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Trophies or Achievements (and Nintendo’s sporadic Stamps) offer a reward system for completing in-game activities. These non-tangible prizes were introduced in full force during the Xbox 360/ PS3 generation. Today, they permeate every platform, from smartphones to Steam, and are an ingrained aspect of gaming culture. All releases are required to contain achievements and they are prominently displayed on profiles. The general consensus is that trophies are a good thing but did gaming habits improve with the satisfaction of defined goals or have players degraded into achievement addicts?
Developers do their best to protect players from story spoilers by hiding trophies assigned to major gameplay moments, but curiosity can distract from what is best. Sometimes while researching a breakdown of achievements in the game, one will accidentally stumble upon a critical story element. It is completely optional to collect (and research) trophies, but people do tend to have a catch em’ all attitude.
Publishers bank on this mentality. A robust achievement list means that players are engaging with their content longer, talking about their product more, sharing it on their playlists and capturing a larger portion of the mind-share. The release of trophy lists is now an integrated part of the marketing campaign to drum up support for upcoming releases.
Trophy list releases can be a research tool to determine how the game will play out. Kill 100 guards through stealth, *ding* gold trophy. This sort of preemptive study helps a user decide if the game is a good fit for them. This can also be a double-edged sword and dissuade some participants from ever picking up the game. If a trophy list rewards a certain style of play, such as only use the wrench, players can feel challenged to tackle a unique and different style. Achievements could hurt someone’s perceptions of their playthrough. If one is going for a specific trophy, no deaths in the castle, *bleep bloop* 50 points, then each defeat becomes that much more painful and punishing.
Completionists have the biggest love/hate relationship with the achievement system. While a standard consumer might go through a game in one playthrough, the collector will complete two, three or even four runs of a game to earn every digital reward. This type of repetition can take a great game and make it mediocre by the end (or a mediocre game into a chore). There are multiple sites which encourage gamers to gather and share the best tips, tricks or glitches to earn every reward. Should this type of activity be encouraged or are those who suffer addicts?
My name is Christopher Peterson, and I’m a trophy whore. Before playing a game I review playstationtrophies.org and determine the optimal playthrough style. I am ashamed to admit to using a rubber band on my controller and leaving the console on overnight to earn bolts, jackpots or whatever is required. There are times when I won’t play a game because the trophy list is too difficult or unobtainable. Rare trophies are a precious thing to be honored. I know when my PSN Profile updates and check my world ranking.
Why would I do all this to myself, you ask politely and slightly nervous, because at the end of the day I still find it enjoyable. I am a completionist and want to see the progress bar fill up to 100%. (Damn you DLC). I enjoy beating a game, then mastering it. The rush of knowing that I finished every possible task that the developers wanted players to experience. I feel a sense of pride and elitism in earning a trophy that has on obtain rate of 0.1%.
The future of trophies, and my desire to collect them, requires good trophy design. There is an increasing tendency of developers to add multiplayer functionality to their games. Much like trophies, this increases the attach time players have with the product. Multiplayer components can be a great alternative to the campaign, but multiplayer trophies can be a disaster. Forced multiplayer is a trophy sin. The lone gamer doesn’t want to join a clan, but he might want to earn trophies. When these two concepts are pitted against each other, the purchase of the game doesn’t always win out. Multiplayer trophies also mean, multiplayer trophy hunters. This individual doesn’t care about their fellow teammates or the game in front of them, just the trophy. What is best for the trophy hunter isn’t always best for the multiplayer experience of others. Multiplayer trophies also suffer from age. When playing a dated release and there isn’t an active community, trophies can become difficult to obtain, or the entire server is shutdown making completion impossible.
Great trophy design will only require one to two completions to finish. Anything more is a grind. For games with choice events, a ‘good‘ and a ‘bad‘ playthrough are acceptable or a game that has a challenging achievement that isn’t meant to be earned on the first attempt, such as use no vending machines in 1999 mode. When trophies are gated through multiple difficulties that force needless playthroughs, there is a collective groan. No one should have to complete a game on Normal, Hard, Veteran……..and Insanity to earn everything.
Earning trophies should enhance the experience, not distract from it. Collect blast shards without a radar in a world that takes hours to comb through, not good. Kill 5,000 enemies, but the campaign only includes 1,000 kills isn’t an ideal situation. Good trophy design will reward players for completing the main story and encourage them to revisit side quests or complete a challenge above the minimum story requirements.
Achievements and Trophies were introduced to reward players for in-game accomplishments; not be a requirement for success. The game should always come first and be the driving reason for playing, never the end result of the trophy. Videogames are fun, creative and probably the best way to spend your freetime. If you are comfortable, like me, with being a trophy addict then admit it.
Take a look at your own habits and make sure that you are hunting trophies (or not) for the right reason. Don’t let your compulsions turn your passion into apathy.
Level Up, Friends!