Video Games Don’t Need Achievements

“Achievement Unlocked” is a phrase with which gamers have become all too familiar. The first video game achievements date all the way back to the ’80s when some game magazines would give players specific scores to hit in their games. Then, players would take a picture of their score and send it to the game or magazine company, which would, in turn, send the player a special badge or significant award for their achievement. Throughout the ’90s and early 2000s, achievements would occasionally appear in some form or fashion for games, whether in the game itself or from an outside party.

Microsoft didn’t invent the achievement, but it certainly popularized it. When Microsoft introduced the Gamerscore system in 2005, it changed everything. Basically, dozens of Xbox games would have achievements baked in, and when a player unlocked one it would contribute to their Gamerscore. The Gamerscore would be tracked over all the games a player had, and it would allow players to compare their scores amongst themselves. After that, Sony quickly jumped on the bandwagon. When several other studios followed, achievements became all the rage. It was a novel idea, and it definitely added extra optional challenges to games. However, they offered next to nothing in terms of actual content for the game, and frankly, they have long overstayed their welcome.

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For a while, there were some cool, challenging, funny, and interesting achievements to collect in games. Soon after, they became tedious, annoying, and boring. Several fans began to see them as nothing more than an item to check off a list or to be ignored entirely. On the extreme end, players who fancy themselves completionists grew to loathe these achievements. On the development side, many game designers were forced to implement them into their games.

The problem with achievements is that they essentially offer a false reward to the player. By doing an arbitrary or mandatory task in a game, the player gets the equivalent of a pat on the back. Achievements don’t actually affect the game at all. Microsoft briefly experimented with rewarding players with avatar cosmetics for completing certain achievements, but it never stuck. All achievements do is give a player digital bragging rights. They could have been one-off features for the seventh generation of consoles, but they have continued all the way to the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. Instead of iterating and innovating on their application, Sony and Microsoft have basically kept achievements and trophies the same since their introduction.

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The other major problem with achievements is that most games already have a reward system as a part of the game, and they offer far more meaningful and impactful rewards. RPGs like Final Fantasy have loot and level-up systems, which honor players for dungeon crawling and fighting monsters. Online shooters like call of duty and Overwatch have killstreak benefits or ultimate abilities that players can use. Some games even have side challenges, quests, and high scores for players who want a little extra challenge or competition while playing. Most games have a wide variety of rewards that developers can dole out to players for completing different goals. All of these systems offer actual rewards that the player can use in the game.

Achievements and trophies were a cool addition to the Xbox 360 and PS3 when they were first introduced. However, their lack of meaningful impact on games made them quickly forgettable. Now they feel like something included with new consoles because they are expected and not because they actually add anything to the system. They are uninspired and tedious, but companies are still insisting on including them.

Recently, Nintendo and Microsoft have developed rewards programs that give players actual, tangible rewards for completing certain gaming quests. Sony is also launching its own loyalty program. These programs offer real rewards for players to use like coupons, discounts, or actual small merchandise items. It is a small step in the right direction, and it could completely replace achievements someday. In the end, though, the best achievements are the ones players get from the game itself, and nothing will ever top that.

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