Unlocking Achievements: Rewarding Skill With Player Incentives
April 1, 2009 Page 3 of 4
Naughty Dog's Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was among the first PlayStation 3 games to adopt trophies, Sony's incentive system. "When we released the patch [that made Uncharted trophy compatible], it drove people back to the game," recalls Lead Designer Richard Lemarchand.
People, he says, delight in earning trophies. They are a fairly simple idea, but they add an extra, fun flavor to games. They can potentially reward all sorts of play styles, from exploration and speed runs to total mastery. And they are a way to chronicle your accomplishments in the game.
"We had 48 trophies in Uncharted," says Lemarchand. "We saw how much players enjoyed them, and it got us excited about applying ourselves more seriously to the design of our trophy system and trying to find trophies that are unique and really attention-grabbing. That's what we're doing right now [brainstorming trophies for Uncharted 2: Among Thieves]."
Lemarchand worries that the quest for trophies may drive some players into play styles that are not a natural fit for them -- they could end up completing tasks that negatively affect their experience with the game.
On the other hand, he says, it could break habits and preconceptions.
The most compelling trophies are those that are a benchmark of player skill that test their combat or traversing prowess, says Lemarchand. One of his personal favorites was the trophy "Dyno-Might!" that was awarded for killing three enemies with a single grenade.
"You would sometimes get it by accident, but when it gave me the best feeling was when I did it on purpose -- whether by clever evaluation or because the stars aligned."
Sony/Naughty Dog's Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
These displays of skill carry more weight in the public sphere than those that commemorate a player reaching an arbitrary checkpoint, says Lemarchand.
"This whole world of incentives, of public awards for things that players have done in the course of their unique experience of the game, is a jumping off point for a whole new world of game design," says Lemarchand.
"It has to do with games becoming more social through connectivity and games breaking out of the constraints that they have had historically... We are fundamentally social creatures, and fundamentally playful creatures. Most everyone has that urge to be part of a social group -- to be seen in a social group."
Trophies embody that spirit.
If you are under the impression that achievements, trophies and so forth are solely a core gamer pursuit, know now that you are mistaken. Badges are responsible for the compulsive, daily visits to casual game portals like Pogo.com.
There is, however, a difference between the two worlds. Console achievements are generally tied to specific goals (like completing a level or killing a certain number of villains), explains Juan Gril, studio manager at casual game developer Joju Games.
Casual achievements are easier to come by -- say, by playing a game 20 times or by wasting a few hours gaming on a holiday. In comparison, they usually aren't hard to achieve, he adds.
"You have to be clever in how you plan achievements," explains Gril. "The most important thing is you have to be sure that the achievements allow the player to really explore your game." He emphasizes making use of all of the game's components -- distributing them across both single and multiplayer modes.
Your reward system should not rely on points, he says. Rewards should also be visually interesting, so players want to keep them in their collection (if tied to a Pogo-like service). Clever and descriptive names are important too, as they will help generate conversations about the achievements and, in turn, the game.
Another main difference is that casual achievements -- similar to Sony's trophies -- are all about displaying your accomplishments rather than bragging about your overall Gamerscore. This culture is propagated by countless time-exclusive badges. It is not unusual, says Gril, for casual games to release new badges each month.
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