Do Xbox 360 achievements spoil the fun?

GDC 2010: Ex-EA Maxis developer Chris Hecker wonders if reward systems are undermining the inherent enjoyment of playing games.

Who was there: Chris Hecker of definition six returned to the Game Developers Conference, the site of his headline-grabbing appraisal of the Wii as two GameCubes duct-taped together, in order to deliver a presentation on whether or not achievements (or trophies and other incentive programs) ruin the joy of playing a game for its own sake. Hecker's currently working on a game called SpyParty but might be better known for his previous work at EA's Maxis studio on Spore.

Chris Hecker

What he talked about: Early on in his talk, the verbose Hecker said that he doesn't actually care about achievements as he plays, but he started considering the long-term effects of reward systems like that because of his 6-year-old daughter. Specifically, he wondered how achievement systems affected people and whether or not extrinsic reward systems like achievements ultimately undermine the desire for people to play games.

After taking detours into psychology, cremation, mathematics, global warming, LOLcats, and brain chemistry, Hecker lamented the limitations of much scientific research, emphasizing that in most fields, it's not precise once applied to the real world. Hecker recapped a number of studies, most of which concluded that when you tell people, "Do this and you'll get that," they wind up disliking "this" and insisting on "that."

The developer likened the back-and-forth studies regarding the issue in peer-reviewed scientific journals to a schoolyard brawl and then searched for common ground. One conclusion he said was largely agreed upon was that tangible, expected rewards contingent on doing something reduces the intrinsic motivation people have to do that thing. He was particularly worried about what that meant for games, considering how easy it is for developers to use those extrinsic rewards.

"Games are the only art form where the opportunity and mechanism for feedback is built into the form itself," Hecker said. He worried that opens the door for people to add extrinsic motivation to their games, even though they don't know exactly what possible harmful effects that could have down the road.

Hecker's "nightmare self-fulfilling scenario" was that extrinsic motivators would ruin the intrinsic motivation to play their games. And with the industry's current "fetish" for metrics, Hecker said developers will wind up being pushed toward designs where extrinsic motivators work well.

While players can turn their achievement notifications off, Hecker said that doesn't prevent them from affecting the game for everyone. He brought up the example of a Gears of War player who opted out of achievement notifications but wound up jumping through hoops to play games online with his friends. Because only ranked servers gave achievements, there weren't enough players on unpopulated unranked matches for him to get a game going. But since he couldn't join up with his friends on the ranked servers, he and his friends had to narrowly tailor their server searches and coordinate between themselves in the hopes of all winding up in the same ranked match at the same time.

Quote: "The industry needs to start studying the long-term impact of achievements on players, or we risk the doomsday scenario."--Chris Hecker, urging developers to be cautious with how they incorporate reward systems.

Takeaway: Although Hecker veered off on frequent tangents before circling back to his main point, the takeaway was unmistakable. He's not yet sure that achievements are ultimately damaging to a player's motivations to game for gaming's sake, but he wants researchers to look into that question specifically, and he doesn't want the industry going too far down a potentially damaging path before a real answer has been reached.

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134 comments
ClanRukai
ClanRukai

Achievements can be addicting and fun, but can ruin the experience of the game if all I think about is going for achievements. Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 had fun achievements, and it was one of the funniest and most frustrating I had to deal in a game when beating the game in expert.

Coronithofcork
Coronithofcork

I personally detest the online achievements. I find them annoying. I like the achievement were you do wacky things in game. Like drowning a Nazi in a toilet. That is satisfactory!

kevin8se7en
kevin8se7en

I think achievements make games more fun. Normally, when i'd finish a game, it would collect dust or i'd trade it in for another one. With achievements, I can look at all the stuff I havent done before, and try and do it. Like when I beat GTA, I hadnt gotten the "Blow up 10 cars in 10 seconds" achievement, so I wanted to do it. I did it, and it was fun to do. It adds a dimension to the game, and elongates the gameplay. Better bang for your buck basically. Although I do dislike the "play XXX online ranked match" ones.

Glade_Gnarr
Glade_Gnarr

It only matters if you're an achievement whore. But who plays ranked matches in gears anyway?

frazzle00
frazzle00

What right does Chris Hecker have to determine how people enjoy their gaming? There are plenty of people who enjoy their achievement points; let them have their fun. For those of you who don't care about these things just ignore them. Seriously Chris Hecker should devote all this effort to making good games, and not spewing rubbish.

Kaunte
Kaunte

The worst thing I can think of is Kane and Lynch. That game had an achievement that required you to play numerous rounds of the multiplayer, and as a result people started coming into games and teamkilling everybody at the start of the round so they could get the achievement faster..... Ruined the whole multiplayer.

Paul2004
Paul2004

I agree with AnelZukic. I dont play for achievements (I dont use Live, so i see little point) however on afew occasions i have had the urge to do something just to get the achievement for it (Such as taking all HVT's alive in Mercs 2, when i killed most before). Some may try to do everything just to get all the achievements but i think they enjoy getting everything and the braggin rights that go with it while others like me just dont really care but like to see what we can do next. Ppl play for enjoyment afterall

thumbsdown01x
thumbsdown01x

Chizaqui, NO, NO NO NO! Snes and Genesis games are MUCH MUCH shorter. The only reason they'd take "weeks" to beat is probably because most of them didn't have a save feature for easy continues. The typical Snes/Genesis game release on Xboxlive arcade, that even has a new "save feature" is shorter than the typical game. Pokemon and Zelda... aren't they JRPGs that are generally long? A typical game from the snes/genesis times are shorter than current games, especially since most of them didn't even have the save feature. Of course, if you want "long" games, there are plenty of tedious JRPGs out there. Also, the reason why some of the games you mentioned are "short" is because of how concerned the developers are worried about "reputation" and always "fresh content." The goal is to make a game as long as possible without repetition. If "length" is what you want, JRPGs will fill your needs, but they have the kind of gameplay people would call "tedious." Big-name games are generally developed in like 3 years. Unless you are speaking of RPGs specifically, SNES and Genesis games would only take longer to beat due to a lack of a "save" feature, and having to start from the very BEGINNING after you lose, or take it off. There are exceptions though

AnelZukic
AnelZukic

a double-edged sword I would say :) I always played for fun and to be honest I never watch at the achievements, but I did once and realized I got 1000/1000 on Fallout 3 so I guess if you play a game for fun, you will be able to the same as if you follow the quests a achievements gives to you :)

Chizaqui
Chizaqui

You know what spoils the fun? It used to take weeks to beat a game back on the NES and SNES. You never talked about re-playability when talking about the original Pokemon games, or the original Zelda. There's one thing that Nintendo can still manage to do-push out games that can't be beat in just one night. The modern age of gaming has led to games that are developed in a year or so, and can be thoroughly beaten in just under a week. The achievement system is one of the only things giving a solo player experience! Think of Fable, after all. It was supposed to be some epic rpg, and the second one was shorter than the first! Every game series I can think of is following this trend. Morrowind was much grander in scale to Oblivion (hell, they couldn't even bother with a quest that fixed up Kvatch... instead it was always burning.) Achievements are what they are, a system to kind of hide the fact that companies are pushing out half-arsed products for $60 a pop-and releasing the other half of the game as after-market addons via the marketplace. Shameful, really.

shkar
shkar

just don't do anything stupid and I will be fine....

quiksurfer
quiksurfer

that sounds quite true but i'm just a casual gamer plus i dont really give a d@mn about achievement cheerssss

steelmouth
steelmouth

@emceelokey right on it never gets old I still cant get used to turning on/off the x360 with the wireless controller

steelmouth
steelmouth

Now who is this guy is he serious? Achievements are the best thing ever to happen to games. Games are mostly good to play only once or twice. Any more replay value after is due to achievements, every attention to detail, weeks maybe months playing on the highest difficult settings, exploring every inch of the map for collectables and my favourite the BRAGGING RIGHTS are all due to achievement. Achievements are the sole reason am still playing some games years later (Gears: Am still trying to kill RAAM on insane and he just won’t die) But off cause some achievements are really bad and not worth it so developers and maybe ms and Sony should monitor their fairness.

Axe_336
Axe_336

Wondernova - I think what he's trying to say is THAT should be what's satisfying. Instead we're breeding a gaming culture where people buy and return crappy games JUST for the achievements (Hang around a game store long enough and you'll hear the stories). Now, granted, it's a good way to check how you stack against someone in something like Halo or Modern Warfare, but don't those games have their own internal ranking systems? And do I really need the system to reward me for taking a certain path in a game like Heavy Rain where failing can be just as interesting as winning? I'm not really against achievements, I just think they don't work for every game. Plus they can sometimes give away plot elements if you scroll the list before beating the game. Like "Ah, the enemies ultimate fortress... So why are there three levels completion achievements beyond it on the list?"

wondernova
wondernova

think bout this for a moment. has anyone ever been playing a game, then got frustratingly stuck on a puzzle, boss, dont know where to go kinda moment in a game? cursing the developers, you want to throw the control pad. but then it clicks. you get past that part of the game. your overcome with an immense feeling of satisfaction. you forget how much you hated the game before that moment. thats why we play games right? i think achievements are the embodiment of that concept, and capture that satisfaction. Chris Hecker, you worked for EA, enough said.

Tseng
Tseng

This really only applies if the gamer cares about the achievements. They would have to research prior to playing the game exactly what they need to do to get all the achievements. Personally, I think most people just play, and if they get achievements , great, and if not, who cares? Secondly, the gamers that actually care about achievements only really go after them on their second or third play through, after they have already experienced the joy of playing a game just for fun. Saying that achievements are potentially damaging to gamers is a bit of a stretch, in my opinion.

HUNTER-VENOM
HUNTER-VENOM

Achievements are fun but flawed if you buy an old game especially multi-player your gonna miss out because people mite not play that game anymore or like Chrome Hounds you cant even play online anymore. The online ones also causes cheaters and booster to mess up games just look what happened when Halo 3 had them people stopped playing matches to get achievements so if you joined a game and it was going on you would have to back out or start killing people and most likely get bad feedback from every person there. It also causes people to focus on there own goals instead of helping there team if playing a team game. So while fun they should stop online ones so everyone has a chance to get them.

HUNTER-VENOM
HUNTER-VENOM

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

RockySquirrel
RockySquirrel

I think Xbox achievements are a load of psychological crap, designed to lure players to "instant gratification" rather than "play for the fun of it". Younglings today have no idea what "playing just for the fun of it" is really like. When reading books or watching movies or playing sports people make choices for simple enjoyment... video gaming used to be the same way. Achievements tarnished WoW totally, as mindless fans worry more about achievement scores (and spending time grumbling when they fail) rather than simply enjoying the MMO setting.

okassar
okassar

You could just ignore achievements if you want...I mean, unless you're a robot you're not going to itch for achievements if they don't give you satisfaction when you get them lol. For some very odd OCD reason achievements make me happy :)

Dmitheon
Dmitheon

If people are playing games just to get achievements and that's what makes them happy, then what's wrong with that? I agree that some times it's annoying that you can invest a significant amount of time in something and have piddly to show for it, achievement-wise, but that's no reason to do away with them. That's just throwing the baby out with the bath-water. One of the good things about achievements though is that they are essentially a way for developers to encourage certain behavior in players. If it wasn't for all those Horde mode achievements in the Gears2 expansions, I wouldn't have made a point of trying some of the other boards many of which felt unwieldy at first but ultimately ended up being a lot of fun. Thanks for that, Epic!

Hydrolix
Hydrolix

I have a love/hate relationship with the achievement system. I like being rewarded for playing a game and sometimes for accomplishing a terrific feat. However, I don't like it when achievements are linked to doing something that is stupid, boring, not fun and something that no one would do if there weren't an achievement for it. Examples would include games like Brutal Legend and Assassin's Creed/II where significant achievements exist for spending hours roaming around looking for objects to collect. Getting out a game guide/map and spending several hours essentially not playing the game but instead collecting pointless items is not fun and it's annoying that I can't get a perfect 1000 GS on a game without doing that. Best example of how something similar worked well was Batman: Arkham Asylum. The Riddler's quest happened right along with the main plot and the game itself helped you put his puzzles together. They enriched the game experience because you found everything along the way instead of having to aimlessly wander and do something that takes you out of the game experience to achieve.

Dan21278
Dan21278

They do because now I find my self not playing for fun but playing to get achievements. I personally think that people who play games to ONLY get the achievements are forgetting about the fun factor that got us all into video games. But they give you a nice sense of accomplishment when you get them. So I really don't know.

megamega777
megamega777

Achievements/Trophies provide not just a challenge, but a social experience too. The new Borderlands DLC for instance, "Kill Crawmax" is hard! You can do it on your own (never seen anyone done it) but bringing in a team to bring him down is more effective (and a social experience is made). And when you get it, it can be shown to all who see it. Then the people who see it will ask that person "how you did it" and then another social experience is made. Now online achievements actually ruin the experience of online play (Or MW2 with challenges.... Nuke Boosters suck....) unless it is a "play for the sake of playing" achievements (Gears of War "seriously" achievement involves some skill to reach). Halo 3 with the "kill 2 people with one laser shot" was mostly staged and ruined the game for the rest of the people who just wanted to play for the win. For long term play, as long as the game is good you will still play it. Sure I got all the Achievements for Mass Effect 2, but I play it due to the how fun it is to play rather than achievements!

shawise
shawise

ahhhhhhh its always something

Ozzie234
Ozzie234

In a way they do, and in a way they don't. Simple as that. I'd still want them in.

Dudeman315
Dudeman315

The only major problem I see with achievements are when developers use them in place of in-game rewards. Loved Mass Effect because getting an achievement gave real in-game rewards. Also multi-player achievements kinda suck and in some cases will cause me not to buy/play a game.

Takeno456
Takeno456

I like the achievement system. For me it adds new elements to the game and makes it fun. I also use it as a record of sorts. When people see my tag and they see how I have worked very hard and earned difficult achievements or have gotten all of the achievements from a hard game it feels rewarding. It shows my dedication to the game or the series.

Get_Shorty
Get_Shorty

That Gears of War example was a bad example -- that was a problem with the game not being able to team up with friends to play "ranked" games which I think more game makers aren't even separating ranked and player matches anymore.

layne_m_s
layne_m_s

I think it adds to the game, weather its the 1st time through or second. It can add hours of more play time and fun to a game you already love.

raahsnavj
raahsnavj

Damage already done. People play to get achievements. You get people running around in CoD knifing people just to get the achievement and your team loses because it is two knifers too many. For me, I will quit playing games because I never feel I can complete them the way the developer wants me to. I feel 1000 GS is 'finished'... but I hate online achievements. As such I can never finish said game, so I never go back to it or sometimes I don't even buy it because of the achievement list. I don't want it laughing at me. At first it would make me feel forced to go buy DLC if I had 1000/1250 (missing expansion), but then I realized achievements are a hoax to steal my money, not provide me with value. Maybe I'm in the minority though and people like to be hoaxed.

bluedeathking
bluedeathking

slammer612 if you actaully think about its a different and more awarding expericene in my opinion cause haveing different skin, ending, weapons ect can change gameplay or give a different view on how the story plays out for example lets take a quick look at a old popular game like resident evil which if i remember right had different 7 ending depending on what you do and different clothing which may give the character a better look then it had if you didn't like the default look and if you beat the game under a certain amount of time you get a weapon. with achievement or trophy its just a point system that has no real effect on the game compare to unlockible item or ending. i just find it more sad when someone play a crappy game just for to boost their achievements and i said i think its a waste never said it was bad. when i play games like killzone 2 or bc2 online with others people i get a more of a kick out of unlocking weapons then get a thing poping up saying it added 100 point to my score or a bronze trophy.

TechnologoDoom
TechnologoDoom

i don't care about achievements and i do feel like it makes the achievement the award rather than the play. if people want achievements, games should include a "scenarios" list where you can "register" in your game to get them - and online definitely shouldn't take achievements into account.

Sins-of-Mosin
Sins-of-Mosin

Makes a lot of games worth playing that otherwise would get little sales and little attention. Who would play another generic FPS if there was no achievements?

Freakshow2112
Freakshow2112

I love achievements. They add extra life to games when you need to go back to get them.

DarkM151
DarkM151

I check de achievements the first time I play a game for curiosity then I play the game my way and if the game was good and deserves more of my time yo play it again y even may try to do some achievements or if I spotted some really stupid and easy like "kill 5 enemies with a kick" i might even do it cos it was a minute

Gadeos
Gadeos

I think some achievements are good for sometimes they get you to do things otherwise you wouldn't imagine yourself doing. But, in general, I try not to pay attention to those that simply don´t add a plus to the game experience

CyleM
CyleM

Yes I kinda think they do. I find myself trying to get as many trophies as I can before advancing in the story. The trophies/achievements are fun to get but also derail the storyline for me.

NoDzombie
NoDzombie

i enjoy achievements/trophies, but they dont mean i change my playstyle in any way, not on my first playthrough of a game anyway one i have finished a game i will then look at them and find out what is left to get and this will often encourage me to go back and play a game a second or maybe even a third time, which is something i may not have done previously, and anything that means i get more life out of my games is a good thing in my opinion

Slammer612
Slammer612

All of you complaining about achievements, who cares if people search out to do them. If you dont like them then thats your preference, maybe they should have a turn off achievement option for all of you that dont like it. Bluedeath unless youve played prior to Atari I am just as old school as you, and it isnt about proving you are better then anyone else or anything like that, but it is something to do to extend the life of the game you are playing. Sure some are long like collection ones, or level every class to max level, but most you just get by naturally playing the game. 2nd how is unlocking differ modes, altern. endings and such any different, games still have all that, and chances are you jump through all the same hoops to get those as you do the achievements. So your really that offended by seeing a trophy pop up, or achievement that you did something.

bluedeathking
bluedeathking

not to try to sound like a a** but i think achievement and trophy are a waste and kind of dumb but might be cause im old fashion when it comes to unlocking stuff. when i see some one go for achievement it only because they are trying to prove that they are a gamer when they might just be a genre whore or a wannabe gamer. stuff that i get excited about unlock by doing certain stuff is stuff like character skin (which are usaully obtain by beating certain difficultly), weapons (usaully collecting certain amount of items), filter, modes, alternet ending, commeritary, and art work. but then again achievement are a game way in showing how dick is bigger http://www.vgcats.com/comics/?strip_id=258

KhanhAgE
KhanhAgE

It still baffles me that there are actual people who won't play a game because it doesn't have "achievements". Crazy.

lamprey263
lamprey263

I enjoy working for achievements, but ultimately how achievements are used are up to the developers. In some games it's fun and actually challenging to earn achievements, in others it's a long, tedious, joyless ambition. The ones I hate most are multiplayer achievements for games nobody wants to play online, I don't even bother with those, but I don't mind them so much for games that are actually fun to play online. In a way I think they can help motivate players to play games beyond how they normally do and in the process find something else in the game they actually like.

silverdoe
silverdoe

there are secret achievements, enough said!

Zanoh
Zanoh

Do they spoil it: No, BUT it depends on who's playing it and for what purpose. That said player affects the rest of the gamers around him/her. Ergo undermining/promoting the fun for everyone.

skunkpants
skunkpants

Do they spoil the fun? NO, they enhance it by giving you a sense of accomplishment and reward when you play the game, and sometimes something to aim for when playing (e.g in multiplayer).

emceelokey
emceelokey

I actually think achievements are one of the best innovations this gen. That and being able to turn off your system with your controller.