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9:38 AM on 08.04.2010

Just-A-Thought: Achievements Abused.

Bleep bloop. The warm sense of accomplishment runs through the veins and arteries of a gamer. Or that could be adrenaline.

Achievements have become a staple in gaming. They've been here since before the Xbox 360, and they've become another copycat feature the three puppet masters of Consoletopia have implemented. However, there are now major addictions to this simple gaming quirk, sites and forums dedicated to getting every last point. In school playgrounds, bragging rights to games are held in iron fists, and proven with a look on the Xbox website.

The achievaholic inside us all adore that very sound, the one that makes us proud to have spent the afternoon collecting the random items the developers have pushed us to, but are achievements actually being cared for? Since Microsoft implementation, there have been rules around the criteria of achievements to prevent them from being misused. Microsoft published a few guidelines, including;

1. A maximum of 1000G per full Xbox 360 title.
2. A maximum of 50 achievements per full Xbox 360 title.
3. Xbox Live Arcade may have a maximum of 200G.
4. Downloadable DLC may include additional achievements up to 200G.

However, these guidelines have been changed since slightly. Guideline 2 was changed to allow more achievements, most notably in The Orange Box, which has 99 spanning across the 5 games. But when Sony implemented the Trophy system, it only mandated that Trophies were used in future titles, with no Quality Assurance to make sure that they stay usable. This is the reason that many Playstation exclusives can have cluttered Trophy awards. This is besides the point that Trophies are not uniform, Microsoft rightly made them numerical instead of levelled, which creates an easier to see and understand system. The levels used in Trophies really do not work in a comprehensive way, and for casual gamers, this creates a disincentive to use them.

This is going off topic a little bit, since the main point of this entry was to discuss how those medals of valour are being sabotaged by the very people who decide them. My basis is that achievements aren't for the few, they are for everyone, and everyone should be able to have a shot of obtaining them. Yes, there should be difficult ones, but nothing extravagantly stupid.

Picture from MSXbox-World Far Cry 2 Interactive map

1. Collectable items should be limited.

Numb arse is a problem in the game industry, as it isn't for the right reasons. I should be getting it because I can't stand to be away from a game for wanting to know what happens next, or to defeat the next fire fight, or so on. But many game designers have been choosing the Sandbox in a way to develop their games. And to make the player 'fully explore' their little creation they spent so much time, money and effort on, there will be no doubt collectables.
Collectables are the bane of video games, as they are made into the bitches of the developers, being put EVERYWHERE within a game map, with no consideration of player attention or interest. They are abused, uncared for and used for one purpose. To make players roam the map artificially. Not through free will, or interest, or genuine curiosity.
But this is the problem, they don't know when to stop. I can see that you spent a lot of effort on this Sandbox, but if you really want me to explore it, do what Rockstar did in GTA4 where they made a vast city full of nooks and crannies and other wonders that really needed walking around like an actual tourist, rather than making me collect special items. And before you get over-complacent Rockstar, that's where the praise ends.

Collectables in gaming have been abused time and time again. Want to know how bad they have gotten? Let's get statistical:

Brutal Legend: 120 Collectables.
Far Cry 2: 328 Collectables.
GTA4: 350 Collectables
Assassin's Creed: 400 Collectables
Crackdown: 830 Collectables.

As you can see, these have been put into ascending order, Crackdown being the most villainous of the lot. Yes, it could be argued that there is reason and reward in collecting these, but my point is not that collectables are evil. It's that developers insist of putting so many of these in. Collectables should be able to be done through the campaign, not as a second job, to enliven and colour it with reason. A purpose.

Collectables are really artificial too, GTA4 had us crawling around shooting pigeons, this was used in satire by Roosterteeth in one of their comics. There should be some genuine purpose for this, not for the sake of just collecting things. A good example is Fallout 3, which in 'The Pitt' DLC had us collecting steel girders, but for items we actually needed such as guns or weapons for the fighting pit duels we were forced to do by the slavers. We were made in to the slaves, just like the others in the Pitt, and became such an important part of the Role Playing experience, we had a choice to do it, and better ourselves, or not, and to live with the consequences. It was a real decision of how much we were willing to do, even when oppressed.
Collectables gave rewards, but they felt so fake when there was no purpose, the Hidden Orbs in Crackdown gave experience points but it wasn't for any purpose what so ever, just grind.

Call of Duty 4. Developed by Infinity Ward. Published by Activision.

2. Multiplayer Achievements should be limited or removed entirely.

I can already see people disagreeing with this, but there's many reasons to strive for this. One of those reasons is the fact that people cannot afford Xbox Live, or choose not to pay for it, and having achievements in games which people have paid for, played through and cannot play on a online multiplayer is a middle finger to those who cannot play online. And multiplayer shouldn't be a crutch for the developers to lean on, it's more of an added luxury. As Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw of Zero Punctuation fame stated, a game should stand on it's campaign/single player solely, the merits of which achievements should also be dependant on. Multiplayer isn't for everyone, the rule that there is always someone better than you makes achievements that extra bit more difficult. Some achievements are created that require more luck than skill, such as Halo 3 which has the 2 For 1 achievement for killing two player in a Free For All game with a Spartan Laser. If you are on your own, then you are less likely to be near other players to be killed with them.
My other reasoning for multiplayer achievements to be removed is the fact that they are used to fatten up the list, but with little regard for the player. Epic Studios is the main contender for worst Multiplayer achievements of all time award for this:

Seriously 2.0
Kill 100,000 enemies (any mode)

Gamers don't have long attention spans, and it's not a criticism. Games are meant to last around 9 hours, barring Final Fantasy games and MMORPG's, which is adequate time to experience, enjoy and move on to another game. Multiplayer increases replay value somewhat, but there is a limit to how you can expect a player to play one game, and rewarding those who do play for that long isn't helping their social skills.

Call of Duty 4 showed the industry that campaign and multiplayer should be a separate experience, and rightly so. Achievements were saved for the single player aspect, while multiplayer had levels and prestige. Everyone was happy, since the power users still had their status while less heavy users still gained some Gamerscore. Shadowrun and other games (GoW2 included) allowed for Multiplayer to be enjoyed with AI bots, which allowed for achievements to be gained by those without Xbox Live Gold.

3. Don't just focus the achievements on campaign missions.


No, while multiplayer shouldn't be incorporated into achievements, campaign missions shouldn't the sole focus point. Halo 3 has an achievement for every mission, which is perfectly fine, with a few goodies for completion depending on the level of difficulty the game was completed in. However, Halo Wars had an achievement for every mission, then more for completing the mission on the harder difficulty setting. Then another one for completion depending on difficulty, which means that less awards go for actual skill and effort than it does for playing the game. Gamers should be rewarded for playing the game, but utilising skills taught or used in a game is just as important. Easy giveaways seen in Halo 3 ODST, are a negative source of rewarding the player, as it doesn't reward them at all. They are doing what is needed to play. Achievements should be achieved, not given away.

4. Achievements should be available to everyone.

The gaming industry believes that there are different gamers, such as hardcore, casual or whatever. But why should be segregate users into different categories and make games to suit just that? Games aren't for criteria, they're for entertainment and for experience. Yes, new gamers may be put off First Person Shooters, but that doesn't stop them from enjoying them, and achievements shouldn't just be for those who excel at them. Yes, have some way to reward them, even achievements that can be bragged about like the hijack level of Call of Duty 4, but don't create ones that can be only obtained through mass replays or through many hours spent on playing. Achievements are universal, and therefore should be available to everyone.

[Edit: Pictures added on advice of mrandydixon, thanks!]

[Edit 2: Wow, wasn't expecting the debate this has sparked off, but for helpful reasons, Point 4 has been clarified in the comments below. (Tl:dr? Achievements shouldn't be dumbed down, but extravagent achievements that require extraordinary amounts of time, effort or money are the main things that prevent 'everyone' from obtaining. Manly achievements, like 'Bulltrue' in Halo 3 are plausible, but reaching the highest level of Prestige, is not.) Point 2 has had 'Bots/AI' added.]

Well that's all for this week. I'll attempt to post another for next week.

Just A Thought is a ranting/musing article. Comments would be nice, you amazing Destructoid community! Images used in fair use, any grievances can contact me for removal.   read

12:17 PM on 07.28.2009

Just A Thought: In-Game Advertising.

Advertising and gaming go together as well as a lion and gladiators who like to shower in barbecue sauce. Gamers hate it, but advertisers still throw more of these men in there on the promise that it gets better or makes more money.

However, the strategy is all wrong. We don't need brand made products (as per Burger King's Free Xbox Game offer), but how about you make advertising relevant to the game.

Far Cry 2 got me thinking about this. As I was playing through, I came across the usual advertisement boards I paid no attention to, but the real advertisement there was something I was using in-game.

The Jeep Wrangler and the Jeep Liberty. Both in-game vehicles you can use, drive, whatever.

It's obvious advertisement, yes. But because they had implemented into the game, it had a lot more impact on me. The choice was smart, once you get away from the fact that African warlords use Jeep's vehicles to do their despicable business, I could see the idea behind it. Put that vehicle in a dusty, mostly off-road environment to show that the vehicle can cope, and be something to desire in real life.

So I thought I could put out a few more ideas of how you could implement advertising within games so that they have more impact than billboards in Burnout: Paradise.

Obama doesn't hate video games, he stars in them!

1. Make product relative to the game. Or find a game suitable to the product.

OOH! Something to take the cloned kids to police academy in!

This is a no-brainer, or so I thought. You would expect the advertising people to find suitable games to advertise in. Crackdown was a good contender for this. Cars are in the game, therefore advertising cars seems like a good idea right?

Well it would have been if the car was the best way to travel around, but the best way to get round Crackdown was to jump free-runner style all over Pacific City. Therefore rendering cars useless, besides the bad-ass one that the game forces you to get from the Agency garage that transforms Optimus Prime-style into something that Batman would use. So gamers would rather use that over the advertised one. But it was still relevant.

I'm about to open a can of WHOOP-AXE on your ass!

Axe bodyspray and a top-secret stealth agent. Hands up those who can see the connection, 'cause theres nothing manly about pink. And if a stealth agent wore Axe, then his whole cover could be probably blown quite quickly, unless the enemy thinks that someone has added a nice new air freshener to the air conditioner. I couldn't get my head round it, but say if they implemented it into GTA: San Andreas, and it increased the Sexual Appeal bar, then won't that be a better selling point?

2. Implement it into gameplay.

Ok, back to Far Cry 2 for this one. It had a Jeep in. An actual Jeep. If you go down to your local Jeep/Chrysler supplier before it disappears, you could probably pick one up. You could technically test-drive it in game. That is well implemented advertising. However, it could have been done alot better. If they had shoved a gun on it, or done something to give a better incentive, it would have been the most decent car in the game, and therefore, could have been better advertised.

Static billboards can't even get close to that sort of effect.


3. Give an incentive for players to want to use the product in-game.

In GTA IV, there were some clones of (arguably) Ferrari. They drove really fast, had decent handling (again, arguably) and looked gorgeous. Why wouldn't you want one?

Ferrari? No... This? It's An... Ferraro!

While Far Cry made the Jeep nice, but not nice enough. If they had made it the most wanted car in the game, it could have done alot better to grab attention and make the car even more desirable.

4. Don't intrude on the game, try using it to add realism and depth, not obvious impact.

Gamers have not been very positive of advertisements in their games. Some view it as spyware, others as an intrusion into the game that makes no sense.

What about if you advertised to make the game... better? Well then gamers could be more positive. I'm not saying you have to be like Jeep, who kept their presence on the low, but you could be as subtle couldn't you? How about in the next Mirror's Edge game, there's a bottle of Volvic water, which make Faith's vision alot clearer, or allows her to have a faster sprint.

Or what if you could design a safe house in Grand Theft Auto by visiting Ikea. Or In Saints Row you can access a music program like Windows Media, MP3 or iTunes from a computer to download to MP3 Player.

My whole point is that advertising in gaming is so open to possibility and ideas, but in its current state, its aggravating, stingey and static. It needs to move on or be ignored. And hopefully in a way that benifits us gamers, and not advertisers who ruin games. Yes I'm looking at you Pepsi. If I can't throw Pepsi machines at people, then why bother putting it in?

This is besides the debate whether in game advertising is a good or bad thing. In my opinion, if they do the things listen above, I wouldn't be bothered the slightest.

Just A Thought is a monthly article. Comments would be nice you amazing Destructoid Community!   read

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