With less than a week until Echoes of the Fey: The Fox's Trail hits Steam (August 16, thanks to a quick turnaround), I thought I'd discuss one of the larger steps in preparing a game for Steam: Steam Achievements.
Steam achievements are a funny thing to spend time on, because in a lot of ways they are completely meaningless. They don't give you access to anything. They are easily hack-able. And, unlike Xbox Achievements and PSN trophies, there's no running count across all games to pad out. There is no ultimate objective in getting Steam achievements.
The visual novel is also an unusual genre for achievements. Some people see achievements as a badge of skill and, well, there's really very little pure skill involved with playing a visual novel. Sure, there will be endings that are more difficult to get, but it's just merely a matter of knowing what to do, not executing it.
So why add achievements if they represent so very little, and require (fairly simple, thanks to Game Maker Studio) coding and art? Our answer is twofold. First, people like achievements. Even if they're meaningless, people like seeing them pop up every so often in the corner of the screen. It's fun, even if we all know it doesn't confer any real bragging rights. Ultimately, games are about fun and adding achievements is worth it even if only a handful of our players have more fun because of it. And on console platforms, achievements/trophies are mandatory so people are used to VNs/casual games awarding them for story progression alone.
The second reason is a bit more self-serving. You see, the ratio at which players acquire Steam achievements is publicly available. You can go and look at what percentage of your playerbase has each achievement. This is incredibly useful for a VN developer because it (a) lets you know if there is some part of the story where you lose players' interest (a steep drop off between achievements that always pop when you reach certain milestones) and (b) informs you what choices players are making in the game. Several characters have side quests in Echoes of the Fey: The Fox's Trail and we want to know who has the highest completion rate. There is also at least one big decision late in the game that we definitely want to track, even if it's just out of curiosity. So we put an achievement on it.
This helps us in numerous ways. Since Echoes of the Fey is a series, we can use this information to find out which characters we should bring back/feature more in future episodes. We can see if we should focus more on the depth of the side quests or (if they're generally neglected) we should siphon attention away from side content to lengthen the main story (or make more of it mandatory.) And when it comes to the big choices you make in The Fox's Trail, we can use the statistics to decide what will be the ~canon~ ending. While we definitely intend to feature a save import for Episode 2 (or some way to play with your decisions from The Fox's Trail intact), there will need to be a default ending and we can base this off the numbers we have.
Various factors can throw off these numbers--either people hacking the achievements or bundles adding a bunch of new users that never play (or only leave it running for trading cards)--but the ratios should remain informative. Anyone who is hacking the Steam achievements is probably adding all of them across the board, and people who buy in bundles and never play don't get any achievements at all.
As long as there is nothing prohibitive in your engine, we'd strongly encourage developers to add achievements, if nothing else for their own stat tracking. There are so few ways to get information about how others play your games that it's an entirely worthwhile endeavor (and there are plenty of people who appreciate the achievements, even though on PC they are less meaningful).