If I had to choose a single aspect of this generation of consoles that personally defined the past seven years, I'd immediately turn to the Xbox 360's Achievement system. For better and for worse, Achievements have completely dominated my psyche and have fully affected the way that I play games. I feel guilty at times that I can't just enjoy a game until I'm done enjoying it. Instead, I will grind away at the most arduous of tasks, as long as there's an Achievement to be unlocked. On several occasions, the habit has tainted an otherwise positive experience.
It's not my fault that I'm like this. I'm just wired this way. When it comes to videogames, if there are objectives to be completed, I need to complete them. Microsoft catered perfectly to this with the implementation of Achievements upon the Xbox 360's launch in 2005. Rather than set my own constraints as to what construes completion, Achievements feel like a list of endeavors handed down from the developers themselves. It's as if they're saying "this is what you need to do to properly play my game." It's what drove me to attain 100% in Super Meat Boy.
For a while, cumulative Gamerscore held personal importance, as I thought that it was a nice measuring stick with which to compare to other players. However, it didn't take long before I realized that games like Avatar: The Burning Earth broke that metric. My Gamerscore currently sits at over 100,000, but I couldn't really care less about that. Instead, statistics such as 89 games with a full Gamerscore (according to my Xbox), and an Achievement completion rate of 72.7% do a much better job of painting the picture of my relationship to achievements.
I bring all this up not to brag, but to let you know exactly how invested I am. And, if rumors of Microsoft's "rethinking" of next-generation Achievements are to be believed, they threaten to completely reverse all progress that they've made.
According to the rumors that have surfaced, next-generation Xbox Achievements will allow developers to add Achievements without DLC, will be tied into communal events, and will feature cross-title and even cross-platform Achievements. Further, it's being said that at least one broad-scope Achievement falling under the communal event or cross-title/platform categories must be included on every list. If this is true, this will be a disaster.
The reason that the Achievement system currently works is because Microsoft employs a very rigid infrastructure to maintain their integrity. Apart from a few very rare exceptions, games can't ship with more than 50 Achievements and 1000 Gamerscore. Policies are in place to regulate how new Achievements are added. It can be stifling at times, but it's better than the alternative.
Without these restrictions in place, any semblance of credibility that the program has will be endangered. With developers free to add Achievements whenever they want, what's to stop them from making continual minuscule updates in a thinly-veiled attempt to keep their game "relevant"? If there is little-to-no regulation of Achievements, what's to stop companies from making their games worth an astronomical amount of Gamerscore? Admittedly, these are all very rough hypothetical questions at this point, but they're all issues that need to be addressed.
From a completionist's perspective, the most disconcerting of the rumors are the ones related to community events. The very notion of missing out on attaining a full Gamerscore in a game because I didn't play my Xbox at a certain time makes me twitch. Even more agitating is the idea of buying a game several years after release and there being unobtainable Achievements because they needed to be earned at an event sometime around the game's launch.
However, the most egregious offender, and the one that threatens to undermine the sincerity of the current system is the inclusion of cross-title and cross-platform Achievements. Achievements, as they exist now, reward players for accomplishing something. Some may come pretty easy, but at least they're earned by fulfilling criteria in a videogame.
It feels downright dirty for Achievements to be awarded for playing multiple titles in a series, or worse yet, for using multiple Microsoft consoles, devices, websites, or applications. Those aren't Achievements; that's not achieving anything. That's being a corporate puppet. That's essentially seeing how much Gamerscore you can buy. Owning two different games or devices isn't noteworthy. And, the concept of needing to do it to have full Gamerscore on a particular title is enough to make me want to give up on the system altogether.
I've enthusiastically collected Achievements throughout the years because they play perfectly to my mentality as a gamer. I'm sure I've spent hundreds of additional hours on the Xbox 360 that I wouldn't have if they hadn't existed. However, if the rumors regarding next-generation Achievements are true, it very well might turn me off for good. Your move, Microsoft.
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