When the Xbox 360 launched in 2005, one of the most important new features to the console was the achievement system. At first glance, achievements seemed to be another asset that would likely go forgotten by developers—think the AR card reader for the 3DS or the motion controls of the DualShock 3. Quickly though, achievements became one of the talking points for the early 7th gaming generation. Many gamers preferred to buy multi-platform games on the Xbox 360 simply due to the achievements, thus Microsoft had a leg up on the competition for several years until others began to copy their success.
Achievements reward players with points for accomplishing certain tasks in games. For instance, completing a level in a game could give you points, while finishing the title on the hardest difficulty could reward you with even more points. Players can showcase their accomplishments via their Gamertag profiles, letting friends and strangers alike marvel at their success.
Competition is a key part of gaming. Nearly every single game has a competition value to it; even most single player games pit the player against the computer. Overcoming challenges is a major appeal for gamers, and earning high scores is one of the many ways that players can show off that they have indeed triumphed over the hardest of tasks.
Microsoft is far from being the first to provide achievements for gaming. During the late seventies and throughout the eighties, players could send their high scores to companies such as Activision and Atari and in return earn physical patches. These patches could then be stitched onto the gamer’s clothing so they could flaunt their success to the ire of all others; indeed, these patches became the envy of arcade goers.
Numerous games throughout the years have had their own achievement system prior to the Xbox 360. One of the best examples of this is found in the ESPN 2K titles, specifically NFL 2K5. In this sports game, players can earn points for winning games and completing milestones that they can use as currency in the game’s store. In this store, players can unlock some new modes and other additions, but most importantly they can purchase items to outfit their “crib.” The “crib” is a special virtual home, complete with a trophy room, a lounge where music and mini-games can be played, and an area that can be adorned with posters, bobble heads, flags, and other collectibles representing all NFL teams. All items for the crib are bought through the store, thus achievements became a major part of the game. I wanted to outfit my crib to the absolute fullest, and to do so I pushed myself to finish every tasks on offer.
Achievements proved to be so popular for the Xbox 360 that in 2009 Sony began implementing their own form of exhibiting in game success. Dubbed “trophies,” Sony improved upon the achievement system by having four different kinds of trophies to represent the level of challenge needed to obtain them. This made it much easier for others to see completed tasks, as gold trophies always stood out amongst a sea of bronze ones. Plus, by obtaining all trophies in a game, gamers could earn the coveted platinum trophy, a feature that has remained exclusive to the PlayStation brand with multiplatform titles.
For years, I thought that Nintendo should utilize a similar achievement system. They almost did in the form of stamps on the Wii U. For completing certain tasks in some games, players could earn an elusive stamp that they could then use on the console’s social media platform, Miiverse (God I miss Miiverse). Super Mario 3D World implemented this best I think, as each stage had a hidden stamp that could be found, and some could be rewarded for other accomplishments. Players could display their stamp on Miiverse, signifying that they are among the elite few that have conquered the game’s arduous trials.
Today, thousands of players label themselves as “hunters” for these trophies and achievements. These types of gamers push themselves to experience games to their fullest, dominating the hardest challenges and amassing a hoard of points and trophies. For many of these gamers, beating these special tasks are as important to gaming as just about anything else.
For me, these achievement systems has encouraged me to experience portions of a game that I might not otherwise be compelled to do. Prior to the 360, I don’t think I ever struggled through a game on the hardest difficulty before, or spent hours-upon-hours collecting every single meaningless item in the world, but I’ve done this countless times once achievements have been implemented. I can definitively say that they have changed the way I play some games.
Likewise, some achievements have had the opposite effect on me. I’ve become frustrated so many times trying to finish a task that it’s put me off from the game. Often these are challenges that are beyond tedious, and just aren’t any fun at all. I’ve come to the realization that if I’m not having fun, then the reward just isn’t worth it.
How do you feel about trophies and achievements? Are they something that you actively ignore when playing modern games, or do you seek out to complete as many as possible? Have you ever played a game simply because it had easy achievements? Should Nintendo work harder to bring achievements to their games? Do you see achievements/trophies remaining a key part of the Xbox and PlayStation brands moving forward? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below!