Xbox 360 Achievements’ Icy Grip Needn’t Get Colder

By  |  Wednesday, October 7, 2009 at 4:27 pm

achievementI can’t recall my reaction when Microsoft introduced Achievements alongside the Xbox 360, but I definitely didn’t expect them to have such a profound impact on the games industry. Now, one game developer says that Achievements, particularly the easy ones, can drive game sales.

Speaking to Official Xbox Magazine, Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford said there’s a subset of gamers who base their purchasing decisions on a game’s Achievement per minute ratio. “He’s playing a lot,” Pitchford said. “So he’s a very frequent customer, and you want to be in that pile. That’s just business.”

Achievements are the new-age embodiment of the high score, rewarding players for their in-game accomplishments with a universal point system. Having a lot of points, or a high Gamerscore, as it’s called,  means you play a lot of games with at least a modicum of skill.

After Microsoft popularized the idea, Sony duplicated it with Playstation 3 trophies, and so did Valve on its Steam PC gaming platform. Entire sites exist for the purpose of documenting achievements, and at least one person is building a reputation for hunting down the most points. There’s a game that mocks the obsession, and heck, at times my inner Atari gamer prods me to play on a harder difficulty, just to get the most points.

I’m skeptical of Pitchford’s claim that Achievement hunters are a lucrative demographic, because they’re probably more inclined to rent a game and mine its points than to buy it outright. But I’m uncomfortable with his suggestion that game designers are “the worst” (emphasis his) at coming up with Achievement criteria — and therefore driving sales. I’m not sure who else he has in mind, but the last thing game design needs is more influence from the business side.

After all, one of my greatest Achievement-related pleasures was playing through Mirror’s Edge without ever shooting an enemy, and I wouldn’t have been compelled to do so without the “Test of Faith” Achievement. I’m guessing the developers were behind that one, as it emphasized the game’s flight-over-fight mechanics. That achievement felt good, and I wouldn’t want it compromised just to pawn off a few more sales on people who care about nothing but easy points.



4 Comments For This Post

  1. Backlin Says:

    I don’t know about you all, but I play a game to play through the story, or levels, or in awe of the graphics. My Gamerscore of 8000 can prove that. I don’t even know how many possible points I could get, but I know it’s possible to get half-again the points that I have.

  2. Seumas Says:

    There are a lot of problems with “achievements” or “meta points” and it’s depressing that all of the platforms are going down that route. Microsoft, Sony, Valve, Blizzard….

    The most obvious is that it’s like paying a kid to get good grades in school. Or more accurately, paying a kid to read comic books. If you like doing something, why do you need some external reinforcement to do it? Isn’t it enough to enjoy playing a game rather than “ooh, I hope I get those 15 points for doing this!”?

    But then there are other problems. Like the deteriorating quality and content of games that use achievements as easy filler. For example, why create more content when you can just throw in 500 flags or orbs that you have to collect “for achievements”? It’s not any real content, but that simple act can extend a five hour $65 game to, say, eight or ten hours.

    And then there’s the “hardcore” element. Why make a game difficult? Just make games extremely easy so that everyone who buys the game can beat it without much trouble. The only effort they have to put in is time. Then add a bunch of stupid achievements that have nothing to do with the actual story or game or gameplay and now you can say it is “for everyone” with “special content for hard core players”.

    I equate it to the way companies have recently been taking the traditional half gallon of ice cream and rather than jacking up the price directly, simply keep the same price and reduce the 64oz to 48oz (a practice happening in MANY grocery products these days).

    It’s cheap, it’s underhanded, and it’s bullshit.

  3. ediedi Says:

    Achievements are completely useless. I don’t need a game to inform me i was awarded 15P for, say, a headshot – the satisfaciton of doint it is enough.

    If those achievements allowed you to access new levels, download new maps, etc., now that would be woth mentioning. Until then.. *yawn

  4. Marc Says:

    I like achievements, they let me compare my progress of a game with my friends, they also encourage gamers to explore every aspect of the game. Take GTA IV for example, it has many, many achievements (additional challenges) that don’t relate to the main story line.

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