Achievements: By the Numbers
If your Xbox 360 didn't keep track of your gamerscore, or your PS3 didn't keep track of trophies, would you even care about achievements anymore?
Achievements are an interesting gaming phenomenon.
Prior to the current generation of gaming, gamers still had achievements. Beating a game could be considered an achievement. Whipping your friends in Mario Kart or Street Fighter might also have been an achievement. For you RPG gamers, experiencing the story and becoming immersed in a strange world could be considered an achievement. If you frequented an arcade at any point in your life, having the high score on an arcade machine would surely be worthy of some achievement points.
However, for one reason or another, quantifiable achievements have become this huge thing. Just about every game coming out for the 360 and PS3 has a method of tracking your in-game accomplishments. Even some indie games are adopting achievements. (For the record: I realize that PS3’s are called trophies, but for the sake of this post I’m just going to use the generic term).
Achievements have become so big, that World of Warcraft adopted its own Achievement system in game. The even crazier part is that prior to the Cataclysm expansion, there was someone who had 100% completed the achievements in WoW. In case you don’t know anything about WoW: imagine the negative stereotype surrounding the average WoW gamer. Now multiply that nerdy dedication by about 1000% and you’ll get a ballpark idea of how much dedication this gamer had towards 100% completion of the WoW achievements. At the time, that meant he got 986/986 achievements.
What’s the average amount of achievements in a game nowadays? It has to be significantly below that; assuming we have a 1000-point Xbox title, if all of the achievements were worth 5 points (realistically they’re normally worth 10-20 on average?) that’s 200 achievements. That is a LOT of time spent on getting numbers.
Look at the way these companies do achievements. Xbox 360 has GamerPoints. PS3 has trophies. World of Warcraft has achievement points. What is the common thread between all of them? No, I don’t mean the fact that they all have achievements, that one is too obvious. Give up? If you notice, all three of those systems are easily quantifiable.
Each Xbox account gets a certain number of points for an achievement. Whether that achievement is worth 5, 25 or even 100 gamer points, there is a number associated with a certain accomplishment in the game. When you complete that goal and are rewarded with gamer points, it goes into boosting your overall gamerscore. This number is proudly displayed wherever your Xbox Live profile is: on your Xbox, PC or Windows phone.
For the Playstation 3 system, things work a bit different. When you complete achievements in a game, you are awarded a trophy (bronze, silver, or gold) based on the difficulty or effort the game designers decided that achievement was worth. When you 100% a game, you are granted a Platinum trophy. (Guys I’m new to PS3 gaming, only had mine less than a month, so if I’m wrong forgive me). So while you don’t have a single number that you can boast about over the internet to your friends and random people you “pwn,” there is still a quantifiable number that depicts your achievements. I also believe if you acquire a certain number of trophies, your account “levels up” and the number in the star that is displayed next to your name on your PS3 profile increases to reflect what “level” your account is.
World of Warcraft’s achievements are closer to the Xbox 360’s method than the PS3’s. You are given a certain number of achievement points based on the difficulty of the achievement (or not, since we all know WoW is EZMODE). Like the Xbox 360, the amount of achievement points you have on a character is easily checked. You can inspect other player’s achievements in game as well as on the World of Warcraft Armory site. Once again, the achievements are quantified by numbers: you can boast you have more achievements than another person and have the math to back it up.
Now, let’s take a look at another major platform that has also hopped aboard the achievement train: Steam.
While the Steam Achievements were not embraced initially, they are starting to become more and more common for games released on Steam. I’ve noticed that this is especially true with indie games as well as Valve games. Team Fortress 2 has a ridiculous amount of challenges available for those who consider themselves truly hardcore.
However, if you put Gamerscore, Trophies, Achievement Points and Steam Achievements in a room, which one sticks out like a sore thumb? All methods of achievement recognition have the same goal: to reward the player with quantifiable method of boasting how well they have performed in the game that is easily compared to their friends and family.
No matter which Xbox 360 game you play, you are getting achievement points that work towards boosting a singular, overall score. No matter which PS3 game you play, you earn trophies that add up towards a singular, overall score. No matter which achievements you get in World of Warcraft, they add up to a singular, overall score. No matter which achievements you get in a Steam game, they work towards…wait… they don’t work towards anything like the others do!
With Xbox 360, PS3 and WoW, they make your achievements an easily quantifiable number. They (Xbox, Playstation, and Blizzard) want you to be able to compare yourselves with ease against your friends and other players online. You can boast your GamerScore. You can boast the amount of trophies you have as well as your PSN account’s “level.” You can boast about how many achievement points you have in WoW. Steam, however, doesn’t have a comparable, quantifiable goal that you can boast.
Whenever you complete a Steam achievement, it shows up in your profile that you have completed it, but it doesn’t really give you much to boast about. I mean, what sounds better:
“I just got an achievement worth 10 points in this 360 game! I’m now above 20,000 GamerScore!”
Or: “I just completed achievement 25 of 50 in this Steam game. That means I have 50% of the achievements”
So, which sounds better? Personally I like that my Xbox 360 is keeping track of all of my achievements in games, no matter how big or small, and is pooling them into an easily identifiable number. Steam offers no real measurable way to compare you as a gamer to other players.
If you are an achievement hunter, which is more satisfying to you:
A) Knowing you have completed 100% of the achievements for a game that boosts your GamerScore or PSN Level/trophy count that is easily shared among friends and the internet
B) Knowing you’ve completed a game 100% and all you can say to your friends is “I 100% (enter game here) last night.”
I bet you that nine times out of ten, people are going to want to display their gaming achievements with pride. That is easily done with Xbox 360, PS3 and WoW with a glance. With Steam, it is much more effort to view your friend’s and competitor’s efforts.
So, here is my question to the Xbox 360 / PS3 / World of Warcraft gaming community: would you have any interest at all in achievements if they were not quantified with a number that is easily accessed by your friends and opponents on the internet? Would you be driven to complete achievements if your GamerScore no longer existed, and achievements didn’t earn you gamer points? Would you still strive for PS3 achievements if those trophies were not added to your collection to show off?
I don’t want to leave out the PC gamers that might read this blog, so here is my question for you: if Steam added an Xbox 360/World of Warcraft style point system to Steam Achievements that added up towards a Steam Achievement Points score that was easily accessed and displayed on your profile, would you be more interested in completing achievements in Steam games?
Personally, I really enjoy when my Steam games utilize Games for Windows Live. It is not because the service is stellar (though it has gotten better), but because the achievements I earn in game go towards my Xbox Live account’s overall GamerScore. When I get an achievement in a PC game with Steam, I am basically indifferent because there isn’t a quantifiable number that shows my efforts across all of my Steam games that I can work towards growing. For example: I just got Deus Ex for free thanks to a friend of mine. I want to work towards the Pacifist achievement on Steam, but knowing that my efforts won’t be validated by an overall score is making me want to essentially say “screw it!” and start shooting people up.
Achievements have been a very controversial topic since they were introduced. They drive some people to continue playing a game long after they "beat" it, while others are indifferent towards the whole concept. How do you feel about the above scenarios and achievements in general?