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!