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LONG BLOG

Dissenting Opinion: Trophies are great and can be even greater than Achievements

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Recently, Jim Sterling blew a load of text on a rather silly topic, namely how PS3 Trophies are inferior to Xbox 360 Achievements.

Silly topic as it is, Jim makes some good points. However, I argue that PS3 Trophies are not inferior. In fact, they surpass Xbox 360 Achievements in a variety of ways, though of course there is much room for improvement on both fronts.

Full Disclosure:Note that I have far more Trophies than Gamerscore points, relatively speaking. This is because I do not own an Xbox 360 and am thus OMG SUPER BIASED. Any experience I have with Xbox Live is secondhand, and any points I've earned come from Games for Windows Live, whose myriad problems deserve an entire article unto themselves.

As stated by Jim in his piece, the worst problems with Trophies are rooted in issues endemic to the PSN in general. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Jim's distaste is more directed at the Playstation Network than at Trophies themselves. The lack of identity, the cumbersome interface, the awkward communication, all those issues can only be addressed by fixing the PSN, and without doing so Trophies will never reach their full potential.

What I can do, though, is explain why I think that Trophies are as great as Achievements and Gamerscore points, and how they can be even greater in the future:

The spectrum of shininess


By tiering trophies into Platinum/Gold/Silver/Bronze, Sony basically admitted that Bronze trophies were worthless giveaways, reducing the sense of value attached to getting one. Jim's absolutely right on that point. I've got 96 Bronze trophies, and I don't give a rat's ass about any of them. When you think about it, though, that's exactly the point.

In nearly all the games that include them, Trophies and Achievements are thrown around like bead necklaces at mardis gras. Cute satires like Achievement Unlocked and this issue of Video Game Article show that any monkey can start racking up Achievements and Trophies, and degenerates on GameFAQs boards constantly whine that getting them is way too easy. Players are given points for starting up a game, finishing a tutorial level, going through a piss-easy campaign, and all that. Hell, Noby Noby Boy awards Trophies for seeing the loading screen and other seemingly random events.

Tiering trophies might strip the lower-end ones of perceived value, but the act adds perceived value to the higher-end ones! The people who actually care about raising their gamerscores are also likely to care about getting the "best" Trophies! Unless a game is super-duper goddamn f'in hard, Bronzes are treated appropriately, as little more than feel-good tokens, or awards for attendance. But a Gold Trophy, now there's an accomplishment!

Gaining high-value Trophies feels like being recognized for skill. A high point total starts to lose meaning as the numbers climb higher and higher. Having 10,000 Gamerscore points doesn't prove you've mastered 10 full games, but having 10 Platinum trophies does. Platinum Trophies are the equivalent of getting a standing ovation or calls for an encore after a great performance, recognition for being the best of the best.

And furthermore, since Trophies have no numerical value, there's less of a mercenary feeling associated with getting them. When getting Gamerscore points you think "f*ck yeah 20G's to my account baybee", but getting a Trophy is like a nice Australian dude giving you a pat on the back, saying "Hey, you killed 10,000 enemies! Good on ya, mate!" You're more encouraged to play a game your way, rather than in a way that would maximize your numerical rewards. And then maybe, if you feel like it, you can go back to it and see if you can't grab that Platinum.

Many ways to wave it around


When checking out somebody's Achievements on Live, do you ever look at how many Gamerscore points any particular Achievement is worth? For many of you, the answer would probably be "no". You'd check if the other guy actually got the Achievement in question (as you jerks did to poor Jim back during the Halo Wars review dustup), and then look at the overall tally to gauge his E-peen's length. That's it.

There are, however, many ways you can slap someone in the face when you use Trophies. As Jim noted, players can level up their PSN IDs as they get more Trophies. Jim felt it didn't quite equate a Gamerscore. I agree, it doesn't. Saying that I have 106 Trophies on my Level 4 PSN ID (the 3rd-party Trophy counter widget doesn't recognize some of my games) is nowhere near as impressive as bragging about 430 Gamerscore points, even if those 106 Trophies count for much more.

But that's where it gets clever. Even if a high ID level or hefty Trophy counter doesn't quite feel the same as having a billion-point gamerscore, I can belittle complete strangers by calling them out on having no Silver or Gold Trophies, or feel JRPG-good by counting my levels and obsess over the next level-up (I'm 45% to Level 5!). With Trophies, I have more ways to wave my virtual wang around! In a tragically comic way, Sony has actually deepened the discourse regarding one of the most shallow, meaningless facets of contemporary gaming.

Not just length, but (cultural) thickness.


Trophies are deeply ingrained into human culture and the way we award accomplishments outside of gaming. After winning a sporting tournament, a team doesn't point to a screen showing the sum of all the points they scored. Instead, the triumphant athletes hoist a shining trophy above their heads, light gleaming off of its polished surface. And then they beat the losing team to death with it. Or so I heard, I'm not really into sports.

You can't put a point tally up on the mantle for all to see. A picture of yourself holding up a sign with a big number on it only looks good if the number represents how much you won in the lottery. If you have to count points, you're still empty-handed, so to speak.

Different sameness


Both systems are entirely arbitrary, but in my estimation the use of Trophies opens up some interesting possibilities for making Trophy acquisition feel much more worthwhile and rewarding, opportunities that the Achievement system cannot emulate without a major overhaul.

Take for example, Xbox 360 (and Games for Windows Live) titles. Retail titles need to award 1000 gamerscore points and also must conform to other rather odd rules regarding distribution. This leads developers to distribute points more or less evenly, so as not to put too much reward for "small" Achievements. Unfortunately, this reduces the value of "big" Achievements. "Wasteland Survival Guide" is one of the longest, most annoying quest lines in Fallout 3, and yet completing it nets one 20 measly gamerscore points, whereas one is awarded double that amount by simply completing the tutorial. LOL WUT?!

Trophies, as far as I'm aware, are subject to few such rules. PS3 games vary greatly in their Trophy quantities and breakdowns. Resistance 2 awards a total of 39 Trophies, while Killzone 2 has 52 up for grabs. And since there is no specific value assigned to any particular Trophy type outside of Platinums, developers are free to award as many Trophies as they like, and at any perceived value. Bronzes will be the petty giveaways, but Golds are given to true winners, and the Platinums are for the truly elite perfectionists (aka crazy people with too much free time). Clever developers of smaller and downloadable titles might even choose to raise their profile among those crazy people by awarding cool Golds and Silvers for skill.

Also, I like the sound and visual notification of getting a Trophy. It's unobtrusive and doesn't distract you (much) from what you should really care about, the game you're playing. Increasing the level of fanfare surrounding a Trophy award would certainly pander to the more Trophy-minded, but at the same time would annoy the people who hate such things.

A trump in the platform wars


The above reasoning can also be used to differentiate multiplatform games. See one of the greatest games ever, Dynasty Warriors Gundam 2 for proof. Its Xbox 360 version Achievements are as one might expect, with 25G for "normal" deeds and 50G for others, adding up to 1000G. But with the PS3 version's trophy list, we see some interesting choices of award and value that might give insight to what the developers think is important. If you compare the two lists, one sees a variety of awards on the PS3 side that aren't duplicated by the Xbox 360 Achievements, such as awarding Trophies for "Ace Points" or reaching "friendship" level with all the pilots (a monumental task worthy of the Gold).

There are also more curious awards in the PS3 list. Does grabbing a Bronze for seeing the "Love Is The Pulse Of The Stars" cutscene mean that Koei thinks Zeta Gundam is that awesome? After all, you can't net a Bronze for viewing any other character's ending cutscene. There are no gamerscore points awarded for completing the special events designed for the Zaku Tank or Ball, but you can gain Silvers for completing each on the PS3 What gives? The reason for that, I think, is that Omega Force simply ran out of gamerscore points to award. It would be too paltry to award 10G and 5G to players, so they simply cut some Achievements out for the sake of even distribution.

This of course could be fixed by removing the point restrictions from Xbox 360 games, but doing so reduces the value of getting points at all. If one could get, say, 10000G from playing a crappy Xbox 360 game, but only 1000G from playing a great one, gamerscore-obsessed idiots would obviously choose the crappy game, as they certainly do, if the entirety of the GameTrailers commentariat is to be believed.

Of course, PS3 Trophy whores are no different, seeing as a lot of them constantly whine and bitch about Metal Gear Solid 4 or Saints Row 2 not getting Trophies or deciding to pass on Valkyria Chronicles for the same reason. That's not so much of a problem now that Trophies are mandatory, but even today you can still read message board admissions of buying terrible XBLA or PSN games to get Trophies/Points. Sigh.

Home is where the Trophy Room is


Trophies could go much farther than Achievements and gamerscores could ever dream of. What if, as Shamus Young suggested, earning a bunch of great Trophies rewarded you with free crap for your avatar in Playstation Home? Not only would you have a reason to load up Home in the first place, you could literally wear your bragging rights on your sleeve. If the much-touted Trophy Room concept ever materializes in that tortured space, all the better. Everyone needs a bitchin' Helghast mask mounted on the wall of his apartment. The only thing Achievement whores have to look forward to (right now) is a number that goes up. Lame!

Sony has spent an obscene amount of money and time developing Home with little to show for it but simulated blowjobs and some great dance animations. Giving players the opportunity to express their superiority in a tangible way can make a place filled with bleak, soulless avatars (seriously, making one of those things look like you is really f*cking hard) really helps to justify that cost. Neither the Wii nor the Xbox 360 have that right now. No, the Check Mii Out channel doesn't count.

Trophies have great opportunities to be fucking better than Achievements, if only Sony would wake up to the call. Fat chance of that, this is Sony we're talking about. "Unrealized Potential" is the title of the PS3's life story.
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About Josh Tolentinoone of us since 9:23 PM on 02.07.2007

When not posting about Japanese games or Star Trek, Josh serves as Managing Editor for Japanator, Dtoid's sister site for the best in anime, manga, and cool news from Glorious Nippon.

Disclosures:
Crowdfunded games backed:
Republique
Pillars of Eternity
Star Citizen
Xbox LIVE:unangbangkay
PSN ID:unangbangkay
Steam ID:unangbangkay
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Mii code:6258-3610-4242-3684


 

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