Does anyone care about achievements anymore?

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Dan-Pinchbeck-Creative-Director-180x180So here’s a question – does anyone really, actually care about achievements anymore? Maybe once they were a half-decent idea (I’m not going to go more than half though), but now they just feel like a hangover [ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: YOU’VE BEEN DRINKING]. I don’t know many developers who don’t passionately hate them, I’d put money on the number of gamers who hate them far outnumbering those who don’t – and then there’s the whole other third mass of gamers who just don’t care if they are there or not… [ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: THE SILENT MAJORITY] Essentially, for the most part, achievements only exist because developers are forced to include them.

They are largely redundant when a game is well designed – because a well-designed game has a system for rewarding the player for engaging with the game [ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: YOU DID WHAT YOU WERE TOLD] – so adding in additional and usually spurious rewards on top of this is basically pointless. It’s not like Borderlands’ Badass ranks, which are actually tied to play and feed back into the system – that’s smart design. The only function of achievements are to try and engineer a sense of social competitiveness in the public spaces of online stores, a bit like letting shoppers at Tesco’s wear a special hat shaped like broccoli as a reward for vegetable purchases [ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: NICE HAT, SIR], in an effort to make other shoppers also buy broccoli [ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: OUTVEGGING THE COMPETITION]. Whether the broccoli is tasty or not becomes an irrelevance. And that’s the big issue, really.

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It’s a bit like those banner ads popping up in the last two minutes of a TV show, telling you what’s on next [ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: THAT’S THAT RUINED FOR YOU, THEN]. These are placed by people who are riddled with contempt and hate for humanity and television. On what planet would you trash the final moments of an engaging show [ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: WERE YOU ENJOYING THAT?] with a pop-up, if you had even the smallest, vaguest sense that people might actually be immersed in it, enjoying the moment, not wanting to have that shat on by some marketing exec [ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: GETTING DOWN WITH THE BROWN] with no interest in or connection to either product or consumer.

I can’t get away from feeling similarly about achievements. Now, of course, that’s not true for every game [ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: THEY’RE EVERYWHERE]. Some games, some brilliant games, are all about the metagame, the social interplay, the competition about hats [ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: CONCEDING THE POINT]. But not all of them, and forcing achievements on all games is just dumb vandalism and insulting to developers and to gamers [ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: SERIOUSLY TAKING IT SERIOUSLY?].

What’s really telling is when you get devs who’ve managed to smuggle achievements away in really obscure places, just to satisfy the TRCs, TCRs or whatever variation it is [ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: SOCKING IT TO THE MAN]. It’s less the fact that this happens than the fact that publishers actually care so little about it either, that they let it happen – in which case, why continuing ruining the experience for the players who don’t want the damn things in the first place and have no interest in the broccoli hat [ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: WHAT’S YOUR BEEF WITH BROCCOLI, BOYO?]. Enough. Make it opt-in. Give players the choice you’re always banging on about. Otherwise, stop wrecking games with banner ads. Being able to enjoy a game for more than twenty minutes without one of the little bastards wrecking the mood? I’d call that an achievement.

Dan Pinchbeck is the creative director at The Chinese Room, currently working on Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture. His views aren’t necessarily representative of games™