Achieving the Impossible

One of the things I really, really don’t understand in the MMORPG community is just how divided people get over the concept of achievements.  It seems you either are a rabid fan, or you hate them with a passion of a thousand dying suns.  The hatred is what boggles my mind — what are achievements doing to ruin your gameplay, specifically, if you don’t like them or want to participate in them?  There’s no great answer for that, as many of the reasons stated why achievements are “bad” seem awfully petty, and have the air of one group of kids scoffing at what another group likes, just because they like it so much.

Yeah, for the most part, achievement systems are nothing more than a running “high score” count that serves for personal satisfaction and bragging rights, but little else.  Few of these systems ever give you anything additional for your efforts (or if so, are rare and don’t give your character any significant advantage over others).  For the cynic, it’s just a way to extend content a little further (but hey, what efforts on behalf of developers aren’t aimed at this goal?).

And yet, they offend.  Oh, how they offend.  It’s like the Grinch looking down on the happy Whos, doing meaningless, random tasks just because they are fun, and growing angry over it.  How dare they do anything other than level and grind and raid!  Why, this is just pointless fluff that’s everywhere I look!  And when one of them comes over to tell me about it, I could just take their achievement points, stick them in a bag, and kidnap them to ruin Christmas!

From my perspective, I lump achievement systems in with other non-leveling content systems, such as collections, player housing, fishing, role-playing and exploration.  You don’t *have* to participate to develop a great combat character, but it’s there if you want a break from the grind and want to — dare I say it? — have a little fun by doing something different.  You can gnash your teeth and spout bile at it and try to convince those of us who like it that we’re not actually enjoying it, but that’s kind of ignoring the larger picture of MMOs — just what about all your efforts will you get to keep in the end, anyway?  Isn’t it all doing tasks for the sake of doing tasks?  People who scoff at achievement systems might well be the same ones who raid for boasting rights and better stats on their characters — stats that are, at the very end of the day, completely meaningless.  Either you have fun in the process, or you imagine that you’re working toward an eventual “fun” that will probably never come.

Anyway.  That was a bit of a tangent.  What I wanted to steer towards was the idea of achievement systems as a social benefit to a MMO’s world.  Sure, the points don’t do anything for you, but they can benefit connections between players.  Some folks hate how guild chat might be filled up with achievement notifications, but for others, it’s a time to recognize accomplishments and congratulate each other — positive encouragement that strengthens a guild’s ties.

What’s more is when guilds or groups of friends take advantage of achievements by grouping together to knock a bunch of them out.  I had a blast in WAR grouping in a zone and trying to do as many Tome unlocks as possible.  We often had unlock/achievement parties, where a leader would take the group around on a tour of the zone, guiding us toward the unlocks, and showing off areas and facets we might have otherwise ignored on our mad quest to level quickly.  I have no idea how often people get together to do these sorts of things, but it’s there, it’s something different than just doing dungeon runs, and it can really be a lot of fun.  I mean, how often do we get together with friends or family in real life and do stupid, fun things as a social experience, not expecting anything else out of it other than laughs and memories?

If it’s fun, it’s not a grind, simple as that.  And if I’m achieving silly little goals alongside friends and guildies, then achievements are more than points, they’re memories in the making.

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24 thoughts on “Achieving the Impossible

  1. As you really, really don’t understand why some people think achievements are a really, really bad thing, I will just give up and not reurgitate the explanation why achievements are just a therapy to keep bored players subscribed who actually should have moved on long ago. They are about as bad as daily quests, which a lot of people tell me they love to do. Daily. Before work. Or after work. The daily routine of gaming. There are even achievements for being dutiful and doing them daily, mind that. :>

  2. “What’s more is when guilds or groups of friends take advantage of achievements by grouping together to knock a bunch of them out. ”

    That’s why people hate them. If you are neutral to achievements but are in a guild with crazed achievement-lovers, you are going to be badgered to go help with all their stupid achievement runs. Now, some of those will be cool fun things you wanted to do anyway and that’s great. But some of them will be pointless stupid hardmodes or grinds that aren’t fun at all, even in good company.

    I also mock people who complain about being ‘forced’ to do annoying achievements to get some silly mount or pet. Seriously, if you know it’s pointless and annoying, just say no and be happy.

    I don’t hate achievements. I hate the peer pressure that makes people act like I’m the worst monster and non-teamplayer ever just because I don’t like them.

  3. Also, see what happens when you think of something fun to do and no one is interested, because it isn’t an achievement.

  4. @ Longasc – But why do you play a game in the first place? To have fun and achieve goals. You can’t ever take an achieved goal in the game out of the game with you, so ultimately you’re doing it just to do it. Because it’s enjoyable and you like the challenge, whether that be leveling or a raid or PvP or achievements. Not everything is for everyone, but some people like the artificial pat on the back for silly achievements, just as some people like the artificial ego boost that comes with an epic loot drop.

    @ Spinks – Yeah, that WOULD be annoying, I agree. I felt the same about being pressured into raiding when that wasn’t my thing. Diff’rent strokes, and all that.

  5. I went from loving them to hating them after they became a sort of entry key to groups and raids in WoW. It drove me crazy to see the classic “PST achievment” added everywhere and be turned down from a raid or dungeon simply because this character had not done the raid before and others had. The worse part is that achievements say nothing about someone quality since you can spend every fight lying dead on the ground and still get your achievment.

    Also, like spinks said some of them are a real pain to do and I got tired of tanking a boss in some weird way because someone wanted 10 more epeen points.

  6. @Syp — heh, when I asked if games were too achievement oriented, I wasn’t actually thinking of “achievements” as such. I just meant “feeling like one has to do something in order to believe one is having fun.”

    Then again, Achievement-mania is really just an extension of it. Nonetheless, I wasn’t bashing them per se. (I do the ones I like, ignore the ones I don’t, and laugh when people now add achievement snobbery to gear/talent elitist jerkery.)

  7. @Longasc

    “achievements are just a therapy to keep bored players subscribed who actually should have moved on long ago”

    If that’s how that person wants to spend their 15 bucks a month, so be it. If they find that doing that is fun, then they are getting their money’s worth. Achievement systems will not be what keeps me subbed to a game. I may find that they add to my experience (LotRO) or are pointless (TF2), but I personally require more content in the form of storied quests/dugeons/pvp/etc.

  8. Acheivements with no reward are the essence of Faff(Welsh word :P ) ..

    Faff isnt fluff…its like fluffs drop out sibling who lives with his parents at 40 years old with no job.

    In planetside they introduced achievments and some were actually really well done. Fly a bomber and have your gunner kill 500 people. Giving you access to the improved bomber.. It worked well and i still go on bombing runs with a mate just to get a few kills for him every now and then for his achievement.
    I like these sorts of ideas or even title related ones but they need to be introduced with the original game. Thats why i have such a bad opinion of some systems and like others which are virtually the same. When its content added after release i feel like their time could be spent on much better things and its acutally an attempt by developers to rehash current work using my cash, which in turn makes me angry. When it comes with a new game i think its icing on the cake and i enjoy them.

    It doesnt really make sense i guess. I just feel devs time is better spent on things i consider actual content and not Faff* once the game is purchased. Which maybe suggests i feel im more of a shareholder in a game once i have a sub running but they can do as they please before release :)

  9. I’m in the “Who Cares?” camp until the “achievements” for killing a raid boss are used as a gating mechanism for who can come on that raid. It’s both too wide and too narrow as a vetting tool. Too wide because any well-guilded player can get run through the raid once for the achievement. If the point was to filter out inexperienced or slacking players, using the achievement as a prerequisite just failed. It’s too narrow because a competent player who isn’t in a big raiding guild will often get filtered out. Ten seconds on vent before tricky fights would have made them an excellent addition to the raid (and increased the number of players who are experienced with the raid fights). The rest of the achievements I see as pointless frivolity, but I’m glad someone is enjoying them.

  10. haha! love the post :D
    when I played WAR and had the Tome Titan add on, i used to hold unlocking parties too (hence the whole blog site and everything). The most fun i’ve had was seeing how happy people got when they unlocked rare achievements :)

    weekly unlock nights :)

  11. Great post, Syp. I’m a rather unashamed achievement freak. I don’t have the attention span nor the competitive drive to raid/PvP these days… not that there’s anything wrong with those playstyles, I’ve done it in the past and I wish those players the best, but it’s just not what I enjoy.

    On the other hand, achievements are silly, fun ways to experience the game in a whole new manner. I get the same satisfaction from completing a hard-to-get achievement as I used to get from raiding… perhaps even more so because most achievements I complete by myself or with an (interested) partner, rather than as part of a larger group.

  12. I hate them.

    People play the game that’s put in front of them. Before WoW had achievements people gravitated towards what they wanted to do in the game.

    With achievements people want to tick the list off. “Hi can you help me run Hellfire Ramparts for the achievement” is just banal.

    Next they make end-game content less immersive for me. I used to get more sucked into the story, we really were killing Ragnaros because he is planning to destroy the world. It’s very anti-immersive to be told we’re going to try to kill it without resist gear for the achievement this time guys.

    At it’s worst it creates completely absurd game play. Both teams turtling in their flag rooms because everyone wants the “kill ten enemies in your own flag room” achievement.

    It replaced pretending to be a hero with box-ticking.

  13. The WoW trade channel will often be filled with chat like “LFG for xx instance, please link achievement”. It’s irritating for someone behind the ‘gear curve’, as you can often not get an invite to a dungeon you haven’t already completed.

  14. @ Longasc – If you don’t want to regurgitate the explanation, could you at least provide a link to it? Because I too don’t understand how a cosmetic achievement system could undermine someone’s enjoyment of an MMO. It doesn’t seem like a more nefarious player-retainer than any other feature.

    I could understand the anger if achievements were required because they conferred some great material advantage (like the unlockable weapons used to be in Team Fortress 2). The Tome Tactics in WAR were helpful in dungeons, and I occasionally heard complaints about that, but even those were just a minor-ish PvE buff. Are there any MMOs where achievements give major rewards?

  15. I hadn’t heard about the “linking achievements as a pre-requisite for grouping” thing before — that’s beyond stupid. Kind of like overly excessive gear checks.

  16. I said I won’t say it again, as I have said it on many blogs already over and over, but you deserve an answer. :)

    To me, achievements are a “to do” list. I like games that give me options to do, achieve if I must use the word, what I want. Not what some system wants me to do, offering a virtual carrot for often extremely shitty content-extenders of little value, mostly grind-related.

    “Nobody forces you, you can ignore them.” Sure, I can always ignore them or quit right away if achievements become all the game is about. Does this really work in a world where people seem to be obsessed with achieving achievements for the sake of achieving achievements?

    This is what happened to me in Guild Wars, which I play(ed) for some 4 years. You know the game, too, so you can probably relate to it. It is also the perfect example of a game that got somewhat ruined by the achievement craze. But they are actually one of the few things that keeps people playing, which usually means: Drinking alcohol, eating sweets, popping 10.000 party items, doing treasure chest runs and identifying 10.000 gold items.

    “Titles” were introduced, and I loved them. I got a title for uncovering every inch of the map “Explorer of X”, Tyria, Cantha, Elona, Grandmaster Explorer for all three of them.

    Suddenly people had a list. I already completed all missions in Tyria and Cantha on Master level because of an intrinsic “I could do that” motivation – now it was part of an achievement, a TO-DO list.

    Guess in which missions my friends and guild mates were interested. It was quite shocking to make someone agree to do THIS mission he already had “done for the title” again. This sometimes only worked if you promised to help out on the missions he was missing.

    At first, titles were nothing more than just titles. Then they began to tie the effectiviness of certain already overpowered skills. The Kurzick/Luxon and Sunspear/Lightbringer titles grow often not really but sometimes significantly in strength with higher title.

    Actually, a higher lightbringer rank was often required as entry card into pickup groups. It goes so far that people whisper you that you should pick another monk because this one had only a very low lightbringer rank.

    Most Guild Wars achievements are unfortunately linked, like many achievements in other games, not only to doing things in a silly way, but mostly grindy as hell. Guild Wars once had a mantra that was that casual players could play together with hardcore players, they would not fall back behind. Skill > time got quite abolished, but well, this cannot be blamed on achievements alone.

    The Hall of Monuments is probably the craziest achievement grind system ever, offering not even announced bonus rewards carrying over to Guild Wars 2. I like the idea. But it turned the achievement system into a grindfest, a lousy content extender.

    Meta Achievements: Get 20,25,30 titles for a Meta-Achievement for your Hall of Monuments. This means, if you want it, you have to WORK for it. Yep, people are working on their titles. They are focused on finishing their to-do list.

    Now one can argue people focused on getting their Tier X gear in WoW before achievements were all the hype, so nothing changed?

    I think achievement systems changed the player mentality a lot, be it WoW or GW.

    At best, achievement systems are irritating. I got achievements in Sins of a Solar Empire for finding the planet of the “Space Ponies” and got an achievement and a meta achievement for completing levels in the puzzle game “Osmos”. OK, now I have list of stuff I did and when I did it. Cool stuff, does not matter.

    In MMOs, like GW and WoW, they can serve to keep people subscribed or playing while adding actually nothing new to to the game. At best achievements are an incentive to tell people “try this, it’s cool”. At worst it is giving out rewards for meta-achievements that require you to do every possible kind of crap one can imagine. In the end you can then get a fancy title or a dragon mount or something like that.

    I also blame this system preying on people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or at least being susceptible to such things. I am a completionist, but I can resist it to some degree and as you can see even get angry about such systems.

    GW experience: Player on friends list is not available for anything, he is working on treasure runs and farming items to identify them. 3 Months later, said player maximized everything except some pvp titles. He is now bored with GW, not even a full week later he said he has no idea what to do in GW anymore. He has not logged in since February. Other friends are still playing, and as we are friends, they eagerly invite me to the usual “festival farming” during GW festivals for the sweets and party items for the festival title.

    Beware of achievements. They might turn the game into a game where every motivation is no longer for fun, but for the sake of achievements. People optimize the fun out of their own gaming experience, and they are good at it.
    They are also a great example that you can make people do the silliest and most boring things ever for some kind of virtual carrot.

    I would also call them bad design. People will sooner or later get overfed with this or that goodie for this or that grind and might even start to loathe the game. They are just a cheap content extender to keep people playing and in case of subscription based games also paying.

    Spinks covered WoW and influences of achievements on gameplay and behaviour already, and the worst thing achievements did to WoW was to make people fight bosses in some semi-retarded way for this or that achievement. The boss fights itself have become more and more trivial, so the “challenge” is now to do them while dancing on one leg or something like that. Just wonderful.

    So much about my love for achievements and their influence on player behaviour and game design. Time for dinner…, it is probably already a TL;DR. :)

  17. I gotta agree with Syp here. I understand that you’re all crafting arguments against achievements, but I still disagree with all of them. They are a to-do list, sure, but they are completely optional! If you don’t like it, don’t do it. If it’s breaking your immersion to defeat a boss with no pants on, then don’t do it. Why are you being forced to do this checklist? Because your guild is making you? That’s an issue you should take up with them, then, not the game itself.

    I’m probably so against achievement haters only because achievements are what finally got me into certain MMO’s (like WoW). I love having short, clear goals in front of me, or else I lose my focus and get bored.

  18. OK, now take this “why are people kerfluffled” logic and apply it to the pet shop. To wit: “why are people worried about how *other people* play the game or spend money on the game?”

    Just play the game and have fun. If you’re not having fun, check out.

    If you can see real effects on gameplay because of said thing you’re questioning, maybe there’s something to the complaints after all.

    (I see Achievement mania actually affecting the game, the pet shop not so much. Funny how that works.)

  19. @Tesh: Oh, didn’t realize today was your first day on the internet! Welcome! See, what “people” (if they can be called that?) do most here is worry about what everyone else on the internet is doing. Most “people” even go so far as to attempt to dictate to the other internet “people” what they should do.

    No one EVER looks in the mirror, just play their games and worry about themselves. Oh, no. We just can’t have that.

    Achievements in and of themselves are perfectly fine. It’s a personal preference. The “best” kind are the ones you just happen to acquire accidentally. If Longasc and other players see them as a “TO DO” list, then that’s their personal problem to work out in therapy. When it comes to WoW in particular, I mean come on… is anyone *seriously* surprised that certain groups (WoW Kiddies) start requiring achievements? After all the other “requirements” the kiddies demanded over the years, this is just another one.

    But in Guild Wars (or any other non-MMO situation I’ve encountered so far as well) no one demands a certain achievement/title/whatever.

    WoW players are the most immature of the immature; the most loot-whorey of the loot-whores. Period. We all know that. Why those who don’t fit in that WoW majority try to defend the majority is quite beyond me.

    But then, that’s tantamount to just saying (and I am): STFU and play your game, to hell with how anyone else plays their game because IT DOES NOT AFFECT YOUR GAME IN THE SLIGHTEST!!!1!one!!!

  20. It occurs to me that I failed to use any smilies in my previous comment so readers unfamiliar with my form of snark may not realize that while I fully felt and meant the message behind the words, the comment itself was /set snark to 100% mode.

  21. *chuckle*
    Yeah, I have my noob hat on today. I’ll be bitter and pragmatic later this week after the turkey wears off.

  22. Stabs nails it perfectly.

    I found it intrusive to the game and changed the way groups and friends actually played. You couldn’t just do an instance for the fun of it, no no, you only went where somebody had some stupid achievement to check off, and then you spent your time running around frantically clicking through books in Scarlet Monastery or something.

    I actually went in and read all those books in SM because I found them interesting. Now I’m being dragged through by people manically yelling “NEXT BOOK HERE!!!” and click-click-clicking to the end. I was like, you know, those books are actually kind of interesting… why not take your time and read them?

    “LOL i just want 2 finish so i can get teh achvment!!!!”

    It’s utterly moronic and it turns people into bigger idiots that normal.

    Also… has anyone noticed, but most of them really aren’t achievements. They’re kinda handed to you on a plate.

    I was playing Dawn of War 2 the other day. Every now and then I got some annoying message pop up on my screen with “Achievement Unlocked! Level 1 finished”. I was like… so is there actually any way NOT to get that achievement and still play the game?

    Or “Achievement Unlocked – Kill 100 enemies”. I’m like… ok, there is no way I can get anywhere in this game WITHOUT killing 100 friggin enemies, and you’re giving me an achievement for it? That’s retarded…

    In my opinion, achievements were one of the worst things to hit gaming in our time.

  23. I dislike WoW’s achievements because they’re poorly implemented. There’s always a bug with them during the holidays, which frustrates people when they only have a few days to do them. I also got sick of some of the achievements not being realistic for me since I was unable to shapeshift as a Druid; the Christmas achievement to do PvP in the gnome disguise sucks because the disguise goes away if I shift onto a form that can actually PvP. (Not that I like WoW’s level-based PvP “system” in the first place.)

    A lot of the achievement seem really banal, too. Oh, look, people have to throw snowballs at Night Elf Druids. I just had to get used to “perma-dandruff” as my friends called it. Or some achievements which require a rare drop. Or the achievements which are easier if you join the mad rush at the beginning and simply suck the life out of you if you try do to them when the servers aren’t crashing.

    Spinks also points out other problems. It’s just annoying to have people wheedle you because you’re the only tank on and they want to do a really quick run they promise this time, etc.

    Contrast this with LotRO: achievements may be simplistic, but they are consistent. Killing 500 goblins for a minor stat upgrade can seem tedious, but you can often get through most of an achievement through normal play and questing. After a while you can focus on the achievements that you really want or need instead of having to do them all to get special pink flying mount or whatever. It’s also not unusual for others to be doing the same deed and be all to happy to invite you along.

    I think it’s a question of quality. For some people, WoW is good enough. For me, a dedicated non-achiever, they were mostly just annoying.

  24. Hmm… As a newcomer, I haven’t really seen the detrimental effect the achievement system has had on GW, the way Longasc is.

    In fact, from my pov, since I started playing after Ursan was nerfed… other than seeing people asking for cryers and 600s (and cryers were also nerfed – this time, in my playing experience), I don’t feel that achievements had all that much impact on my enjoyment of, and love for, Guild Wars.

    However, I do dislike how… grindy… GW titles are.

    The cute little F2P (Jade Dynasty) I’m having a fling with right now, has the best title system implementation I’ve seen since I stopped MUDding. Because titles are SO plentiful, almost ALL unconnected to grind (you get most of them from bizarre quests, some random, some not), it means that people can actually just… wear whichever titles they like, that they feel suits their character.

    ^_^ But, about face, I’m wearing a slightly grindy title on my main atm.

    One of the things that I think makes JD titles work is that they have an abundance of just plain SILLY titles. And as filled with repetitive quests and grinding as JD is, it is also stuffed full of little side quests and whatnot – and these are the ones that give the titles, that have no in-game benefit *whatever*.

    So, perhaps, part of the problem with achievements and titles is when they also grant some form of in-game power.

    Some of the more amusing JD titles (random selection from off the top of my head):
    – Fears Steamed Bread
    – Poor Guy With Gears Destroyed
    – You Could Never Possibly Hide With This Title (but the title space itself is too short to display it, so all you see is ‘You Could Never Possibly’
    – Smelly Feet

    What’s more, the titles themselves have funny ‘subtexts’ or ‘explanations’ when you mouseover them in your own char window. No one else can see them, AFAIK, but it does make them even more enjoyable. When I get a new title, I go to my char sheet right away to see what silly stuff it says!

    While I’m not obsessively collecting titles, I do like getting new ones.

    Perhaps the problem with achievements is that they’re so very often linked to in-game benefits or status, and not so much that they exist?

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