The Real Reason We Hate Easy Achievements

The Real Reason We Hate Easy Achievements
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You know the ones. Sometimes you start a new game, and a few minutes in — before you even do anything — and ping! Achievement Unlocked. Congrats, you earned that achievement by, um, existing?

It’s achievements like that, the gamer community at large seems to have decided, that give achievements a bad name. Developers give them out willy-nilly, and in doing so, these achievements mean less.

Hold up, Super Crate Box developer Rami Ismail says. What assumptions might we be making there about the people playing the game? As a different developer put it on Twitter recently,

Ismail illustrates this point further on his blog by telling us the story of his girlfriend picking up Assassin’s Creed 2.

As every gamer knows, it’s tough to sit back and watch someone walk into walls endlessly. She did exactly this in her first 10 minutes of Assassins Creed II, frustration levels rising slowly to the point where she would just give up and never try again. After minutes that seemed like hours of desperately trying to steer a character straight ahead, she finally succeeded.

I used to argue that just achieving that goal in itself should be an adequate reward to motivate new gamers to continue playing, but I did not take into account that new gamers are fully aware walking should be a trivial tasks; they know that it isn’t a tough challenge to walk straight in a game, even if it is fully reasonable for them to find it difficult having never used gamepads before. They realise it is not an accomplishment by any standard and thus the argument fails.

She was already tired of playing and about to quit when the console played that unmistakable notification sound: achievement unlocked.

That sound changed everything. Instead of quitting, she gave the game a few more minutes of her time — the achievement acting as an unobtrusive encouragement tool. That same achievement is one that many of us would receive with an eyeroll even though it’s likely that the game in question has its share of respectable achievements meant for us in addition to the easy ones meant for less motivated players.

The constant barrage of morale boosts is something that casual gamers are acquainted with when acquainted with when playing titles “for their demographic.” And this is where Ismail gets incisive: maybe that’s the point. Maybe we recognise that anybody — even those pleb casual gamers — can get these achievements, and we don’t like that.

As I started digging deeper, a realisation set in: the problem these people were having wasn’t so much with the achievement being too easy to unlock for them — the problem was that others could unlock it just as easily. It’s the idea that if a ‘non-gamer’ can do it, things can’t be an achievement. At best, it’s a cry for more challenging games — at its worst, it’s an attempt to safeguard the exclusivity of hardcore gaming from newcomers. The underlying thought is simple: achievements are supposed to be for ‘real’ gamers.

When you think about how fervent the gaming community can be about the lengths games go to make things accessible for casual gamers, and the sense that the challenge and difficulty in games is something of the past because of that endeavour, the derision of easy achievements makes sense.

Going further, even though “achievement” implies earning something, what that means can vary. For some, it’s an achievement just to walk straight. Games marketed toward these folk know that this is the case, and will make all of the achievements easy — like awarding the purchase of in-game items. But it’s not too common. You don’t even have to get extreme about the example, though, the skill level from one gamer to another can vary. We can’t assume that all achievements will accommodate all people, but making them all difficult — or all accessible, even — is typically not the answer.

We intimately know how great small acknowledgements of our actions can be. There’s a reason games like to pile achievements, medals, commendations and level-ups on us — these are things that remind us that we’re progressing or that we’re being awesome. That feeling shouldn’t be exclusive to a small sect of people, and if developers can give it to new players without hindering the overall experience, why shouldn’t they? As Ismail notes, the alternative is to put tedious tutorials that explain every. single. thing. to you while playing — and we all know how much that sucks.

There’s nothing wrong with easy achievements, really. You get some points for your Gamerscore and are welcome to try achievements that are on your level, and those who aren’t skilled in the same ways will feel as if they’ve earned something — making it more likely that they’ll keep playing. Everyone wins — and is that such a bad thing?

An Argument For Easy Achievements [Rami Ismail]

Image made possible by technology ninja


  • I am noticing a lot of American articles lately bashing certain demographics with “pleb”, “plebians etc.

    As another commentator pointed out on a video from the US kotaku calling those who choose the bricks and mortar method of purchasing games made you a plebian……

    Are they trying to appeal to just hardcore gamers and drive away the rest? Surely that cant be good for business.

  • I’ve never had a problem with easy achievements, but I have seen some pretty elistist arguments made against them. I don’t understand why someone would be so offended for being offered recognition that they got to the end of a level. Why does every achievement need to be about doing something unusual or particularly difficult?

    There’s a place for a full range of achievements. I think the real issue is when the range is towards the lower end of the scale. Compare me to a much better gamer and say we’ve played both, I don’t know… Skyrim and Call of Duty 4. Now anyone can max out the achievements in Skyrim, there’s very little there about a particular skill, it’s mostly story, grinding, and little random bits and pieces. There’s so much content in the game that if you spend 50 hours in the game it’s pretty unlikely you won’t unlock them all. The elitist gamer will call Skyrim a noob game with easy achievements because he knows at his core he’s better than I am, but I am equal to him in Skyrim as far as visible accomplishments go.

    But compare Call of Duty 4, and you can see which one of us was dedicated enough to earn Mile High Club and which one of us wasn’t not. He can point at that and say “That’s proof that I am better. There should be more achievements like this so my superiority is more apparent”.

    • “Why does every achievement need to be about doing something unusual or particularly difficult?”

      because you are diluting the meaning of the word ‘Achievement’. If everybody is special, then by definition no one is.

      The same issue exists in real life. This feel-good, instant gratification movement where somebody gets rewarded simply for not doing something stupid/illegal is wrong. It actually promotes stupid/illegal behaviour because people start thinking that doing stupid/illegal stuff is the norm and not doing them is somehow out of the ordinary and deserves a reward.

      For example, I have never gone over the speed limit in my entire driving life. I should not be rewarded for that, that is something that should be EXPECTED of all drivers.

      • Exactly. Modern culture seems to think it’s ok to reward mediocrity. And then we wonder why when things get tough for the kids of today, they cry, and play up like babies. It’s because they always get spoon fed along the way—games now included.

        • This is kind of like saying that if you score less than 100% on an exam, you should automatically be given a zero. You didn’t achieve a perfect mark, so why should it count at all, right?

      • I’m not diluting anything. An achievement is just achieving something, and achieving something can simply be completing a task.

        I successfully got out of bed this morning, achieving wakefulness in the process. Just because most people do that on any given day doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

        You can choose to specifically take the word to mean specifically tasks that take great skill to accomplish, but that doesn’t make you more correct.

        In short, you have helped prove my point about elitism.

  • Isn’t it still a prerequisite for Xbox Live games to have 1000GS, and therefore put in achievements where they normally wouldn’t? I could be wrong, but I believe that’s a contributor to the idea of “pointless” achievements.
    This article raises a good point, and one that I had never really thought about. My girlfriend once sat down and attempted to play Halo: Reach co op campaign with me, having never played an FPS before or spent much time with an Xbox controller. Watching her endless fail with the walking/looking mechanic should have made me realise that some of the easier achievements are considered easy for me because I’ve done them a million times, but other people haven’t done them once…including walking forward…

  • I still think that achievements are silly. Or at least the people who seem to depend on them so highly are. Seen a lot of them complaining about Nintendo not having them or whatever.

    I’m proud of the fact that I, for example, S-ranked the entirety of RE: Revelations’ Raid mode without spending a single point in the shop to make things easier (expanding ammo slots, etc). It’s a personal accomplishment, one that I happily tell people about during appropriate discussion, and something didn’t need to be rewarded with a virtual sticker for to feel validated about.

  • I dont even notice them, tho steam dont really throw them in your face like PSN and XBL, although hours played is the dick measurer in the steam community, then who has the most points or trophies.

  • I’ve never had a problem with easy achievements. I haven’t really heard anyone complaining about them either. I love getting a brand new game and getting heaps of new achievements in the first hour or so.

  • I wouldn’t call them hateful achievements but just useless.. the ones I dislike the most are the ones that give you achievements for passing missions.. especially when it is basically every mission in the game.. Level 1 – Ding, Level 2 – Ding, Level 3 – Ding.. pointless.. and a little annoying.

    What makes them annoying/unlikable for me is it shows that no real thought was put into the achievements and they were just tacked on as an afterthought.

    • They’re ‘easy’ to get and that makes them somewhat worthless but I refer to them a lot to check my progress especially as I tend to jump around alot between games (easily bored/distracted). Depending how they’re named, they’re normally a good way for me to quickly remember the storyline I left behind a month ago for another game. And I also monitor my progress against my friends’, sometimes competitively and other times just to avoid spoilers in conversation or to be able to ask how they passed a particular objective. It actually annoys me when there isn’t some kind of chapter achievements.

  • I love the acievement you get everytime you log in to Lifehacker/Gizmodo/Kotaku….ding ‘login successful’ with a big green tick.

    But I can’t find my gamerscore for completed logins on the profile page 🙁

  • There’s a range of different types of achievements, and all have their place.
    For example, there’s the casual achievements mentioned in the article which give new gamers an early carrot and help tell developers how many people actually play their game.
    There’s teaching acheivements, common in Team Fortress 2, which help players experiement with the game and help them learn new ways to play be reading the description.
    There’s milestone acheivements, which you get for finishing a chapter or story mission, which also help developers learn how many people finish the game and what areas make them stop.
    Finally there’s the above-and-beyond achievements which are for going beyond the storyline and involve extra effort and can extend enjoyment beyond the storyline.
    Just because one doesn’t suit you, doesn’t mean they aren’t appreciated by someone else.

  • I see no reason why these secondary achievements can’t be designed to cater to both the experienced & the new. Ask the player up front about their skill level and change the hooks for the achievement based on the level they say.

    For example an Assassin’s Creed style game could have a climbing achievement, when playing on easy you get it when you scale one high point & use the viewpoint, on normal you have to scale say 10 of them to get the achievement and on hard you have to do every one of them.

    It wouldn’t be to hard to have achievement tiles change to reflect the difficulty you used so you can get them on easy as long as you don’t mind the image being bronze rather than silver or gold

  • There is also a larger reason why these ‘easy’ achievements exist, especially the “You have started the game!” achievements, and those that are chapter based.

    The statistics of people getting achievements are all collected and are incredibly valuable to developers.

    If 92% of people get the “You started the game!” achievement. What this says to the developer is “8% of people who have bought the game haven’t even played it.”

    This continues for all chapter based achievements. developers can see what percentage of people finish the game, or give up a third way through. If there is a sudden dip in percentage of people reaching a certain chapter of a game it might tell the developer that that part of the game is too hard, or that the story of the game is lacking in that area.

    This is the real power behind achievements.
    You can see the graphs in places like Steam. It’s really quite fascinating!

  • Ugh, for some reason my posts aren’t attaching as replies. This is meant to be a reply to ‘me’, on my earlier comment.

  • I’ll admit I like Street Fighter style achievements where it takes skill to get anything above 25% completion, but it’s definitely not for every game. A simple shooter doesn’t have that much room for achievements. Difficulty achievements, all the levels, a few easter eggs and a few collections. That will get you three replays if you play smart (relaxed run, a runs worth of loading specific levels for easter eggs/collections and highest difficulty run).
    An easy achievement can’t take away from a hard one unless you’re only looking at the cumulative value of your achievements. Instead look at them individually and ignore gamerscore. Some of my favourite achievements, the ones that pushed me the furthest, are in games that handed out the first 800/1000 for free.
    Call of Duty 4 gave me 20 points for what was basically a cinematic tutorial level, but it also gave me Mile High Club which I absolutely loved achieving.

  • Achievement Unlocked.
    You read an article!

    While this may seem like a pointless achievement, just remember that there are “plebs” out there who may not find reading an article so easy and this will encourage them. Or possibly patronise and annoy them. To be honest, I don’t think that it’s anything to do with some kind of superiority complex and more that it’s a little insulting and patronising to be rewarded for either struggling with a simple concept, or breezing through it.

    If I was someone who wasn’t au fait with games, the last thing I want to see is someone thinking that it’s great to congratulate me for finding the start button, or being able to walk 5 steps.

    Achievement Unlocked.
    You read a comment!

  • I did like the achievement from The Simpsons Game, that rewarded you 5 Points for pressing Start at the “Press Start” screen.

  • I actually like achievements. Not like the “5G: You turned the fucking console on!” ones, but the ones that encourage you to explore the game deeper or complete a difficult challenge.

    Also, I’m a completionist whore.

  • Probably already mentioned, but The Dark Soul platinum trophy for “Dark Souls” was not only a dedicated effort to achieve, but IMMENSELY satisfying as a final sign of mastery. Hell, even the “You Kindled The Fire” achievement worked to encourage you on the right path because the game is so obtuse in its direction.

  • That Assasin’s Creed II example was something I had never thought of before.

    So Microsoft was doing the CoD carrot on a string thing before CoD did huh?

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