It came from GDC: Are achievements harmful?

Untold Entertainment posts a great roundup of some of the sessions he attended at GDC (Game Developers Conference) yesterday.

I don’t have a lot to add, but I wanted to share this particularly for his coverage of a controversial talk about Achievements. It’s about halfway down the blog post.

Chris Hecker (the speaker) questioned the conventional wisdom that achievements are the future, and wondered whether they’re actually good for games. Or whether it’s just that game developers are leaning too heavily on prodding people into repetitive dull activities via rewards (i.e. Farmville) when they could be using achievements to actually make their games more fun and engaging.

Hecker took on Jesse Schell’s oft-blogged talk from DICE 2010, where he imagined a world where everything around you gave you points – your toothbrush gave you points for brushing, the government gave you points or money for raising your kids well, etc. Hecker suggested that Schell and two other respected colleagues were talking out of their collective asses, because they haven’t looked at the research, which says (among other things) that when you pay a kid for getting good grades, the kid’s grades subsequently drop.

So if you get people into the mindset of doing an activity just to get a reward, they’re less likely to do it afterwards without the reward, or when the reward gets deprecated.

I thought it was a fascinating read, and I bet it was a cool talk also. This is a link to Gamasutra’s coverage of the same talk.

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10 thoughts on “It came from GDC: Are achievements harmful?

  1. I like achievements that reward playing good. Sadly most of them try to get you to grind something or try to get you to play bad instead.
    An achievement for doing a boss and never standing in bad stuff for more than 1-2 seconds is good.
    An achievement to raise a dozend weaponskills to 400 as a caster is dumb and only leads to senseless grind.
    An achievement to zerg some boss in nearly impossible short time while ignoring his adds (or other stuff that is normally important) is downright dangerous because it rewards you for doing stuff that should lead to certain death.

  2. “So if you get people into the mindset of doing an activity just to get a reward, they’re less likely to do it afterwards without the reward, or when the reward gets deprecated.”

    This must also apply to not doing an instance once you’ve got all the upgrades you need from it. The instance itself should be the reward I guess, rather than the gear you can get from the boss.

  3. Achievement systems too often get out of control and start having a negative effect on player behaviour, especially when they are coupled with any kind of reward.

    Too often there are achievements for every possible activity, like… reach level 2! Add meta-achievements that involve completing a certain number of other achievements that could be things like maxing weaponskills on casters as mentioned and so on.

    Fewer, more meaningful achievements, please. I also advise strongly against the trend towards meta-achievements for completing other achievements.

    • One of the interesting things that comes out of this talk is that achievements are really really effective at getting people to keep doing boring tasks, but not all that effective at getting them to keep doing interesting or thought-provoking ones (ie. something that was designed to be fun or have some other kind of intrinsic reward.)

      I assume this is because people will focus on the external reward over and above the intrinsic one. Or rather, fun is all well and good, but I only have X hours to play and I need Y badges.

      • Indeed, this is really interesting. Even if the “reward” is not really that much, people will pick it over any intrinsic motivation and do boring things to get it.

        This often makes people with little time at hand actually do nothing else but these tasks. This also applies to daily quests. I think it burns people out! Some people just do not have more time to do anything else ingame – but telling them NOT to do their daily quest and something else instead can result in such comments:

        “This was really awesome fun. But now I don’t have time do my dailies! :(”

        Too bad I can’t find my old WoW screenshots anymore. A mage said this after we finished the “Arcatraz”.

  4. I like achievments to a extent, but sometimes they are just stupid. An achievement should be a reward fir doing something extrodinary, not baking 10 pies. They should be awe inspiring to play harder not just a popup in guild chat.

  5. If the game itself isn’t rewarding (read: fun), no amount of “achievements” or achievement points will save the game for me. It’s good to see someone digging into it a bit more.

  6. I know I had it somewhere, but I lost the link. There has been a study amongst children where one group was given money (reward) for testing a game. Another group was asked the same, but for no rewards. The kids that were promissed the reward didn’t enjoy the game and just wanted to get it over with, so they could get the reward. The kids that weren’t promissed anything were having fun with the game it self and actually enjoyed the excercise.

    I think rewards are good for things that aren’t enjoyable to do, but giving it for things that are enjoyable by themselves actually remove the fun. It’s instinctive for people to think that if something needs a reward, it must be something that’s not fun to do, instead of just a bonus.

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