How Achievements Can Make a Game Better – or Worse
All gamers are familiar with the concept of achievements. Some gamer communities like True Achievements exist mainly to celebrate them and allow people to compete based on the achievements they have won on their chosen games. However, do achievements really add something to the gaming experience? Sometimes, they can make a game better, adding an extra challenge, but other times they can be used badly and become an annoyance for completionist players who aim to get them but don’t really find the challenges they have to complete to get them fun. How can achievements be used well, or badly, in game design?
1.- Achievements That Enhance the Game
In some games, achievements also come with unlocking something. A very good example of this is the Binding of Isaac. Gaining all of the achievements in this game usually lets you gain access to new things. New items can be added to the roster of things you can encounter in the game, new player characters can become available, even new bosses and monsters can be added to the game when you achieve certain things. Most people playing the game are aiming for the coveted ‘platinum god’ level, which means you have achieved most of the things the game sets out, but there are a lot of rewards along the way. More powerful items are made available, cooler characters can be used, and the difficulty increases, too.
This is a good example of achievements being used in a way that becomes central to the game. You don’t just get a percentage of completion or a badge for your avatar, you get something you can actually enjoy as a benefit within the game. Some of the achievements are ridiculously hard to get – for instance the ones for completing the game without taking any damage or for using characters who are extremely difficult to play as, but the incentives are always there to actually try and get these achievements. Plus, when you do get them, you feel quite proud because they are something very hard to win.
2.- Achievements That Change How You Play
Some games have achievements that make you alter how you play and consider different ways of approaching things. If you have ever played one of the Fallout games from the Bethesda era, you’ll know that there are plenty of stimpaks and you just don’t tend to use food to heal, even though you could. There are achievements, however, for using food to heal a set number of times, and so to earn them, you start to play a bit differently and explore this option the developers gave you, that you probably saw as a bit worthless before. These achievements that drive you towards using the game a little differently can help you get more out of it. When you have finished everything important in a game, they can also give you some new, if slightly artificial, challenges. This can be a good way of implementing achievements as a way of extending the life of the game or drawing attention towards certain features.
3.- Achievements You Just Get for Playing
A less good use of achievements as a game mechanic – though one that is fairly harmless – is when you award an achievement simply for doing something you have to do in the main route through the game anyway. An achievement for passing a major quest that you couldn’t complete the game without feels quite redundant. For those looking to up their Gamerscore or compete, these are the low hanging fruit, because you get them simply for playing the game. Mechanics wise, however, they add no real value. It may have felt like an achievement to finish that long, complicated quest or beat that tough boss, but it was kind of the point of the game, so it seems a bit unnecessary to reward you with an achievement for just doing what you are supposed to to progress in the game.
4.- Achievements That Require You to Do Something Extra
Some badly designed achievements are those that require you to do something you wouldn’t otherwise do. For instance, playing in coop mode, or playing online with other people. This can kind of link up to the achievements designed to encourage you to play differently, but can also end up penalizing some players. Perhaps you don’t have a good internet connection or don’t know anybody else who wants to play the game. In this case you’ll be stuck without those achievements.
This kind of achievement can feel a bit like a marketing ploy. In social games, it is understandable that the developers who often provide the games for free want you to get your friends involved, and you get more out of them if you do. For instance, a game like the one you end up researching on the Brawl Stars wiki is much more fun with friends. However, other games where multiplayer and playing online are optional, such as Borderlands, are better when you can play how you choose and not have to recruit other people or go online to get your achievements.
5.- Achievement Where You Have to Grind
Perhaps the biggest bugbear when it comes to achievements are those where you simply have to grind away doing something not especially fun, interesting or challenging. These tend to feel like a lack of imagination in the game design, that forces you to kill a certain number of a given enemy or do a particular thing a set number of times. While they do add an extra mission to the game, they also aren’t much fun, and while doing them, you often ask yourself why you are engaged in such a boring, repetitive task just for a virtual reward.
Achievements are here to stay, and love them or hate them, they are used as a feature in every modern game. How they are used, however, can make a game either far better or far more frustrating, and this is something designers should keep in mind.