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Achievement Pointless?

Why "Achievements" cannot REALLY be "Achievements" as long as Gamerscores exist and the large divide between Trophy Whores and those who ignore.

- -, Blogger

February 16, 2010

14 Min Read

The system is broke. This console generations external reward systems were doomed from day one; broken, flawed, inadequate, ruined, however ya like it. Don’t believe me?  Get comfy, prepare yourself a toasty hot beverage and allow me to elucidate on possible faults and fixes of this entire wreckage of a reward system. If your expecting a “how to” article on good achievement design you’re in the wrong place. I’m strictly arguing that the entire system was flawed from the get go. With that out of the way let’s get started. 

So what went wrong?

You either love or hate them. The core concept of metagame rewards often external/integrated to gameplay offering additional challenge, replayability and gaming social status. (Or at least that’s what I’m settling for the sake of brevity). Sound perfect right? The problem being that concept of “gaming social status” should never have been forced on all users. But to be fair it wasn’t an unjust move to make. The audience of primarily hardcore gamers bridging into this console generation from the last would seem a perfect fit. What better way for this large amount of hardcore gamers to form a sense of competition and community in this new Xbox LIVE era? However no one did quite predict what would become of the gaming audience. There is a large sense of polarisation on the concept of achievements. Some religiously gather these rewards, others largely ignore it as unnecessary. But what is the possible cause of this polarisation?




I wonder....

  So what could be the cause of polarisation?

As I said, you either love them or you hate them. But what is the reason for this polarisation? Some might attribute the cause of polarisation due to inconsistent achievements, enforcing unnatural playstyles, meaningless fetch quests and other failings in comparison to games with thoughtful and well balanced meta-goals. Truthfully I feel it has nothing to do with bad rewards for the actual cause of polarisation. Even if every game had perfectly balanced and fully realised achievements I feel that many would still ignore it for another reason altogether. External validation of our accomplishments with the subtle chiming salute of our efforts is satisfying to say the least. There exists another issue that is never addressed. The problem lies with the act of measuring our gaming ability, creating an unnecessary competition for many players.  The trouble lies in how the current reward system presents this aspect of our gaming worth, the gamer social status known as “Gamerscores”.

Xbox’s Gamerscores and Sony’s Trophy levels are the cause of the polarisation, not the act of providing rewards themselves. Now rather than playing games for gaming sake these hardcore enthusiasts compete in an external meta-game more often more serious than the games themselves. However we are ignoring a huge amount of players only considering the concept of Gamerscores with hardcore players. The amount of interest varies by player. Most players will likely fall into one of the groups below.

This is what I like to call “Murphy’s Hierarchy of Noobs”…




(Loosely based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, real loose)


Simply the higher the tier you are, the more devoted you are to collecting achievements. While I’m unable to say what came first; “the achievement whore or the achievement?” Was this system built for these types of players or was it that because of achievements these players came to be? Regardless external emphasis is placed upon higher tiers. No external validation from Sony or Microsoft is geared towards the lower tiers.

This is the cause of friction within the gaming community. Not everyone is playing to raise their gamerscore to the max. This reward system as it stands only serves a very small niche among gamers; it blatantly ignores many players’ personal gaming values.

So what are these personal gaming values?

Point in case being that players have their own personal values when it comes to playing games. Being outright deemed a “lesser player” by Sony and Microsoft due to a lack of time, money or effort causes this friction within the community. All players have their own personal values related to playing games. These “gaming morals” are in essence what we find valuable to us in our games. The concurrent reward system is incredibly conflicted due to primarily catering to a hardcore audience- whom themselves have different gaming morals from one another.

Let us revisit the hierarchy again but in context to players gaming morals. So, where would you fall onto in here?


  • Whores play bad games for easy rewards. Fixed upon collecting the highest gamerscore. These gamers find value in their ability to collect, grind, specialist knowledge and tolerance.

  • These purists display their gaming dominance by mastering games that they feel are worthy of their time and view “achievement whores” who play easy games as cheating the system and dishonourable. Consider their path in the true spirit of gaming.

  • 100% complete certain games. Either games they love or with realised achievements within the game. These players gaming morals accept games with balanced and fair achievements or are willing to 100%  games they already have a natural passion for to extend playtime and challenge. Gamerscore doesn’t really exist outside of the games achievement points. i.e. The focus is collecting all 1000 points in your favourite game, not collecting 1000 points for the external metagame – Your Gamerscore.

  • Choose personal achievements that interest them or sound enjoyable. These players acknowledge certain achievements as fun or balanced however do not wish or feel it unnecessary to display gaming dominance by completing the myriad of tasks to 100% to validate this.

  • Aware of this external reward system but deemed it unnecessary and ignore it. These players feel the concept of external meta-awards redundant to the game itself. Either driven to this stance due to inconsistent unfair rewards or naturally against as principle. 

As you can see a lot of gamers are being ignored and so Gamerscores have little purpose to them. Why you cry? Simply it’s hard to have social value without external validation.

External Validation and the System

The act of downright displaying our gaming worth in some kind of external RPG levelling system opposes a vast majority of players gaming morals. It only really favours the top two on the list; Achievement whores and the Purists. However it even fails at that due to the great divide within their gaming morals. Achievement whores want the greatest number while Purists want the rewards to be a reflection on what they consider worthy for such an investment. That means no Hannah Montana or Avatar hiding within their achievement list. Each tier naturally only tends to concern themselves with those on the same tier and tends to vehemently oppose the other tiers morals as worthless.

Sony and Microsoft only provide external validation for these conflicted two, as if promoting this is what it means to be a “gamer” (All right, that might have been a bit of a cheap shot). So reasonably the rest of the tiers are largely being forced to ignore this system of “gaming social status (aka gamerscore)” due to their gaming values and therefore achievements. That is not to say that players are not interested in rewards! Current reward systems have accidently valued lower tiers play styles as irrelevant. Many players casually participate in rewards that interest them, however without validation of these achievements beyond friend circles and small internet communities players tend to ignore or disregard the system as somewhat meaningless in return.

Polarisation, gaming values and external validation all been considered. However there is one huge grey area which I have stepped toed around until this point. What really is a Gamerscore?




 You can guess that I'm not the best with Maths...


Gamerscores and Achievements – the great difference

To bring back my quick and dirty summary of an achievement “rewards often external/integrated to gameplay offering additional challenge, replayability and gaming social status.” It has a purpose.  But what is the purpose of the  Gamerscore? Is it supposed to display my skill? Does it want to display my gaming habits? How about representing what I have accomplished? For that matter within the gaming community what the heck is a respectable gamerscore? Ugh...

It’s fails to represent ANY these things adequately…

It would seem most gamers accept that these mean absolutely nothing. They have no function. Most gamers  agree that Gamerscores means nothing to your gamer worth. To quote “ It's like deciding who's the better driver by comparing the mileage on your car.” It lacks purpose. Just a worthless counter that encourages players to get the highest amount possible. To present another poor paradigm it’s like wanting a pleasurable meal so going to a restaurant. You know what you enjoy and consider ordering your favourite dish. Rather than being the choice gourmet that you are the restaurant owner comes over and suggests the special service for the day. Before you know it he has baited you into the rowdy unruly hotdog eating contest in the corner. It’s no longer about the meal. It’s a competition. Even if that wasn’t bad enough now imagine returning the next day, sick to the stomach and wanting a conventional meal. Ordering your favourite dish and enjoying it most thoroughly until the waiter brings the check and you find you have only unlocked 280 out of a possible 1000 points.

There seems to be paradoxical problem with Gamerscores. Gamerscores are supposed to represent achievements, they fail this by reducing them to just a number. Achievements are now intrinsically linked with Gamerscores. For every additional number earned it devalues every individual achievement. They are no longer distinct in this system. Players that want to distance themselves from Gamerscores in turn distance the bonded concept of achievements. What a mess…

Is there any hope of this current system at all? And what can replace it?

The problem with the level up score concept is that rewards lose personal value when judged externally with values not the same as our own. We all don’t want to just obtain the biggest score. Sure I can pick my own rewards and disregard the level system but the system itself now loses value. So here is my suggestion on how to create a reward system that reflects ALL gamers’ values. But how can that be done you ask? Simple, let the gamer represent their own values!

The best way to let all players have personal value in a reward system is to allow all players to personally give values to the rewards. The implementation of customisable profiles would immediately resolve this whole kerfuffle.  Why not use existing concepts to build a simple, customisable yet social aspect? Well let’s see… how about Facebook and LittleBigPlanet? (In concept, keep it incredible simple. Were only displaying achievements here! )

And why would this work? Because each tier on the “Hierarchy of Noobs” can reflect their gaming morals! Enjoy being the trophy whore? Then simply display ALL your Platinum Trophies or Master Achievements (100% completion) and not to forget your treasured Gamerscores (just make it OPTIONAL to display, no need to exclude this tier at the expense the others). And for you purists? Assemble your proudest Platinum Trophies and Master Achievements and so on and so forth for each respective tier.

This system would be closer to the concept of badges, which I suppose is what achievements really are - rewards for performing certain goals and conditions. Why not be able to wear and them as badges? Badges suggest playing styles, gaming views, unique accomplishments, social status, identification, authority (only authority in certain gaming circles). Much more than could be expressed via a single number; this concept is more of a realised Achievement display system. As it stands Gamerscores make it unnecessarily difficult to wade the depths of others profiles for the chance to see their special achievements (even then they can’t place any personal value on them unless they expressly tell you).  In fact a badge like system would remove some of the social stigmata associated with bad achievements, since only existing as a reward. Not an external competition component.


But enough of this, lets conclude! The current system doesn’t measure up because for many it doesn’t really measure anything. At best it displays how long one has been gaming or how frequent. It really doesn’t display anything of our gaming habits, choices or morals. The easiest way to get players interested in these achievements is to make them personal. To make them personal is to simply allow the player to personally present them.


Oh hey? Your still here! What a wonderful reader you are! Allow me to give you a gift!




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