[Thought for the Day] Outcome based gaming

In my day job, there is an ongoing debate about management via outcomes. This is where you are given a set of goals, such as ‘reduce the number of homeless people in this area’, and your agency will be judged based on how well it does this. It’s controversial because the most efficient way to get to the outcome might not actually be the best overall (eg. in this example, you could ship all homeless people to another city, or refuse to add any new homeless people to your list) but at the same time, it is useful to focus people on a solid purpose and to let them all see the goals of their organisation.


Achievements in MMOs are also a form of outcome based goal. It doesn’t matter how or why you got the achievement – whether you looked it up on websites, did it by accident, spent ages figuring out how to do it, had an addon to help, organised your own group to get it  – the game merely records that the desired outcome was reached. So we could call Bartle’s ‘Achiever’ type player, an outcome focussed player.


And if the gaming community itself becomes outcome focussed, then they are throwing a lot of fun playing styles (eg. exploring) out of the window. I’m sure game devs are very much aware of this player tendency. In GW2, you can see this in the way vistas, zone completion, and daily quests are designed to fit around explorer and social playing styles as well as achiever ones.  In WoW …. you get people who look up all the Lorewalker Scroll locations on a website and then act superior because they got their reputation mount faster than people who decided to just explore.

Peer pressure and single player games

I’ve seen a few people write that after having played MMOs, they find themselves uncomfortable picking options in single player games in case they pick a poor class/ build.

And it occurs to me that even if you did, as long as you could still play the game and have fun, you might never know nor care if one of the other options was more powerful. Or if you did realise, you’d put it down to poor game design.

These days we’re far more likely to share our single player game experiences with others online than we were in the past. Maybe this will be via blog posts and comments, or posts on a forum. Maybe it will be via Steam achievements or an online high score table that you forgot to opt out of. Increasingly single player games are also requiring an online connection as an anti-piracy measure, and trying to manufacture some social networking via sharing player progress.

I wonder what the effect of this will be in terms of peer pressure. Looking up optimal builds and strategies for every game should be a harmless (if anal) alternative to just playing the darned thing and figuring out something workable for yourself. But if the lessons of MMOs are true, this will become more and more the default playing style, fuelled by social pressure and people not wanting to look like idiots in front of their friends.

The strange and misleading art of achievement-o-mancy


It’s amazing how much you can tell from a list of achievements!

I know this because, like a lot of other people, I’ve been scanning the new Cataclysm achievements as they get updated on websites from the beta information.

It feels like reading tea-leaves, or poking through the entrails of some small furry creature, or reverse engineering a piece of software by reading lines of assembler (they totally would have done this for fortune telling in ancient times if it had been available!) All you have to go on is a few lines of text, and yet from that you can try to imagine a whole mini game, how the expansion will treat guilds, and what the new raid encounters might be like!

It doesn’t just happen in Warcraft. Every game has it’s own team of players who piece through every little bit of data before release of some new content, trying to figure it out. This is the real mysterious art of game archaeology; between the data miners, beta leakers, and hordes of armchairs players and theorists who build soaring edifices of imagination out of a few meagre sentences or blurry screenshots.

The danger of reading too much into it

I know that people have been reading the new guild achievements, and thinking about how best to organise their guilds in Cataclysm.

And I want to call a warning on that. MMO devs in general and Blizzard in particular use achievements in a lot of different ways. Some of those ways will deliberately guide players towards a desired mode of play, it’s true. But in other cases it isn’t quite so clear. Lets’ look at some examples:

1. Reach level 80

This achievement marks that your character has hit max level in Wrath. DING! Congratulations. It simply marks a milestone in the life of a character that many people will reach. There are also achievements at lower levels, marking out the pathway to level 80 with a slow breadcrumb of shiny achievement dings.

This type of achievement isn’t something you need to go out of your way to pursue. It will happen if you play for long enough. For a more casual player, or a new player on her first character, it’s a nice, warm feeling that the game seems to ‘know’ that you’ve hit a personal goal.

2. The Loremaster

This is an achievement and title given for completing vast numbers of quests all through the game world.

This is a perk for completists, and anyone who likes quests and wonders if they missed any. It will never be necessary to do all of those quests. The game doesn’t require it. Although I’m sure devs would like interested players to see all of their lore and quests, fact is that the reason there are so many is so that players can choose which ones they want to do.

3. The Safety Dance

This achievement is given for killing a boss in Naxxramas (raid) without anyone in the raid dying. And this one actually is an encouragement to the raid to play well. If no one dies then it means everyone moved out of the dancing green stuff (or healers were able to cover for anyone who was a bit slow.) It comes in 10 man and 25 man versions, which shows that there are at least two versions of the raid available.

4. Less is More

Kill a raid boss with less than a full raid.

These achievements were present in the first tier of Wrath raiding but Blizzard didn’t repeat them later. And the reason is that although it’s nice to have a special achievement when not all of your raid can turn up, it actually encouraged completists to leave people on the bench (ie. “sorry Bob, you can’t come. We’re going for the less people achievement tonight and you drew the short straw”). This was not behaviour that Blizzard wanted to encourage.

5. Watch Him Die

Let’s make things harder for ourselves by killing a dungeon boss in the stupidest way possible and pulling all the adds at once, even though we don’t have to. (and there’s no extra loot.)

This kind of achievement is cool if you like experimenting with nutty ways to kill bosses that turn out not to actually be short cuts since they take longer in the end.

But at the end of the day, this one is kind of annoying and not particularly fun.  Players will be split between enjoying the challenge, wondering why you want to hold up their 10 minute heroic run with a stupid achievement, or feeling like masochists.

There are other achievements which spin this a different way, by encouraging players to try a new tactic which might not be more efficient but turns out to be fun! My raid enjoyed the 4 Horseman achievement in Naxx for example, and Sartharion+3, whilst crazy when it first was released, added an extra and very demanding level of strategy to the encounter.

I think these are the achievements with the most scope. Because sometimes completing an encounter in a silly way can be fun. Just at the same time you have to balance that with the demands of group play (how will the rest of the raid feel if you zone into a battleground naked just to get an achievement?)

6. Make Quick Werk of Him

This is an achievement for killing a boss quickly. Like #3, it’s an incentive to play well (since more dps is good). It’s also an incentive to play quickly. There is another achievement in Naxxramas for clearing one wing in under 20 minutes, and again that rewards efficient play by the raid team. Although it does also give the message that if you’re doing it right, you should be doing it fast. (If Blizzard wonders why players get the message that speed rushing is good, they could start by looking at their own achievements.)

7. Gladiator

This is a PvP achievement, and is given for being in the top 0.5% of ranked arena players at the end of a season. It means that someone is pretty darned good at arena PvP.

8. Argent Aspiration

This achievement is given after someone has completed a few daily quests at the Argent Tournament (a quest hub). It’s a step along the route to many other Argent Tournament achievements, and does in fact show that you’re doing it right. There are also a lot of achievements around the holiday events, encouraging people to go try them out.

9. 1000 fish

Use your fishing profession to catch 1000 fish. This achievement is pure grind, but also an encouragement to level fishing.  If you do level it, you’re bound to get the achievement somewhere along the way. But other achievements are just there for people who like grinding.

10. Realm First! Level 80 Blood Elf

And these are achievements for people who like to race the rest of their server. There are achievements for being the first one to max out each race, class, trade skill, and also for realm first kills of the end bosses of instances.

Now those are just a few random examples, but you can see that Blizzard uses achievements to convey a lot of different messages. Some are intended as tutorials (to give you a clue as to how you are supposed to fight the boss), others are breadcrumbs to lead you to content, some are for completionists, others are crazy, some reward grinding, some reward beating other players (either in PvP or speed). So how do you know which is which? You don’t. If you look at a list of achievements as a to-do list where you are playing it wrong if you don’t get as many as you possibly can — you’re doing it wrong. Or rather, that’s a very hardcore and specific playing style which doesn’t reflect most people and it isn’t intended to either.

So beware trying to figure out how Blizzard ‘wants’ people to play from a list of achievements. They have a history of just throwing stuff in (which is the right way to handle it, I think) but they may not mean what you think they mean.

This is particularly dangerous if you look at the new guild achievements. The new emphasis on guilds is new, it hasn’t really been tested by a full player base and no one really knows where it will lead or what types of guild will flourish. If Blizzard find that players feel encouraged to do things they (the devs) don’t like, then the achievements will be changed. Logic says that they’ll want to find ways to reward as many types of functional guilds as they can, from large social guilds to small focussed ones.

But you cannot always tell by looking which are the silly achievements that are just there for fun, which ones are there to try to guide players along, which are instructional, and which are optional grinds. One of the issues, I think, with guild achievements is that since all of them will reward guild experience, they don’t feel optional in quite the same sense as an achievement that just rewards meaningless points that can’t be spent on anything.

I predict that Blizzard will tweak the xp from guild achievements in some way.  It is almost guaranteed not to work as intended and to throw up unexpected consequences somewhere along the line. We just don’t yet know how. (I suspect they’ll have to ease the guild levelling curve later on, when people no longer want to do the grind for every guild they join.)

Beware in particular jumping on board with an ultra hardcore ethos, if that doesn’t actually fit the way that you want to play. Blizzard will want to reward other types of play too – in fact, if Ghostcrawler’s concerns about min/maxing are right, they’ll want to think particularly about that.

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a quest

There was a time a few years back in which it felt as though everything in MMOs was a quest. Quests were the new hotness, back in an era where one of WoW’s major selling points on release was that you could level purely by questing.

The standard way to show players what they were expected to do in game was to have some NPC offer a quest. Quests were used for telling stories, as tutorials, filler quests, quests to make you explore the zone, hidden quests that rewarded you for exploring further afield, quests for sending you off to the next zone, quests for PvP, quests for raid bosses (occasionally). Then add in daily quests for xp/cash, daily instances, weekly battleground bonuses, quests to get you to use vehicles – quests were used to direct players towards all of these things. And of course, every time a quest is set up, there needs to be a reward attached.

Of course, not every game is WoW. LOTRO (for example) always had a clear set of grinding goals/ titles alongside the regular quests. There were titles and perks for exploring areas, using a class skill a set number of times, killing large amounts of various different mobs in different zones, and so on. EQ2 had its alternate advancement system. But even with all these extra possible goals, players still tend to rely on quests to show them where to go next and if they happen to miss the correct breadcrumb quest (maybe through just doing things in an unexpected order or being in the wrong zone) then they’re stuffed.

But these different sets of goals also made the games more complex and confusing for new players. Unless of course there were quests to introduce them (if nothing else, quests force players to go through set actions in a certain order which can make for a good UI tutorial.)  And – this is key – most games do not regularly adjust any such introduction quests to be accessible for newbies. There’s no quest in WoW to introduce newbies to the idea of glyphs, for example. There’s no quest to let newbies know which parts of TBC they can skip (isle of Quel’Danas, for example).

In A Tale in the Desert, you pretty much have to have a window open on the wiki while you play. In that game, nudging players to collaborate on huge problem solving tasks is a key part of the design and you are directed towards the wiki from inside the game. However, it’s very much a sandbox game (literally!) and although there are general goals for the player base, the more experienced players tend to leap on them quickly and instruct everyone else in what to do next for region progression. (So you might get your goals from other players as much as from the actual game.)

Another example is EVE. New players often complain of difficulty in setting goals because the game is so open ended and has so many possibilities. It’s easy to feel lost just because you don’t have a good idea about what your options and possibilities are when you begin.  Another way of putting this is that a new player would be at a significant disadvantage to an experienced one who was starting a new alt, because the experienced player would know the ins and outs of the game so well. They wouldn’t just know what they wanted to do, they’d also know what they needed to do to get there. One of the ways in which a player learns what they COULD do is by looking at what others are doing, which is actually quite tricky in EVE unless you read forums and blogs … or have joined a corps and have some experience with the game.

Encouraging players to ask each other for help is the traditional old school MMO way of managing this complexity. This often involved a lot of offline work with reading forums, bboards, and player written tutorials (large amounts of up to date information are not easy to transfer over a MMO in game interface.) But a lot of players don’t want to interact that much with others, and/ or they don’t want to make a commitment to a guild so they might not mix with the more experienced players who could answer those questions.

So quests do serve a really useful function. They’re great for directing players around in a way which doesn’t require them to talk to other players. They are potentially great tutorial devices, if players actually read the text. They also provide for a very specific and CRPG-friendly form of storytelling (if you break down your story into a series of steps).

We are seeing some innovations in questing at the moment (public quests, quests presented when you enter an area or pick up an item rather than always talking to the guy with the Q, better use of cut scenes and phasing and non-wall-of-text based storytelling) and also I don’t think that questing is still the “one size fits all” game mechanic of old.

  • Achievements and Titles in WoW have taken some of the pressure off raid and instance questlines. Players know that there will be an achievement for completing every instance – they also can look at the achievement list to find out a set of possible goals rather than needing a separate quest for each individual achievement.
  • Guild advancement is another type of non-quest based goal.
  • Increased use of social networking mechanics and shared scoreboards is another way to provide goals to players in MMOs.

None of these things are new, but to me the innovation is finding ways to introduce these things to new players in a way that isn’t complex, obscured and confusing. The innovation is in the UI.

When you complete an achievement in WoW, it zaps up on your screen with a zing and is also shared with both your guild and with anyone close by (as well as the Armoury). You know that someone has done /something/ and if you click the achievement on screen you will find out precisely what. Think of it as just another form of gold exclamation mark …

Guild Achievements in Cataclysm — Time to Start Over?

This week, Blizzard passed out more information about the plans for guilds in Cataclysm. That’s more about guild ranks, guild levelling, guild achievements, guild reputation, guild rewards, and by the way if you’ve completed any of the activities required for guild achievements previously then those won’t count and you’ll have to do them again.

They helpfully gave an example:

Let’s just say, that for example, you need to complete the new guild achievement “We are Legendary” in order to unlock the Dark Phoenix. That achievement requires the guild to gain access to all 6 legendary weapons currently available in the game. (note that all guild achievements start on Cataclysm launch, so anything you have now will not matter, it must be done with your guild after launch)

This is just an example, so may not be the actual achievement required to unlock the pretty dark phoenix mount. But what a way to make people feel that their Wrath legendaries are not only worthless (liable to be replaced by Cataclysm greens in a few months) but also that their guild might have to go farm them all over again.  The question is, would people feel less resistance to repeating some achievement if they did so with a different or new guild?

For example, when character achievements came into the game, players had to start from scratch, even if they had completed some of the achievement raids or instances previously. I couldn’t really be bothered to go repeat the older instances on Spinks just for an achievement. But on a new alt, I might be more inclined to go out of my way to do it. Crazy, huh? But in the back of my mind I was thinking, “I’ve already beaten TBC heroics on Spinks several zillion times. Like hell I need to do that again!! It’s not my fault that the game is stupid.” I think this comes from mentally ticking off achievement boxes in your head. Once you know you have completed a goal, it feel sour to be told that you need to redo it because the first time didn’t count.

If this is true for other people, then there has never been a more appealing time in which to start a new guild. A new guild can tackle all of the new achievements together without ever having to think, “This sucks, we did that last expansion so why do we need to do it again?” I could easily imagine 10 man guilds holding regular runs through old raid instances with the aim of eventually collecting legendary items (assuming that achievement makes it live.) But I’m not sure I can imagine raids doing that who already have done it before.

Maybe one measure of how hardcore a guild is will be how easy they find it to get people to do these runs again. And again. And again. At least it answers one question about what raid guilds might do on their off-nights.  Wonder if we’ll be able to solo Molten Core at 85…

Are you planning to start or join a new guild when Cataclysm hits? I know I’m looking forwards  to tackling the achievements in our newish little Alliance guild.

Link hard, with a vengeance

  1. Tarsus explains why we should always blame the tanks and gives a reason for just about every situation.
  2. Blizzard’s new petshop has inspired KIASA to sing. Katy Perry had nothing on this.
  3. We’ve seen a lot of other blog reactions to the petstore. The majority accept that the pets aren’t a big deal, but there’s a pervasive sense of sadness – as if we’d seen the future and people aren’t sure if they like it (ultimately if it’s more profitable for devs to make social games and sell pretty pets than make big expansive virtual worlds with complex teamplay, then well …). Green Armadillo sums this up, asking if RMT is the third Trammel. Copra also expresses sadness at how the game is changing, philosophically.
  4. The Rampant Coyote wonders if too much choice is a good thing in games. Or is it too easy to get lost or distracted and actually miss the game’s goal. I’ve recently started playing both Uncharted 2 and Dragon Age Origins and sometimes being on tracks is awesome fun as long as the view (and, more importantly, the gameplay) is that good.
  5. Naissa (welcome back, by the way) has extensive lists of things she misses about WoW from times gone by, but also things she loves about the new content.
  6. Speaking of Uncharted 2, Kotaku posts an interview with one of the designers, discussing how achievements (trophies) can actually add to the gameplay of a game and how they deliberately structure them. It’s so much more directed than the random ‘lets make an achievement out of everything’ scattergun approach we see in MMOs.
  7. It’s not just zillions of people in the western world who are hooked on farmville. Farming Games are extraordinarily popular in China too (probably where Zynga nicked the idea from).
  8. Game By Night analyses some of the problems with guilds as a concept, especially in games which have levels. And suggests some possible solutions.
  9. It’s much easier for people interested in WoW raiding these days to just run a PUG for the Coliseum. Altadin discusses the problems this raises for raid guilds – if you ask someone to be on reserve for your raid, you’re actually asking them to save their locks and not to even go grab some badges in a PUG. Matticus takes another angle and notes that it’s much easier to recruit and gear up a newbie now, so why not widen the recruitment net?
  10. So your guild is breaking up, everyone is all out of enthusiasm, and even the officers are wishing they could just quit. Ferrel discusses how to neatly put the guild to sleep – not a situation anyone likes but these things happen.

And my wtf of the week is wow.com’s post this morning about paladins which notes:

paladins are forced to pay the hybrid tax three times over — because they can do it all without limiting themselves, they can’t do anything as well as other classes

Does anyone seriously think that paladins can’t heal or tank as well as other classes (hint: they’re probably ahead on both right now).? Or that their dps is way behind … e.g. warriors? It’s not. Everyone whines, but that was a silly thing to say with any editorial weight behind it.

Also, I’ve seen a lot of rather tedious tank and healer questionnaires going around? Who the hell cares what your favourite spell is? *facepalm* It’s the whole package you should be looking at and how they fit together.

But for the record, my favourite tank type to team up with are bears. Warrior/druid is just a nice combo with a lot of finesse, I find. Or maybe I just know good bear tanks.

Achievements for Non-Achievers

Achievements are the greatest gameplay innovation of this generation of computer games. (Although phasing may come close.) Players love them. Developers love them. Publishers love them. Achievementville may be papered with old laundry lists and high score tables, but it’s definitely where people want to be. Achievements are what quests were to the last generation of MMOs (rare and novel content that fascinates players.)

And like so many facets of MMOs (and human behaviour, even), we still don’t entirely know why they are so popular. Yes, people like rewards. They like to achieve a continuous stream of short term goals. But Achievements have become more than just a means to that end, they’re sparking off new types of gameplay in themselves.

I think a lot of people write achievements off, saying that they’re just there for achievers. And achievers are that nebulous cornerstone of Bartle’s four player types whose main goals in a game are to hit the high scores, the speed runs, collect the best in slot epic gear, and other concrete measurements of success in games.

I’ve always felt that achiever was a misleading name, because all players feel a sense of achievement when they succeed in their goals. A social player feels a sense of achievement when making new friends or running some group content successfully in a PUG. An explorer feels a sense of achievement when they explore some new location or content or theory. A killer feels a sense of achievement when they win a fight against another player.

And this is the brilliant groundbreaking aspect to Achievements. They can give players other than achievers some kind of concrete measure of success. Let’s face it, completing an encounter in some odd non-optimal way isn’t really the goal of a pure achiever unless they get some extra concrete reward from doing it – they want to beat the encounter, get the loot, move on. They may spend time working on completing the encounter as quickly and efficiently as possible. But by attaching an Achievement to the tactic, it becomes meaningful to players who might not have cared otherwise.

I’m seeing a lot of emergent gameplay springing up around Achievements. They’ve been plopped into our games, and now we’re seeing more of how players are responding. I’m going to use the WoW ones as my main examples.

Achievements as social enablers

When you get a new achievement in WoW, it is broadcast to your immediate area and also to your guild channel (if you have one). If it’s an impressive achievement, people will often stop to congratulate you. It may even spark a conversation on trade chat or one of the world channels.

In guild, we almost always congratulate achievements, even silly ones. Someone caught 25 fish? Cue a conversation about how dull fishing is. Cue the guild meme of everyone shouting FEEEEESH!! on channel. Cue people who may not even know the guildie well engaging him or her in the guild channel. I’ve noticed that even people who mostly play solo seem to enjoy the social inclusion.

Someone just hit level 80? It’s very likely they’ll be offered an instance or heroic run if people are free. Or offered advice on which reputation to work on first, or on gearing or talents. The *ping* of the achievement reminds the rest of us that this guy only just hit 80.

My guild is friendly anyway but broadcasting the achievements makes it much easier to keep up with what other guildies are doing, even if we don’t group with them regularly. I was wary at first (after all, do you really want everyone knowing what you’re up to?) but I can’t think of a bad side to it now.

Achievements as a narrative device

Some achievements help to chronicle the history of a character. I could look back through my WoW achievements and work out in which order I had run instances, when I had run different questlines, and as a rough gauge of what my characters had been doing at different times.

The achievement log doesn’t currently make it easy to read the list as if it was a history book, but it might be something that we see more in the next generation of games. Standard storytelling doesn’t handle repetitive grinding and instancing well (I killed an orc, then I killed an orc, then I killed an orc, etc), but if you imagine your story as a list of achievements instead, it may make more sense. Especially if there are extra ways to associate achievements with the memories – you could imagine a game which took a screenshot of your character every time you got a new achievement and stored them somewhere, for example.

Some achievements are specifically present as historical markers. Getting to level 80 or catching 25 fish in WoW are not notable achievements. But they may be interesting rites of passage for a character. Achieving max level is always meaningful to a player, even if it’s easy. The same goes for achievements that are given for completing questlines. The quests don’t have to be hard, but giving out the achievement makes them more meaningful. It’s like saying that finishing those quests was important to that character’s storyline.

In CoH there are some missions which give out badges (the CoH equivalent to achievements) and they were always very popular when I was playing. I was never sure if they were particularly good or well written missions, or had been randomly chosen as badge bait. However, because the badges were there, the missions became more important to the playerbase.

I’d love to have some kind of online book available that would tell the story of my character with pictures, achievements, and notable moments. Although guided storylines with awesome cut scenes and NPC dialogue can be vastly entertaining, the story of my character is the story that is MINE. Ideally, I’d like both 🙂 And I think achievements could have a huge role to play in enabling players to tell their own stories.

In fact, I could easily imagine achievements replacing quests as the core guidance through a game in the next generation.

Achievements as gating mechanisms

In WoW, it is not uncommon for people running PUGs to ask prospective members to link appropriate achievements before they invite. Sometimes this is taken to stupid levels, but the achievements are giving players the ability to screen others based on what they have done in game.

Whether this is a good or a bad thing is entirely in the hands of the players who use it. It’s easy to see that if you really want to do a speed run of some instance, it makes sense to look for players who can prove they know the instance already and are well geared. Achievements give players an easy way to do that.

In may be that in future they will be better at helping players to find other players who like to play in a similar way and can prove it by what they have done in the past. For example, to find other people who want to RP being pirates. To find other keen PvPers. To find other crafters. To find other social players.

Achievements to teach people new content

A new patch comes out. Players log into the game. Some of them (who do not avidly read patch notes) wonder what’s new and what they should be trying to do? Go check the latest new achievements. They’ll give you some clues as to what the devs had in mind.

The achievements can also suggest ways to interact with the new content that might not have been obvious. And because they are achievements (and rewarded by a *ding*), there’s a good chance that other players will want to do them also.

In WoW, we’ve seen this a lot with the holiday achievements.  As well as just doing whatever the holiday quests may be, achievements encourage people to go play. To throw rose petals at each other. To turn each other into bunnies. And so on. I do think they have increased the fun that people have with the in game holidays.

The fact that WoW has an achievement (with a title!) for completing every heroic instance also encourages people to at least try the less popular ones occasionally.

Achievements as collectibles

Achievements may have titles, pets, mounts, or collectible items associated with them. So they appeal to people who like to collect stuff. You can only display one title or pet at a time (in any game I’ve ever played) but it can be fun to change your title or pet depending on your mood and the people you are with.

In CoH there are some badges that you can only get once you have achieved a specific set of other (easier) badges. So working towards a badge that gives your character a title that suits its current role and costume can be a huge part of deciding which achievements to attempt.

In LOTRO, you can choose to display a crafting title, or a grind based title (ie. several zillion variants of ‘Orc Killer’), or a funny quest based title, depending on what you want to tell other people about your character and what it has done.

Achievements as high score tables

This is the closest use to the classic definition of achiever. I haven’t seen much use of this yet in games but achievements could track a player’s personal best scores at various aspects of the game. I know in WoW there are addons that will tell you when your raid has achieved a raid fastest time to kill a mob, and we always comment on TS when that happens. It is an achievement, even if the achievement system as it is now doesn’t really record it.

But it’s easy to imagine an achievement system that would let people know when you’d been part of your personal best attempt on some boss or instance.

And as far as other parts of the game go, WoW does record some economic achievements. You will be told when you have reached 10k gold for example. So it would be possible to also record most gold made in one day, and similar types of statistics.

Achievements to learn lore

Remember Angband? Every time you killed a mob, you learned a little more about it. You might start with a sentence or two of information recording what you had noticed last time. Did it run in packs? How much health did it have? How hard did it hit? And after you had killed more of them, the game would start to record whether you’d noticed any special abilities, what sort of locations it inhabited, precisely what stats the mob had, and maybe even what type of items it dropped.

I haven’t quite seen a mechanic like this in MMOs, but Warhammer’s Tome of Knowledge opened up more lore information about mobs, areas, and items as you unlocked different achievements in the game. I always thought that was a fascinating way to present information to the player (and the fact that the book  looked amazing didn’t hurt).

The ToK wasn’t perfect. It was very text heavy and hard to search. So although there was a lot of information in there, it could be quite painful to retrieve it. But I think the idea is sound, and I really do hope that the next generation of games can do more with this type of notion.

MUDs were also very good at recording details such as how many times you’d killed different monsters. It may not be very exciting information but there are people who would love that type of data. They probably do detailed analysis on cricket scores too 🙂

This is just the tip of the iceberg

I’ve barely scratched the surface of how players interact with achievements in games. Feel free to add anything you like about achievements or that you’ve noticed about how people use them in games you play.

But one thing all my examples have in common – they show that achievements aren’t just for ‘classic’ achievers.  Perhaps they never were.

Is this man the best WoW player in the world?

Zoltan of the EU Aegwynn server has passed 10005 achievement points. As well as a fearful amount of grinding for all the reputations, that involves speed levelling (realm first level 80 dwarf) and some pretty darned hardcore raiding and arena (PvP), including being in the realm first kill of Algalon.

So is he the best WoW player in the world?

It’s an interesting question, because it has never really made sense to ask that of an MMO before. We’ve tended to be focussed on our own servers and communities. We’ve also tended to use our own personal (private) rankings to decide on the best players and guilds on our servers – an achievement-hunting guild could have a terrible local reputation, or an awesome one. You won’t know if you don’t run on that server.

Blizzard has been picking away at this global high score table idea with PvP rankings for arenas for a year or two.  After implementing the tournament realms (where you can transfer a character from any server if you want to take part in the big tournament events), and the growth of external PvP events, we had some context in which to discuss the best PvP players and teams. They actually had a chance to fight each other and score points from doing so.

There’s always been some interest in which guilds picked up the world first PvE kills, which servers were the strongest for raiding and/or PvP, and so on. But now, with achievements, there’s a way to simply compare players globally. I’m guessing that for achievement junkies that is part of the appeal.

Either way, it’s an impressive set of achievements. Lunatic, for sure, but impressive. Everyone else, you can stop playing WoW now! This german guy has won the game.

And achievements still chafe me. They measure only what the company thinks they should measure. There are no metrics for being a great raid or guild leader, helping newbies learn how to play or make enough cash to buy their flying mount, or making people laugh. No metrics for being smart enough to cut back your raiding when it was affecting your relationships or for roleplaying.

We’ll just have to decide for ourselves who the best players are in those categories.

(edited to add: And the bar for completing most achievements has recently been raised.  Best WoW player in the world redux.)

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How (not) to abuse achievements

Last night, we were settling down and getting ready to fight the Assembly of Iron in Ulduar. This involves three bosses who need to be tanked separately. One of them, to whom I always get assigned, casts spells which damage the raid but can be interrupted.

My warrior has access to some interrupts, and last night I was also assigned a rogue to come and help me out with some more. The rogue who was to be my interrupt-assist is a nice guy, but notorious for his lack of focus and the length of time it takes him to understand the mechanics of a fight.

So I whispered to him that there was a special achievement you could get if the boss didn’t get off a single cast! He whispered back excitedly that he wasn’t sure we could do it but he was going to try — and he didn’t put a foot wrong.

In the end, the joke was on me, because I checked the Ulduar achievements later and there really is one


When you play an MMO, you’ll likely do lots of different things. Lots of quests, lots of instances, lots of … whatever else people do. But how many of them offer souvenirs that  you can look back on later?

I have been dipping into City of Heroes a bit lately (not on my account, true, but since my beloved insists on paying for his even when he is totally not playing it, I feel morally justified in treating it like a ‘household’ account). And two things come to mind.

1/ I still think they do titles and achievements very very well. Like the WoW achievements, you get some titles for exploring, some for grinding, and some for finishing particular story arcs or completing other activities (like creating your own mission via the mission generator).

2/ I like the mission creator. The genius of it is that it’s very very simple to create a playable mission. Even if you just pick a standard map, standard enemies, and write some garbage quest (find the thief who stole the sweets from the shop), you will end up with a playable instance. It will be no worse than a majority of the instances you hit while you are levelling, playability-wise.

I also really like that you can add a souvenir to your mission, so that when a player has completed it, they will have something in their souvenir list to look back on later, and it will remind them of the mission. For example, in my attempts to write a sad, spooky, ghost story, the souvenir is a photograph of the ghost on his wedding day – a picture of the memory that kept him from moving on.

(If you want to try the mission and are on a CoH US server, the arc id is 52484. It’s very short and intended to be very easy/ good for lowbies, I just wanted to experiment with storytelling.)

Souvenirs in Games

I always kind of liked that aspect of WoW also. I have bits and pieces in my bank that I have not used for years. The sceptre that was the key to Marauden (actually, did I ever use it at all? I don’t even remember), my old mechanical yeti (quest reward from level 55+), a christmas hat I picked up one year, 250 apexis shards (why on earth are they still in my bank???) from blade’s edge.

Now achievements can be a kind of souvenir also. First kills, completing long quest chains, collecting pets, and so on. I don’t find the WoW achievements to be as powerful souvenirs as the CoH titles, maybe because the titles are more imaginative in scope. But the thought is there. And you can look back through your list of achievements, and remember.

And then there are screenshots. It would have seemed crazy to me a couple of years back to compare a folder of screenshots with a family album because  one is about real people and places and the other has pictures of my sisters (I jest, I jest!). But looking back at them now, the memories are real enough. I wish I’d taken more.

There’s the blog also. I can look back through the Book of Grudges and revisit lots of happy memories of playing Warhammer.

The only actual solid souvenir type object in our house to do with MMOs is a model of an undead warlock that I bought my husband for Xmas last year (he loves it, his warlock had the same shoulders as the model at one point).