March 3, 2012 by nikolozkevkhishvili
In his article “Too Much Success”, Nathaniel Edwards raises an issue of an achievement system in the recent video games. He argues that most of the new games have implemented the new system to keep the gamers entertained and rewarded at all times, but have done so at the cost of the overall quality of the video games.
“Games have found new ways to squeeze in more reward while eliminating as much frustration as possible.”
Edwards has a valid point, which is easy to see if we compare earlier games to the most recent ones. Games like Donkey Kong dominated the gaming culture back in the day, but it was a very different game experience from what the new players are used to. A player had only three tries to progress through the handful of levels and the only implication of success or reward was the number of score earned. The reward, Edwards argues, was not an actual score system, but the feeling of accomplishment that the player received after hundreds of painful attempts to even pass the first level. The games that were made around this early era were punishing in nature and only rewarded the players who tried hardest and never gave up.
The rewarding system has changed since as the games became more sophisticated. Instead of couple of levels and a score screen, now we have character levels, vast worlds and endgame bosses to defeat. Gradually the reward a player would receive got so out of control that in recent games the players are rewarded for anything they do. To further enhance this style of game play, game designers implemented achievement systems that keep track of all the feats that a gamer’s avatar has completed.
The best example for this would be “World of Warcraft”- one of the most successful MMORPG that attracted millions of players all over the world. With the second expansion of “The Burning Crusade” WoW introduced an achievement system that contained total of 736 achievements. These in game feats ranged from killing couple of monsters, exploring the vast world to defeating the hardest end-game bosses on hard modes. The achievements system was so successful that it became one of the core parts of the game. Since every achievement had a point value, players turned this into a competition that in return demanded more hours of game play from the players
The question rises as to how does this achievement system affect the game itself. Separate achievements may seem easy to complete while playing through WoW, but most of them require maximum amount of dedication from the players. Blizzard managed to keep the players interested by adding in game rewards like pets and decorative items to the completed achievement. This way a player sometimes had to dedicate hundreds of hours to complete an achievement. This divided the game in different kinds of gamers: Players who didn’t care about achievement system at all, those who tried little and hardcore perfectionists whose aim was to get every single one of them. It is arguable that this new system turned the game into a mechanical race of points and flashy achievements rather than the epic experience of solely enjoying the diagetic world of Azeroth.
Edwards mentions another important point which touches upon change of difficulty of video games over time in order for them to be accessible by wide range of consumers.
“Games seem to be moving away from punishing bad play to rewarding extraordinary play.”
Even though most of the recent games are not as punishing as the early eighties and nineties games, there are some exceptions that do capture both worlds. A good example for this would be “Starcraft II”. The game has campaign and multiplayer modes that are completely different from each other. During a campaign mode a player can choose between three difficulties and complete the achievements associated with them. Even though the hardest difficulty is pretty punishing, it’s nowhere near the level of Donkey Kong or games of that era. But the level of punishment and reward of extraordinary play is all around the multiplayer mode. The players have to use their skill, knowledge of the game balance and strategic thinking to even be in a good player league. This arena only judges the player by their ability to adjust to the game and win it while playing against another person. What is interesting is that this system also has an achievement system that has numerous rewards. Players who are really good at multiplayer get rewards for extraordinary play both by the system and by the community of the gamers. Starcraft II brings the perfect balance between the two and lets the player feel the extraordinary feeling of self accomplishment when he or she is considered to be part of the pro gamers and at the same time receive fun or special achievement rewards and points in game.
Edwards seems to be leaning completely to the view that makes recent video games and achievement systems to be useless or even overly rewarding. But I think that there are some games that have achieved a nearly perfect balance between the two. Most of the games that are released nowadays with the achievement system do tend to be overly rewarding and too easy to play. On the other hand games like Starcraft II manage to integrate both worlds, keeping the game punishing and completely dependent on an individual player while still keeping hundreds of in game achievements as a bonus.