Intangible Rewards

I am somewhat of a completionist when it comes to video games.  Whether it’s due to O.C.D. or wanting to get my money’s worth out of a game, I can’t tell. What I do know is that this compulsive behavior leads me to collecting as many Achievement points and Trophies as I possibly can while playing a game. I will go out of my way to attempt completing all but the most absurdly difficult or time consuming meta-goals in the hopes of getting to that 100% mark or Platinum. So why don’t developers want to give me better carrots to keep playing their games?

Microsoft, Sony, and the fine folks at Valve have all developed interesting proprietary systems that provide secondary “rewards”.  (If you’re noticing my omission of Game Center from that list, it’s because I don’t care about Game Center.)  Each of these systems is meant to compensate the player within the boundaries of its point system for completing tasks of exceptional skill, or performing some difficult, ridiculous, or time consuming action.  My problem stems from the fact that while basically every game on these platforms includes the achievements, developers are rarely taking advantage of their ability to include more tangible rewards for them.

Some developers have taken advantage of this, Twisted Pixel and Valve spring to mind first, by including Avatar awards, themes, and other goodies that are unlocked by completing Achievements in games like Comic Jumper and Left4Dead 2. Final Fantasy XIII unlocked special themes for your PS3 after attaining certain trophies. These are fun rewards that will drive players to spend the extra time garnering the achievement to get them along with the gamerscore.  However, I think things could be taken a step further.  Games like Battlefield:1943 and Section 8: Prejudice on XBLA and PSN held contests or metagames where a new game mode or map was unlocked after the community had played a certain number of matches, or achieved a certain number of kills. What is to stop developers from tying rewards like these to achievement systems? Imagine if you were playing your favorite FPS, and you knew that once a certain number of players received “Trophy X” a new map would unlock. Wouldn’t you want to strive to help unlock it rather than pay for it as DLC? I think more palpable rewards like this would undoubtedly extend the lives of games in a market where so many titles are a blip on the “flavor of the month” radar.  Maybe something like this would drive increased sales if players felt like there was an inherent community goal to strive for, rather than just migrating to the “next new thing”.

On the console side, there seems to be a vaccuum. None of the built-in systems really exist for anything other than useless bragging rights. Microsoft will reward you with a number based on the consecutive years you’ve been paying them for Gold service, but they can’t create some sort of badge or avatar award for surpassing a certain gamerscore? Maybe that would interfere too much with their revenue stream of fake three dollar digital tee shirts.  Sony is the biggest culprit of this in my eyes. They have created a complex system where PSN users attain levels by unlocking trophies. All the value in this cool system they’ve created seems squandered as your PSN level essentially means nothing. There are many ways Sony could remedy this.  Perhaps grant exclusive new themes at certain PSN levels, or allow you to use the icons of your platinum trophies as your PSN Avatar. Anything besides a useless trophy shelf inside the vapid wasteland that is Playstation Home.

I know this probably comes off as me complaining that I just want free stuff from developers or the console makers.  I’ll be the first to admit that free stuff is totally awesome, but it’s more than that.  I genuinely enjoy using the achievement systems to extend the lives of my games.  InFamous and Fallout: New Vegas are good examples of titles I’ve deliberately returned to just to get trophies and achievements, that led me to seeing content I would not have experienced otherwise.  It’s this extended longevity and “carrot on a stick” mechanic that keeps people coming back for more, and I’d like to see it built upon.  Some developers like Treyarch and Blizzard have incorporated fully realized internal achievement systems in their games with unlocks, and I think if more developers and the console makers embraced that mentality for their platform services it could only help make Xbox Live and PSN even better.

About Ben Daniels

Ben Daniels is Community Manager for Splitkick and co-host of the Rocket Jump podcast. He frequently disseminates misinformation.
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