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Pros and Cons: Achievement Systems

Posted on July 30, 2013 AT 12:40pm

When the Xbox 360 launched back in 2005, they introduced a feature that would forever change gaming: Achievements. Since then, there have been strong and varying opinions on the implications of this feature. Some companies have gone on to copy the feature, while others have purposely avoided implementing something like it. Valve’s Steam service, while it has an achievement system of its own, has recently implemented a brand new feature that some are saying is the future of gaming achievements. With Trading Cards entering the fray, I wanted to take a second and look at the pros and cons of each strategy that has been tried thus far.

Achievements -

What I’ve always loved about the systems like the 360’s Achievements and PSN’s Trophies, are the things they encourage you to do. Out of trepidation or the want to rush through, sometimes there are features in games that simply get passed by. When you get a score that is tracked across your entire profile attached to doing certain things in those games, suddenly there’s more of an incentive to experience more of the game that was painstakingly crafted by hard-working game designers. For your effort, you get a little boost of confidence, a sense of accomplishment and bragging rights.

This is all well and good, until those achievements are mishandled. Sometimes those extra tasks that earn you achievements weren’t created because they were fun, but to facilitate there being something to grant achievements. This can often lead to tedious and pointless side-objectives being added into a game and for those that get addicted to getting those perfect scores, it can make the process nearly unbearable.

Steam Trading Cards -

There’s been quite a bit of buzz surrounding the trading card system implemented into the Steam ecosystem. On the surface, it’s easy to mistake this process for being identical with achievements, but there are some key differences. First off, the trading cards do not unlock based on specific accomplishments in games, but simply through playtime. As well, since you can’t unlock all the trading cards on your own, it requires social interaction to get a whole set of the cards.

This system is very indicative of the future of gaming platforms as nearly all of them are getting more and more social. What’s nice about this system is that it gives those people that love to collect and opportunity to really get into it and for those that could care less, they can actually sell their cards on the Steam Marketplace for credit towards other games. The system is still relatively fresh though, so we’ll see how it evolves from here.

Fun > Achievements -

Remember when you used to play games to unlock awesome hidden features? With most games offer the content that would be unlocked this way as DLC, this method is closing in on extinction. Nintendo is the only major console developer that has stayed with the opinion that the main reason someone should play a game is that it’s fun and not to make your account number go up. With some really fun games under their belt, they make a good point.

The one problem with this approach is the addictive nature of the other approach. When you have the option of playing a game on a platform that has achievements versus one that doesn’t, it almost seems wasteful to not go for the one that doesn’t have them. The sense of satisfaction when the little ding happens on the console and you see that achievement on the screen is matched by the disappointment of it never happening on the console without it.

Wrapping Up -

There’s no one right way to handle any of these systems, but judging from the new Trading Cards in Steam, it looks like we’re far from being done seeing them evolving. It’s an exciting future and with new consoles on the horizon, we’ve got more to look forward to than ever before.

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