Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
 
Achievement systems

As promised, here are my thoughts on achievement systems, specifically the World of Warcraft one, but most of the comments would apply to features like Warhammer Online's Tome of Knowledge as well. Of course the subject has already been discussed on other blogs, but I'm not trying to simply praise achievements or condemn them as useless, but rather to look at what their function is.

I classify achievements roughly into three categories: The first category is achievements which just pop up while you do what you would have done anyway. For example there is simply no way to maximize your fishing skill in WoW without getting a bunch of "caught so and so many fish" achievements. The second category is about going that extra mile, and for me those are the most fun achievements. If you are an explorer, you probably already visited most of the places of the world map, so why not collect the few remaining ones and get a nice "the explorer" title? Or you're questing in a certain zone anyway, why not make sure you do *all* the quests and get the achievement that you finished that zone? The third category is the extreme one, where you are asked either to do a huge amount of something, or do something in a particular stupid way on purpose. You would need to spend a large amount of time to get 40 reputations to exalted, or to get the loremaster title for doing nearly all the quests in the game with a single character. And many of the heroic dungeon achievements are just silly, like asking you to make your life harder at Kel'thuzad by pulling a bunch of extra undead. In WAR there are a bunch of particularly counterproductive achievements like that, asking you to do various dangerous things while being naked. Of course that can get annoying if one player decides to do battlegrounds naked and by that contributes to the other players losing the battle.

So what could the purpose of all these achievements be? The first category, the automatic achievements, are just a gimmick, the game giving you a pat on the back and telling you "well done", although you didn't do anything special. The second category encourages players to use the content already provided to a greater extent. You're more likely to do something if you have a "shopping list" of things to do, and a title or pet as reward. The third category extends that to the point where the achievement is faking additional content. A heroic fight with the specific purpose of reaching the achievement for it will be playing somewhat differently than the standard best strategy to beat that boss. Thus without adding a new boss, the devs fake a new boss encounter.

Not everyone loves achievement systems. But in the case of WoW I can't really find anything very negative about the system. If you don't like it, you are completely safe if you just ignore it. All the rewards are just fluff, like titles or non-combat pets, there are no achievements where everybody would feel he would have to do those to stay competitive. For those who like achievements a little or a lot, the system provides a guideline, a list of proposals for activities you could do in the game when you have nothing else to do. So to some extent achievement systems are designed to overcome boredom and burn-out. Of course the interest of Blizzard in that is that achievement systems are cheap to implement and if they encourage some players to not quit the game quite as early as they would have otherwise done, the payout can be pretty good.

I like achievement systems with invisible achievements, like the WAR one, a lot less. You end up having to look up how to get achievements on some third-party internet site. But on the other hand the WAR achievement system has a huge advantage over the WoW achievement system in that it was in the game from the start. Adding an achievement system to a 4 year old game has some disadvantages. *I* know that I've done all the dungeons of the old world and the Burning Crusade, or that I raided Molten Core, BWL, ZG, AQ, and several TBC raid dungeons. But WoW didn't remember that. So somebody who killed Ragnaros at level 60 when it was relatively hard does not have the achievement for it, while somebody who does it in a silly raid at level 80 does get the achievement. And I don't know how much of the current instance server load is caused by level 80 players soloing low-level dungeons to rack up achievements that really don't mean anything.

So, in summary, achievements can be fun if you take them as simple proposals for what you could do in the game. They can turn into a grind if you get caught in a "must do them all" mind set. And some achievements that can only be reached in a group have the risk of some player who is trying to get the achievement inconveniencing the other players who just want to do the normal content. Ultimately achievement systems are just a cheap way to simulate additional content. As long as that works for some people and doesn't hurt the others, why not?
Comments:
Agree 100%, this is exactly how I feel about the WoW achievement system

For me, its adding a much needed challange to some of the easier boss encounters in the raids/heroics....
Take for example somthing like Annomalus (spelling ?) in heroic Nexus.....very easy boss to kill normally, but a much harder challenge to kill to get the achievement....

But...for those with perhaps less experience/worse gear/in a bad PUG, there is nothing making you do it that way, just kill the boss normally and get the same loot :)

Its all good as far as I am concerned
 
Gimmicks meant to distract from the lack of new content, though LOTRO's system seems a bit more compelling.
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
I would like to see more Titles and rewards in the WOW achievement system, I think they are a fun way of differentiating your character a little. My wife recently said, why should she bother completing all the quest achievements in Northrend? She won't get any reward, Title or otherwise, she doesn't intend to grind all the Azeroth quests to get the Loremaster Title, so really, what's the point? I can understand that.

You could almost argue that Warhammer has too many titles? But I prefer that, it's fun and it tells you something about a person and their character.
 
The point you make that you do not have to do an achievement when you can kill for example a boss `the normal' way is quite valid. As is the vanity of players that `hunt' achievemnts like crazy, possibly expressing `superiority' through them. Don't get me wrong, I admit I often do it for that reason. Killing Sarth3D will give me a title to show off.

Nonetheless, achievements are indeed a gimick, something extra to get people involved with the game and spent more time/money init. At the end of the day Blizz is offering a product with that aspect included among others. Nobody is forcing anyone to paticipate in that aspect. Its our choice what we do with our in-game time. Nagging though because we do not have the time, the resources or whatever people call `skill' to get those achievements is not Blizzards problem. Its up there for grabs for all.
 
I don't have any problem with the achievement system. Some of them are quite compelling and challenging. I'm just afraid that meaningless achievements are going to be the new hardcore raiding in WoW. Giving the hardcore "something to do" without giving them an equivalent reward for it is not going to appeal to too many people. Achievements don't improve my character. They don't open up new content. They're just something to occupy your time when you're bored.
 
I actually prefer the WAR method of surprising you at times and rewarding you with lore and story.

Having a shopping list of things to do, as in WoW, tends to leave me feeling like I have not really finished what I am doing until I have checked off everything on the list. It feels more like a job or a set of chores, than something fun. I watch guildmates and friends grind away for some achievement or other, and it just looks like another hamster wheel to me. I did AV a million times in the old PvP system, and then a million times again during BC. I have no desire to do it a million more in order to get the silly achievements. That hamster wheel is all but broken for me.

It also taps into the same collectors mentaility that make the ridiculously priced collectible card games such a racket, and helps push certain personnaility types into buying/playing much more than they had intended. One pack turns into 30 packs, and one set of achievements turns into staying up until 2 AM on a worknight. I am not saying this is a drug or anything. I am just pointing out that the gimick is one that takes advantage of certain personality types.

In the WAR system, without a shopping list, I get the fun and a little surprise, but feel no compulsion to track them all down, because there is no "list". I scavanged a body in the water and that gave me a tome unlock. I had no idea that was in there, and I got a little kick out of it. It is nice to have surprises, but I personally don't care for the additional list of "tasks" that the WoW achievement is. In addition, the WAR achievements contain bits of lore and story. That is a reward for me, because I find it interresting and entertaining. I would not find the WAR achievements nearly so compelling if they merely checked off a list. Not all rewards have to be pets, trophies, or titles.
 
One complaint that I have about them is the lack of backflagging that took place when they were implemented. I really feel that more of an effort should have been made to tag instances as completed if you completed a quest that required you to track down and kill the final boss.

Even if they couldn't do that, the lack of planning is very apparent when I get on my warrior. I have a Hand of Ragnaros and the corresponding Feat of Strength for owning the weapon...yet I do not have credit for completing MC. I still had my tier 2 helm in my bank but did not get credit for clearing Onyxia.

I wish that many of the achievments in WoW would be redesigned. I hate that completing all of the event related ones is such a focus for some people as they are only available for a limited time. I greatly dislike that many meta-achievements require you to win a weekly contest (fishing) or obtain a rare drop mount (Wintergrasp).
 
Achievements only purpose is to get you to play a game artificially longer than you normally would have. Look at the achievement system on Xbox Live for a prime example of this.

Pokemon, gotta catch 'em all. I mean, achievements, gotta earn 'em all.
 
Achievements have had an effect on raiding. At least in my 'casual-serious' guild. We completed all the content (no, not S3D) and I was ready to put everything on farm. A good majority of the progression raiders wanted nothing to do with that. They wanted achievements!

So now I am taking the same 25 people from a month ago and killing Patchwerk in 3 minutes, learning a new strat so the 4 horseman die within 15 seconds, zerging through the spider wing, and many others. Other guild members are not getting gear because they aren't there and almost everything is sharded...

- Glucian, Jaedenar
 
There's one "bad" thing about achievement systems in a MMORPG: they are anti-immersive, since they impose highly artificial conditions on gameplay that transcend the game's fiction.

Other than that, I agree that there's no harm in having achievements as a fun gimmick and a shopping list for something-to-do. However, they are not proper substitute for content, and it's a mistake to use them as such.
 
I really liked the idea of achievements at first. I thought of the ZA-bearmount and imagined it would be a good example for an achievement. Same goes for doing a tbc-heroic with less than 5 people or something like that. Basically I wanted it to reward me for playing extraordinary skillful.
Now it is implemented and I have two things to complain:

1. They overdid it.
Seriously, how many achievements are there, like 2000? And most of them are utterly senseless. Catching 50 fish? Does anyone, casual or not, really think that is something great that deserves noticing? Reaching level 10? 20?
These kind of achievements give me the feeling that Blizzard got drunk and tries to paint a skyscraper with a pencil. They simply squeezed every last bit of potential out of their new tool and didn't even notice it wasn't all good stuff coming out.

2. They support bad behavior
There are some achievements that try to encourage you to play better. One of them is the undying/immortal-achievement, which you get for clearing Naxx without dying. Get it and it shows that you were able to play flawless for one evening and maybe you learn to be a better player. These achievements are how all achievements should be imo. But again Blizzard couldn't stop after all the good ideas were out so they added a big bunch of achievements that required you to do something stupid like getting your whole group impaled by a rhino you would have killed off before it could do any harm otherwise. These achievements can only be completed on two ways: Artfully jump through Blizzards burning ring and admit that you are nothing more than a circus animal or messing up royally while still being able to kill the boss and being surprised by the achievement (last one is unlikely).

I guess I feel offended by some achievements because they feel like Blizzard thinks I'm dumb. Do they really think they can trick me into doing a huge load of old lowlevel quests and wasting my time just for some new letters below my charakters name? Do they really think I will ride into the deepest cave in Arathi Highlands to discover this last tiny speckle thats keeping me from getting "The Explorer"? I feel like Blizzard threw some dog-toy near me to get enough time to create real content. But I don't feel like playing with a chewing-bone and I'm angry that Blizzard apparently thinks I'm gullable enough to pull this off.
 
[b]I guess I feel offended by some achievements because they feel like Blizzard thinks I'm dumb. Do they really think they can trick me into doing a huge load of old lowlevel quests and wasting my time just for some new letters below my charakters name? Do they really think I will ride into the deepest cave in Arathi Highlands to discover this last tiny speckle thats keeping me from getting "The Explorer"? I feel like Blizzard threw some dog-toy near me to get enough time to create real content. But I don't feel like playing with a chewing-bone and I'm angry that Blizzard apparently thinks I'm gullable enough to pull this off.[/b]

Well, considering how many people in my guild spend inordinate hours organizing "old world" raids and complaining about having to PVP (some of them hate PVPing) to get achievements, there's no shortage of people gullible enough to do just that. It's just another hamster wheel and it has worked very well for a number of people.
 
I kind of like the achievements, and have done a fair number of them.

Some of them are silly, but some of them do show that you put some effort into what you are doing. Does anyone care that I caught 1000 fish? Probably not...but pair that up with everything else I did for my hard earned "Salty" title, and it's something I'm proud of. I read above me where someone thinks it is silly to "win a tournement that is only once a week", but doesn't that make the achievement of winning mean that much more? It took me months to win the Fishing Extraveganza, back before they even announced the achievement system. Anyone that hasn't put serious effort into that competition doesn't know how difficult winning it actually is or the frustration you feel when you lose by ONE FISH!

We are about 8 of the heoric dungeon achievements short for having done them all, and I can say that I will be proud to have gone through all of them and come out successful. While some people maybe think it's a waste of time because they would rather be raiding, I find them a fun distraction that can be done at my own pace, when I feel like doing them. Sure, very few people will care that when I log in today I will become "Chef" Beruthiel, but I think it will be pretty neat =) I also farmed EVERY companion pet available to me, just so that I had them because being able to pop out a chicken or a whelpling if I felt like it was important to me...but probably a waste of time to someone else.

So regardless of if this is just a chewing bone, or something to expand the game for people, I think it is really a matter of personal preference. I personally find them kind of fun =)
 
Actually Fishing Extraveganza holds a special place on my hate list. I kind of enjoy fishing, but I see it as a quiet, relaxing thing that is better done in the last corner of the world where perhaps nobody has been in a week and nobody will scare the fish away. Compare that with the mad rush and bad behavior that is Fishing Extraveganza and it sounds kind of perverted.
 
I have mixed feelings about the system as well: I'm a major explorer/crafter type so it works very well for me getting a "ding" when I'm doing what I normally do.

But it's also used by my guild to "prove" you've done all the instances - the entry requirement for raiding in my Guild is the Northend Dungeon Master (or whatever it's called) and the "many purples in slots" one. Beyond the annoyance that my guild assumes we'll not pre-raid progress together and putting a cloth purple on my rogue (if it's easier to get or just off spec) it's likely I'll never do them all and never join the Kewl Kids Klub. I think I'm ok with that (usually) but the Achievement System >>is<< being used to "get ahead" in some guilds.
 
First of all, I'm glad to know you're still reading my blog, Tobold :) (the "praise" link).

Second, I think achievements of your type 1 and type 2 are great. They spice things up as you go along, and they add to the lore and history of your character.

The type 3 achievements are a train wreck though, and they turn achievement systems into just another grind. For the ultimate grindy achivement, check out the Legendary Defender of Ascalon achievement in Guild Wars. You won't be disappointed.

-Michael
Muckbeast - Game Design and Online Worlds
http://www.muckbeast.com
 
I think someone mentioned this above but, why must they force me to PVP?

I hate PVP but unless I bite the bullet and do it (badly, I might add) I will never get the holiday titles or the cooking title.

I find this really annoying and I imagine it is annoying to people who enjoy PVP when they lose because of me.

Other then that, I like the achievments.
 
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