Fellow gamers are often telling me about the abusive and often perplexing nature of achievements and trophies. Why do so many people feel the need to boast the biggest Gamerscore online, a virtual number with no practical implication? Many console owners these days are renting games they wouldn’t otherwise touch or don’t even enjoy playing. Purely to keep up with the number attached to the side of their friend’s avatars or profiles.
I can’t say I’ve been caught up in this rat race. I was very late switching my Xbox 360 onto Xbox Live and because of that I never really thought about my achievements, or what they would mean to others. If I unlocked one, it was simply a pleasant surprise. I enjoyed my game library in my own manner, playing them through until boredom set in. Which should be the correct way to play… right? The Playstation 3 is slightly exempt, because it was an update that occurred later on and still isn’t supporting every game release. So I’ll come back to that a little later.
Once I hooked up to the internet, I was instantly hit by how low my number of achievements were in comparison to my friends. Not only that, but the way I was treated online by other gamers definitely differentiated. I noticed that if I had a lower Gamerscore, you seem to receive much more ‘smack talk’ and cocky attitude from other players. Recover a gamertag with a higher ranking and even if you’re new to a title, veterans will treat with you adequate care and respect. Initially I was really disappointed with the community, for example when hopping online in Skate. As soon as I signed into the messenger, I was plagued with requests to watch people’s videos not for their artistic merit, but just so that they could unlock an achievement.
So it begged the question, does the Xbox 360 really need an achievement system? From my perspective it just seemed like an online competition, racing over numbers to see who has these mysterious bragging rights. Once I started collecting my own achievements in the hunt for some online respect, I found that for me they really did have a reason. In the last generation of consoles, most titles had some form of in game checklist. However unless you knew the unlockable or incentives, many people would just leave any extra tasks/missions/requests once the main story mode was over. Sometimes, the extra replay value would be so hidden that only the internet would tell you something was there.
Achievements point gamers in the right direction. They tell you to increase the difficulty, fulfil a requirement you may have not noticed or simply check out some of the new additions. In essence, if I manage to get 1000 out of 1000 achievement points I can safely put the game down, knowing that I’ve acknowledged almost everything the developer wanted me to see. Making sure each player gets the maximum hours out of a title is a true testament to value for money. Of course, all of this could be possible in game, without the use of an achievement system. Yet, I admire it for its simple design and ability to share with others.
This brings me onto the second reason why I think achievements are beneficial. Many games that I try out on Xbox Live Arcade or pick up in bargain bins aren’t going to be played by everyone. Beautiful Katamari and Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2 are pretty niche and I don’t have a problem with that. When I’m looking at gamers I’ve played with and their game list incorporates one of these, a light bulb suddenly pops into my head. I’ve found someone that has similar gaming tastes to me and therefore might be perfect to play with in the future. Not only that, but if they have high achievements for it then they’re probably a genuine fan too. It’s a great ‘tell-tale’ sign to have.
The PS3’s trophy system, excluding the use of a running score has probably got a better deal going. The community doesn’t seem to have fallen into this strange online competitiveness anyway, although I can’t say for definite because I’m not online with a PS3 regularly. Maybe once all the games or at least a majority have trophy support this will change. With Home still in ‘Beta’, perhaps Sony still has an idea of incorporating this further. Or maybe, in the future a Gamerscore will have a practical use too. Instead of Microsoft points, wouldn’t it be great if you could cash in your achievements for Downloadable content? Although not profitable, it would certainly be a great incentive to play through old games.
I’ll leave that idea for another post. People may complain, but at the end of the day no-one is forcing you into the rat race of achievement hunting or feverish Gamerscore boosting. If gamers want to do it, let them. Trophies and achievements do have some valuable uses, which I’ll continue to use to enhance my video games experience. Before I forget, I know I promised a Skate 2 review too. It’s in the works.