The Problem with Trophies and Achievements

PlayStation trophies and Xbox achievements graphic

Since the introduction of trophies (PlayStation) and achievements (Xbox) in video games, I’ve always been less than satisfied with how the whole process works and is implemented. In my opinion, the whole trophies and achievements idea needs a huge rethink.

When trophies/achievements first started appearing in games, I despised them, and I pretty much still do. In the past, I could play a game, enjoy it, complete it and move on to the next game on my list.

Now, whenever I play a game and complete it, I then have to play the game again (or again and again …) in order to clean up the remaining trophies/achievements that I never got on my previous play through’s. This is something I appear to have no control over, my brain just will not let it go.

What’s even more frustrating about this whole process, is the fact that the trophies/achievements you are going back in for are either the trophies/achievements which force you to play the game again on a ridiculous difficulty setting, which ends up ruining the gaming experience for you.

Or you have to grind through some repetitive nonsense, like killing a specific baddie a hundred times or more, in a specific way, at a specific time and place in the game, using only a specific teaspoon which you picked up in a previous mission.

Take Uncharted 4 by Naughty Dog for instance, in order to platinum this title, one of the trophies/achievements you have to unlock is playing the game through on the crushing difficulty setting.

While this isn’t anything new with Uncharted, as this exact trophy/achievement appears in all the previous Uncharted titles, playing the previous games through on the crushing difficulty setting was challenging, but not ridiculously stupid and frustrating. It did not spoil the enjoyment of the game.

However, in Uncharted 4, Naughty Dog got the balance between difficulty and playability very wrong in my opinion. Uncharted 4 on crushing is a horrible experience, so much so, I lost a lot of love for this game. And, for me, the most infuriating part of all this, is that I was forced to play this game on crushing in order to achieve the platinum trophy/achievement.

This experience changed how I now feel about this game. I’m less inclined to recommend this game to anyone because of this, which is a shame, because after my first play through of Uncharted 4 on the moderate difficulty setting, I would have recommended this game to anyone.

Online Trophies/Achievements

The other issue I have with trophies/achievements is the fact that game developers mix online trophies/achievements with offline trophies/achievements, and this affects whether you are able to unlock the platinum trophy/achievement or not.

What happens if you do not play games online? How do you unlock the platinum trophy/achievement then? Why is it deemed acceptable to be alienated from achieving the platinum trophy/achievement if you do not online game?

Take two gamers for instance, one online games and the other does not. Both spend £60 of their hard-earned money paying for a newly released game on launch day. The game contains both offline and online trophies/achievements. One is able to platinum the title, the other is not. How is that fair?

Some gamers just do not have the luxury of spending hours upon hours playing games online. Some gamers have work or family commitments, so their gaming time is very limited. When they do eventually get some spare time to play a game, they do not want to spend it online chasing a pointless trophy.

I, myself very rarely play online games. I’m just not a fan of these ‘run and gun’ multiplayer games, which appear to be nothing but repetitive, mind-numbing nonsense that only seem to be played by complete idiots who either cheat or constantly kill their own team members. Why would I want to spend my precious gaming time in that kind of environment?

This experience changed how I now feel about this game. I’m less inclined to recommend this game to anyone because of this.

Or what about the other issues with online trophies/achievements where you are playing a game which was released three or four years ago, and nobody plays the game online any more?

When I was trying to unlock the platinum trophy/achievement for Call of Juárez: Bound in Blood by Techland, I found myself in this exact situation, just because I picked up the game several years after its release.

All I needed was one trophy/achievement to platinum the game. That trophy/achievement was Goldrush! (Collect a total of $1,000,000 (ranked play counts) to unlock golden weapons in multiplayer.)

The problem was, no-one was playing the game online any more which made achieving this trophy/achievement almost impossible. I managed to make just over $500,000 before I gave up. It was taking far too long to achieve. This bugs me to this day.

Then there is the problem when they pull the server altogether because no-one plays the game online any more. I also experienced this scenario while I was playing Ghostbusters: The Video Game by Terminal Reality several years after its release.

I was trying to achieve the online trophies/achievements which was again taking forever due to lack of other online players, when one day, I was unable to connect to the server and have never been able too since. No warning, nothing, just gone … forever (apparently, in December 2013, Terminal Reality closed down and liquidated its office outside Dallas, TX.), So now you simply can not platinum this game, and that to me is unacceptable.

These are the exact reasons why online and offline trophies/achievements should be separated. Online trophies/achievements should be exactly that, for online gaming and nothing else.

Award the online player with a power up or unlock a better weapon if they unlock a trophy while gaming online. This makes way more sense to me than the current set up does.

Glitchy Trophies/Achievements

Let’s not forget about the ‘glitchy’ trophies/achievements either. You know, the ones that never unlock no matter what you do. There is nothing that will infuriate you more than spending hours getting 1000 headshots just to find the trophy/achievement is glitched and will not unlock.

Yep, you’ve guessed it, I have also had an experience with a glitchy trophy/achievement. When I was playing Gone Home by Fullbright, the Homerunner trophy was glitchy to unlock, but thankfully I was able to get it to pop after what seemed like forever.

The problem is, it ruins the experience for you. It leaves a lasting impression, and it changes your opinion of the game. The whole trophies/achievements thing always leaves me asking the same question. Why you would put pointless trophies/achievements in a game you have spent thousands of hours and probably millions of dollars developing?

For me, trophies/achievements are now (unfortunately) just as much a part of the game play experience as the scenery or sound effects are. So why make some of them so ridiculous?

I always get the impression that trophies/achievements are an afterthought once the game is near completion. Almost as if the developers are competing with each other to see who can get the most outrageous trophy/achievement into the final game.

In what way does killing a baddie a hundred times or more make me a better gamer? If I can kill him once, I can kill him a hundred times. What’s your point?

In what way do developers think that by making gamers spend hours unlocking a pointless trophy while getting increasingly frustrated with the whole process makes them want to recommend the game to any of their friends?

In what way do developers think it is acceptable to alienate and stop someone from achieving the platinum trophy just because they choose not to game online, even though they have paid exactly the same price for the same game?

A Fairer System

For me, trophies/achievements should be optional. There should be an option that pops up when you first install a game, asking the player if they wish to opt in to collecting trophies/achievements for this particular game. If they decline, they should never see any mention of a trophy/achievement.

Online and offline trophies/achievements should also be separated. You should be able to platinum any game title regardless of when you start playing it, whether that’s two minutes after launch, two weeks, two months, two years, etc.

If online games take their server offline, then online trophies/achievements for that game should either automatically unlock, or be permanently removed from the trophy list, so you are still able to achieve the platinum trophy for that particular game.

Why the latter does not happen already is beyond me. It’s the equivalent of buying a new car from Ford (or any other car manufacturer), then two years later, Ford come round your house a remove the clutch or something. The car is now fundamentally broken, just like the trophies/achievements now are.

I’ve nothing against people who actively collect trophies/achievements. I am well aware that some gamers out there take collecting trophies/achievements very, very seriously, and that’s fine. More power to them as they are obviously better gamers than I will ever be.

I would just like to see a fairer trophy/achievement system in place. A system that does not break after several years because no one plays the game online any more, or if the server gets switched off.

It just always baffles me how game developers are happy to accept the fact that if they add online trophies/achievements to their game, there is a good chance that in the future, the platinum trophy/achievement for that game with be unachievable.

If I was a game developer, there is no way I would be happy with that.

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