Using Achievements to Support Competitive Gaming
Whatever your personal stance on achievements — I neither care for them nor understand their allure, myself — it’s obvious that they’ve become a mainstay in gamer culture. Many players proudly proclaim themselves to be “achievement hunters,” displaying their digital trophies for all to see; others begrudgingly hold the title of “completionist” and only consider a game well and truly beaten once all achievements have been obtained. While achievements are harmless in singleplayer games, they’ve always had a strained relationship with competitive multiplayer gaming.
Achievements make for inherently selfish objectives — if YOU accomplish this, YOU will earn that achievement. To modify the familiar adage, there is no YOU in team, and so the spirit of achievements tends to clash with team-oriented games.
The most innocuous multiplayer achievements encourage suboptimal tactics: “kill 100 enemies using this weapon you totally suck with,” and the like. While one can argue that these achievements encourage players to become adept at certain activities or with certain weapons, there’s a time and a place for training. During a tide-turning moment in a match, you want everyone on your team focused on the communal goal of victory, and having a player on your team that is deliberately handicapping himself in order to obtain an achievement rather than contribute to that goal is against the spirit of competition.
But again, these types of achievements are the least harmful. After all, there is little difference between someone on your team who is using suboptimal tactics and someone on your team who is simply new to the game. The worst offenders include achievements that encourage destructive behavior. Team Fortress 2 is rife with examples: Survive a direct hit from a critical rocket. In a single life, get shot, burned, bludgeoned, and receive explosive damage. Ignite 10 cloaked Spies. Why do we want to encourage players to damage themselves, or engage in one of the most annoying practices in the game by running around the map spraying flame everywhere?
Many titles take the safe route and simply exclude achievements from their multiplayer portion, and a lot of competitive gamers agree with this solution. But rather than view achievements as some kind of plague, why not utilize their hold on the casual gamer to deliver a better experience for all? If there’s one complaint that competitive gamers level against playing in public games, it’s the casual gamer — the one who doesn’t understand the game well enough to effectively help his team and spends his time running around spamming gunfire.
What if achievements were used to educate new players on how to be an effective teammate? Kill # enemies attacking your flag carrier. Kill # enemy flag carriers. Deal # points of healing to friendly flag carriers. Retrieve your flag within 15 seconds of it being grabbed # times. By making achievements revolve around activities that you want to encourage in players, you’re taking the ultimately selfish activity of hunting for achievements and making it beneficial to an entire team.
Like it or not, achievements are here to stay. So why not make them work for us, rather than us for them?