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The Cake Is Not a Lie: How to Design Effective Achievements
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The Cake Is Not a Lie: How to Design Effective Achievements

April 27, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Boring vs. Interesting Tasks

Achievements are earned for the completion of a task or series of tasks. These required actions will fall on a spectrum ranging from boring to exciting from the player's perspective. If a task is boring the reward structure associated with it has to be different from tasks that are inherently interesting to the player.

Boring tasks (such as trade skills in MMOs) can be paired with extrinsic motivators, like achievements, in order for players to engage in them. Because players are not inclined to do these tasks on their own, intrinsic motivation is unaffected by the use of rewards as an incentive.

There are two common strategies used to motivate people to engage in dull task. The first strategy is to make the player aware of the inherent value of the task through the wording of the achievement.

An example of this would be the "Lifesaver" achievement in Deadliest Catch: Sea of Chaos, which is given for rescuing a crewmember. The use of the term "Lifesaver" implies that the task is important because you are helping others.

The second strategy is to add additional rules or fantasy to the task itself, which is what all achievements do at their most basic level.

Interesting tasks which the player would engage in without any form of additional motivation do not need to be reinforced with rewards. Players will engage in these tasks without any coaxing, so achievements (especially those that are completion achievements) should be used sparingly.

Instead of trying to create artificial interest in a task the achievements should be attentional, in that they focus the player's attention on important lessons or strategies for the task. This could improve player performance by scaffolding "hints" about what the most effective strategy is.

A good example of this would be the achievement "The Flying Heal Bus" in StarCraft II, which leads players to utilize a specific unit more effectively.

Best practice: Reward players for boring tasks and give them feedback for interesting ones. Make achievements for interesting tasks attentional.

Achievement Difficulty

The difficulty of achievements is addressed twice by designers. First, the actual difficulty of achievements needs to be on a level that is attainable but challenging to the players. Second, a player's self-efficacy for the task(s) associated with the achievement must be high enough that they feel confident in attempting it.

Achievements should provide challenging goals for players to fulfill as moderate difficulty leads to superior gains in performance and a greater sense of accomplishment upon completion. However, achievements that are too difficult will not even be attempted by players. However, those that are too easy will be completed quickly, and won't provide an adequate challenge. A common strategy to keep in-games tasks interesting is to provide alternative objectives for those players who have reached a mastery level of performance.

Player self-efficacy (which refers to an individual's perception about their own ability to produce a desired result for a specific task) is another important factor that game designers must consider. Increasing player self-efficacy is important because it has been linked to increased goal commitment, increased strategy creation and use, and a more positive response to negative feedback.

There are four factors that designers can address in order to affect a player's self-efficacy. The first is their level of expertise on the subject matter. This is another important reason to make sure there are achievements available for players at all skill levels.

Seeing people around you succeed -- or vicarious experience -- is the second factor that influences self-efficacy. This effect is likely to be particularly powerful if the person being observed appears to be at the same ability level of the observer. Examples of utilizing this in games are leaderboards for online games or the "brags" in systems like OnLive.

Social persuasion (giving someone a verbal boost) is the third method of influencing self-efficacy. This can be as simple as telling someone "good job" after a performance or the "50 NOTE STREAK!" messages that appear in Guitar Hero. How a person feels is the fourth factor, which includes stress level, emotional condition, and perceived physical state.

Best practice: Make achievements challenging for the greatest returns in player performance and enjoyment. Phrase achievements and design interactions to increase player self-efficacy.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

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