tend to direct players instead of letting them do their thing, but then again, so do most other elements of games. The real concern lies where the achievement-getting isn’t fun. If I’m running around a battlefield knifing everybody for an achievement and I’m having fun doing it, then there’s no harm done. If I’m playing terrible user-made content for an achievement, then there’s quite a lot of harm done (What was Sucker Punch thinking?).

    Something I wish more developers would do is reward me for getting achievements. As it stands, achievements are little more than a bragging rights. I want an actual reward for the kinds of trials and tribulations I have to undergo to get achievements. It can be as simple as XP or whatever the game’s world uses as currency, or as intricate as cool weapons, skills, clothing, upgrades, anything like that.

    I do think there’s something to be said for wanting to master a game regardless of whether or not you get rewarded for it, but I feel like not actually rewarding your players for their efforts is nothing but wasted potential. I also feel like putting achievements in the wrong place is just as bad. Make the achievement criteria fun yet challenging, not insane and miserable.

  3. Addendum: Achievements are also great ways to get players to play in different ways which they never would have tried otherwise. Game developers need to focus on that aspect as well.

  4. I never really thought too hard about achievements/trophies. Usually when I boot up a PS3 game, I never even really remember that there are trophies because I just want to get in and test the waters of my new game and immerse myself. That being said, the only game I went for attempting completing all the trophies was Assassin’s Creed 2. I worked my way through all of them, up to the last, those damn 100 feathers. I searched and found all of them with help from Achievement Hunter, and when I had gotten them all, I went to the chest, deposited them, and… nothing. The game glitched and no trophy. I had a similar thing to what @trogador had happen to him. I was never so mad in my life. All that work for nothing. That locked trophy still mocks me to this day…

  5. I used to be big into Achievements (I got the one for killing like, 54 something thousand zombies in the original Dead Rising) but I just stopped caring recently for the most part. I had an error in Saint’s Row the Third that prevented me from getting three or four achievements just about half-way into the game. I started replaying but I eventually just gave up.

    Once you get over that initial “romance period” with achievements, they sort of just become a thing that is in the background. Most developers are good these days about spacing the majority of achievements around so you can get them in one playthrough and go back for more if you want. A couple years ago, there were some stand-out examples of how not to do this (multiplayer cheevos, specifically Halo 3’s. Two for One? Jesus).

  6. I absolutely love achievements, for me (if they’re done right) they enhance the game. As long as they’re not multiplayer achievements (seriously, fuck those) and they encourage me to play games in different ways, I’m always up for attempting to 100% games (an experience that always makes me feel accomplished). Dishonored and Hitman: Absolution were both games that I had a blast getting 100% on during the holidays, and I wouldn’t have played or enjoyed those games as much if I hadn’t gone for the achievements (except for the Dishonored achievement that required me to beat the game without using any powers, that took all of the fun out of the game).

  7. Eddy hasn’t commented on this yet, but I wonder if he still has the same obsession with achievements as he did all those years ago.

  8. I know my brief attraction to achievements faded rapidly, after cementing the 360 as my console of choice for the current gen. I do still think there is a place for them, or something similar, in as much as I do appreciate the way they can highlight other styles of play that I may have neglected, or an incomplete exploration of the game world – in other words, when they subtly contribute to a fuller experience of the game.

  9. I kind of wish more games would handle achievements/trophies like Journey does. The game does have trophies, but you aren’t told which ones you got until you finish the game. That way, they don’t distract from the experience of playing. Obviously part of the reason it works so well is that Journey is a fairly short game, but I think The Walking Dead is another good example. It has achievements, but they’re all story progression. Either way, the achievements don’t break in while you’re playing; they only show up at the end of a play session or a chapter.

  10. I’m not big on achievements. I actually forget about them until they pop up in the bottom of the screen. I like ones that are obscure or don’t spoil a part of the game right in the description of what’s required for the achievement. I liked the ones in Portal 2 because they were fun to figure out once you had played through the game already.

  11. I hate multiplayer/online achievements I never try to get them that being said, I have 11 games completed with 100% Achievements. To me achievements add to the value to the games single player. Hey just finished this game ie Mirrors Edge well if you beat the game with out killing a bad guy with a gun you get an achievements, CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!!
    That is how I played I beat the game and then go back to mop up achievements or took a look at the achievements list and go after a specific achievements that looks fun or I know I can get done.
    Then I got Dead Space 2, and I wanted to conduct an experiment. I turned off all notifications while playing and I mean all of them no achievements popping up, no Your FRIEND BOB is online and playing Xgame.
    It was awesome at no point did I fell dragged away from the game by an out side factor, I didn’t care how or what weapons I upgraded just as long as they got the job done. I finished the game with a good amount of achievements finished and am now doing some moping up before the 3rd game is out.
    Trust me find a game you have but never played before play it without notifications and you will see what I mean and after you beat it take a look at the achievements list and then decide if you want to 100% the game. Also everyone should check out Season 2, Ep. 4 – Achievements of Extra Credit on PAtv.

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