Achievements – Big Brother Gives You Bragging Rights

Since the release of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, the gaming world has begun to develop standardised methods for identifying just how much truth your video-game exploit bragging holds. For some of us, this has lead to a large amount of ‘fessing up, as our accounts clearly show how far we are now making it into games, and just how deep our exploration of the content is going.

For others, it has opened the door to an addiction that manifests itself in a feverish clamouring for every last gamerpoint, resulting in a collection of merit-badge like icons that stand as testament to the sheer tenacity with which you have attacked a game.

This is how I saw achievements, in either of the above lights, for the last five years. Then I read this article indicating the changes Microsoft were making, and something in my head clicked: achievements are a tracking element. They are observational devices attached to our profiles in recognition of our work, and provide observers with insights. Achievements are a catch-and-release mechanism, not unlike a sub-dermal microchip.

I have one of those, too.

But as far as I was concerned, a system of officially recognising gaming milestones and feats was a great idea. No longer could someone lord their progress over others, without the requisite unlocked icon on their profile to verify the deed. Now was the online arms race, as we all logged in and focused on unusual gameplay styles, or scoured every virtual inch for collectibles and hidden content. We struggled to out-do each other in these various ways, all to be the first to have the academic accomplishment of being able to say “yes, I collected all 100 coffee thermoses hidden in that game”: (I’m not kidding – and I’ve only got 72)

But with the above article came the realisation that the developers themselves are provided data regarding their game’s achievements, and all of a sudden everything clicks in to place.

A map: What better way to determine your audiences level of rapture and dedication, than to insert a string of achievements, each one fired off simply by reaching a certain point in the game’s story. At a glance, these achievements would allow for an indication of where the general population were leaving the game. Are we, the gaming public, seeing your story through?

A difficulty barometer: Trigger each of these by finishing the game on a certain difficulty level, and you are immediately relaying just how hard/easy the journey is. In fact, in many games completing the game on a high difficulty also nets you the achievements for the lower levels – this kind of trifecta would also send the message that a single playthrough might be too easy even when the stakes are high. And if no one is achieving that Nightmare difficulty level achievement…mission maybe not accomplished?

Longevity: Playing a game within an inch of it’s life for the first two weeks is great, but what happens to it after that point? Does it sit on a shelf collecting dust, or does it continue to challenge the gamer through endurance-sapping gameplay extensions, and online battles against other players? An achievement of “play 100 rounds online” is more than just a challenge, it can be a community-builder.

Market research: Ultimately, the combination of achievements on a game will highlight a small amount regarding the future plans for a series or studio. Are they introducing online play for the first time? Expect a handful of online achievements. Do they want you to focus on the story mode of an otherwise multiplayer event? Don’t be surprised by the chapter-like structure, and the “hidden item” achievements.

And at the end of all this, now with the insight that these are not so much medals of my own deeds to be worn proudly, but rather an elaborate way of ticking boxes regarding what I want in a game, there’s the now easily understood, yet horrible truth: The only reason Gears of War keeps including the “Seriously” achievements, is because some sick individuals out there are actually accomplishing them.

(top to bottom: Gears of War, Gears of War 2, and…Gears of War 3. The fourth game will ask you to exterminate everyone on the disc.)

Now THAT is an achievement.

~ by nick on March 27, 2012.

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