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achievement unlocked

achievement unlocked

the eighty-hour game is a dead end. publishers attempt to justify the prices of their titles with lots of content, and content requires lots of people, and staff size inflates while individual creative control and accountability, conversely, diminishes. and none of this addresses the problem that an eighty-hour game is just an hour’s worth of ideas – if even that (remember, content and ideas are different things) – stretched across a much longer period. an eighty-hour game has seventy-nine hours’ worth of filler. long games waste our time.

the most recent trend in artificially extending the lifetime of a game is the “achievement” (the term with which the concept was popularized – there are others – on the xbox). these are optional, arbitrary goals littered throughout a game in the expectation that players will spend extra time playing just to tick off these boxes on the game’s checklist. it suggests a mentality that views the experience of a game simply as the sum of its parts rather than something holistic – because whatever experience i may be starting to have is interrupted with a message that i’m a quarter-way toward fulfilling my “exchange vacuous glares with one hundred alien lifeforms” quota. but what less to expect from a system that markets a game as containing “80-plus hours of gameplay”?

achievement unlocked is a game the goal of which is just the simple accumulation of these arbitrary goals. there are a hundred. you’ll have unlocked at least two before you even start the game, at which point you’ll unlock four more: one for having started the game, one for having reached the game’s first (and only) screen, one for not having moved yet, and one for having unlocked at least one achievement. the hundred achievments are a combination of the rewarding the obvious (touch five numbers in order), rewarding the arbitrary (touch the developer’s favorite spot), rewarding the investment of time (die on every spike on the screen), and rewarding nothing at all (move left! move right!). all the things that satisfy the compulsive behavior publishers assume we have.

thanks to moogs at selectbutton.


  1. matias wrote:

    This is fantastic!

    12/22/2008 at 4:12 am | permalink
  2. Sergio wrote:

    I got them all. I feel no pride…

    12/22/2008 at 4:52 am | permalink
  3. I was just about to email you about this, I swear. Very much a “saw this and thought of AP” game.

    12/22/2008 at 4:56 am | permalink
  4. “I got them all. I feel no pride…”

    That’s my favorite part of the game. Achievements are just a hollow way of getting people to buy more games. The Achievement as we know it is nothing but a marketing tool.

    12/22/2008 at 1:39 pm | permalink
  5. manguero wrote:

    it brings progress quest to mind, except that it’s a response to achievements rather than mmorpg’s. of course they’re really just different ways of squeezing out more cash.

    12/22/2008 at 2:35 pm | permalink
  6. Zaratustra wrote:

    Achievements are high scores for the 21st century.

    12/22/2008 at 7:55 pm | permalink
  7. Definitely, we’ve swapped one pissing contest for another.

    12/22/2008 at 8:58 pm | permalink
  8. Basking.

    I’m not convinced that achievements are always just bloat, though. That sort of shortchanges developers who are conscious of what achievements are and how they can be used.

    12/24/2008 at 10:40 am | permalink
  9. daphny wrote:


    arguement of the century

    12/25/2008 at 1:25 am | permalink
  10. Eponymouse wrote:

    Achievements are great because they give a little nod to the specificity of the game. You dislike them because you think of them as OCD bait (like collecting all the jellybeans or pogs in a previous generation of platform games, ugh) and I like them because its a chance to give a little boon for a specific way of playing; like mutually exclusive kill-everything and pacifism achievements.

    I want to see that concept taken further. And the annoying message pop-ups removed or integrated in the game somehow. Ignoring the satire completely, this is more amusing than if it were a straight platform game of the same style.

    “That’s my favorite part of the game. Achievements are just a hollow way of getting people to buy more games. The Achievement as we know it is nothing but a marketing tool.”

    “it brings progress quest to mind, except that it’s a response to achievements rather than mmorpg’s. of course they’re really just different ways of squeezing out more cash.”

    Isn’t that really silly? Show me someone who bought a game for the achievements. Better yet, name a game that was marketed for having achievements! The only way they possibly make money from achievements is by giving people a reason to use their silly community sites.

    12/26/2008 at 12:32 pm | permalink
  11. “Isn’t that really silly? Show me someone who bought a game for the achievements.”

    I have known several people that have purchased games just because they were easy to get all the achievement points on (Unfortunately, I can’t show them to you over the internet, lol). There are also services online that offer to increase your Gamerscore, you pay them, they get you achievements.

    Achievements also help in the cross-platform aspect. If someone has a PS3 and an Xbox 360, they will buy the 360 version to get achievement points.

    If you want to see a game marketed for achievements, just go on almost any gaming news site. Microsoft and other publishers usually publish achievement data before the game is even released to get some extra hype out of it. Achievements are indeed a marketing tool. They may not specifically cause you to want to buy a game, but there are many people out there who care about their Gamerscore more than they care about playing games.

    12/26/2008 at 2:00 pm | permalink
  12. Firecracker wrote:

    I’m sort of mixed on achievements.

    On one hand, Anna’s commentary above is pretty compelling, and thinking about Steam achievements (which I personally have the most experience with) I think some are really just fluff, like the achievements that have been rather callously tacked onto the steam version of World of Goo.
    On the other hand, some achievements have definitely enhanced my enjoyment of games, like the camera achievement in Portal, which caused me to explore (enjoyably) a lot more of the game. That said, I think the majority of achievements coming out now probably are crap. A star in Braid for waiting for however many odd hours? Why? It makes more sense to have achievements related to actually doing well at the game, or exploring more, or doing clever things outside the scope of normal gameplay.

    In any case, I think the commentary in the original post is well-thought-out and interesting.

    12/26/2008 at 5:27 pm | permalink
  13. auntie wrote:

    braid’s stars are pretty clearly a parody of achievements – of playing the game like a “gamer.” there are good achievements, i agree – space giraffe uses achievements to teach you to play the game, because each of the achievements requires you to focus on some nuance of the game’s scoring.

    but by and large, and this is a side-effect of the fact that they’ve become obligatory, they’re just bloat, a checklist designed to taunt players into spending more hours with a game. “unlockables” are the same idea.

    12/26/2008 at 7:34 pm | permalink
  14. Katnip wrote:

    I’m an achievement whore and have to get them all. That being said, there are two kinds of achievements in online play that are beneficial to the game as a whole.

    The first is the type of achievement that points out useful but not always obvious things that a player should be doing. I’ve been playing Team Fortress 2 recently so I’ll use that for my examples: There is an achievement for the pyro for lighting 20 other players on fire and then finishing them off with the shotgun, which is a good thing since many pyros forget to ever switch weapons. Another good one is one for the medic for charging up their ubercharge in the prep time before the match begins. I suppose I’d lump the ones that are simply really difficult in here too since they at least keep players on their toes, but perhaps they deserve a category of their own.

    The other type that I like are ones that encourage the exact opposite, that is to say, achievements that force the player to do something silly and sub-optimal, which keeps the game interesting. My example for this would be the pyro achievement for lighting 100 people on fire with the flare gun, which is a mostly useless but highly amusing weapon. The TF2 achievements for doing taunts at certain times would be another funny one.

    Other than that, most of the ones I’ve seen break down as being either a matter of dumb luck, or else being something that the player would be doing anyway except now there’s a counter on it, and it’s that last grindy category that deserves the most ire. Achievements in single player games are a different beast altogether and I’m still making up my mind about those.

    12/27/2008 at 3:31 pm | permalink
  15. daphny wrote:

    donmarco rents games that you can get 1000 points in easy to boost his GAMERSCORE

    12/29/2008 at 1:49 am | permalink
  16. daphny wrote:

    i really just wish that microsoft didnt REQUIRE games to have achievements, becuase instead of people having fun with the achievement system they’re required to have 1000 GAMERPOINTS AWARDED in certain ways, i dunno too many of them feel totally tacked on, but there are some games where its fun to try and get silly achievments, but then again this can get all fucked up with like ONLINE ACHIEVEMENT MEETUPS where people are just playing one certain way to get an achievement
    its just so intrusive on how people play games
    which is okay if they want that but i dont like it messing up my online experiecne becuase i happen to be surrounded by achievement whores
    oh whatever

    the ps3 system is good because they can have as many or as little as they want
    although some games just have a ridiculous amount of trophies

    theres a way to turn off the message that pops up when you get an achievment so you can completely ignore it if you want to.

    12/29/2008 at 10:25 pm | permalink
  17. Da fragt man sich beim Lesen schon, ob man selbst doof ist. Herzlichen Dank für eure Einsichten

    9/6/2010 at 5:44 am | permalink
  18. Hat irgendjemand ne Meinung wie stark das verallgemeinerbar ist?

    9/6/2010 at 5:59 am | permalink
  19. Also ich bin der Meinung dies war nur eine Modeerscheinung

    9/6/2010 at 6:40 am | permalink
  20. Lustig, ich hätte garnicht für möglich gehalten dass dies real auch so klappt ;-)

    9/6/2010 at 7:42 am | permalink

2 trackbacks/pingbacks

  1. Game g = new Game(); » Achievement whores - watch out on Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    [...] auntie pixelante puts it: achievement unlocked is a game the goal of which is just the simple accumulation of these [...]

  2. Bonus Item: Achievement unlocked on Saturday, December 27, 2008 at 11:16 am

    [...] Es ist vielleicht bekannt, daß man bei den Blurst-Spielen nebenbei auch einige Achievements erlangen kann. Der Single-Screen-Flash-Plattformer „Achievement Unlocked“ führt das Meta-Spiel mit den Errungenschaften ad absurdum, indem es für jede denkbare Aktion eines von 100 Achievements vergibt: Spiel geladen – Achievement, mit dem Elefant als Spielfigur in den Tod gesprungen – Achievement, die Wand berührt – Achievement, 10 Sekunden überlebt – Achievement, und so weiter, und so fort. Der Reiz besteht darin, herauszufinden, welche Aktionen man bisher noch nicht ausgeführt hat, beziehungsweise was sich hinter den Namen der Achievements verbirgt. Hört sich eher nach viel Arbeit an, bereitet jedoch erstaunlich viel Spaß und kann einen auch schon einmal ein Stündchen beschäftigen. (via) [...]

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