You Have Not Met The Prerequisites To Read This Article

Posted By | On 23rd, Nov. 2010 Under Editorials

Call me an old fogey, but I prefer the Team Fortress 2 of three years ago, when it first released. You know what comprised the core of the experience back then? Getting the intelligence, or pushing the cart, or capturing the territory, or hitting the über-charge at just the right time to get shit done. In short: the core of the experience was playing the game. Now? Team Fortress 2 looks more like a game of Magic: The Gathering. It’s a trading-card game, framed in a first-person shooter. The game itself is just a means to an end; you really gotta have that Ghostbuster’s hat, so you play for nine hours to get it. Once you do, you keep it on your head for about two days, then decide you want a new one. So you trade, or spend another ten hours unlocking more meaningless items until you have the things you can trade for it.

I’m sure I’m being specifically incorrect here, mixing up what’s tradable with what’s only unlockable et cetera but the fact is, Team Fortress 2 is one of the best examples for showcasing the trend toward associating repetitive gameplay with artificial rewards. If you’ve ever seen the Call of Duty player boasting about the third time he prestige-classed with whatever weapon or kit that he prefers. Or if you’ve seen the servers in many games advertising it’s specificity toward earning the players specific achievements. Or if you’ve seen a person who played Dead Rising for 72 hours to get the 52,000 zombie-kill achievement only to trade the game in the next day, because he was done with it.

Part of this trend is the inclusion and wild popularity of achievements. A reward that’s tangible only to advertise your effort at getting it. Sure, the idea of achievements is solid: you get rewarded for certain acts in a game. But it’s the byproduct, the waste excretions, the fallout that’s irritating. Achievements may have started off with the idea of alerting a player when they’ve done something cool and recognizable, but it has evolved to the degree that it’s only impressive if a player has unlocked all of the fifty achievements in the game. So the player spends an extra 27 hours of play-time to make sure he plays through the game alone on Legendary, or spends three days on each achievement-oriented server to make sure he’s circumvented all the witches without alerting any one of them. Or done something else, or something else, or something else.

And so the achievements merely become goals, and along with those goals, a market develops around them to facilitate the player earning – I use the word loosely – those achievements. And when that happens, doesn’t it make the achievement worthless? It’s like saying you’ve beaten Half-Life 2. Congratulations, Nub, you were supposed to. It’s just another part of the experience that is expected, rather than earned.

Even when certain games recognized the trend, and tried to avoid it by making their achievements “secret,” a three-second google search reveals each of the achievements and what to do to get them. There are entire blogs that are set up to facilitate the achievement-farming mentality, complete with step-by-step or video-demonstrations.

Strategy Guides have been common since even before the Nintendo 64, sure, but that argument only discounts half the trend, because a strategy guide will only tell you that in order to unlock prestige-class three for the M-16, you need to get however many kills you need to get it. It can’t do it for you.

The sad part is it’s now the industry itself that’s fuelling it. It’s not just a lazy group of gamers who really want to have all the achievements, it’s the industry recognizing that a gamer will spend twenty extra hours playing their game in order to triple or quadruple-prestige, or to get all the hats, or to earn the achievements for a hundred trades.

And I’m sure there are some people out there who take the argument that it’s done merely to give the player more of a customizable experience. And that’s true to a point, sure. A lot of the upgrades in TF2 do vary the gameplay and give the player more options for cracking the enemy team’s defenses, but so many more of them are absolutely meaningless exercises in facilitating addiction: you’ll play the game longer if the developers spend three extra hours of coding time to give you something that ticks upward on a status bar every couple of minutes.

It’s a scary thought when $60 games are sustained by using the exact same strategies that Facebook games use. Call of Duty? It’s just Farmville with guns, but way more expensive, and built for mindless instant-satisfaction. Instead of farming.

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  • Yes this is amazing how boring FarmVille can be. I prefer playing action based games and pay once for all the pleasure I need. I would need to pay constantly for those type of games. You buy one game card and then another, and it goes on and on. Well here is how I solved that problem.
    It is a nice article and I agree with what are you saying.

  • Unfortunately I’d have to agree. The worst part is that sometimes I’ve managed to trick myself into believing it’s fun.

    For instance I remember playing Assassin’s Creed 2, completed and had reasonable fun doing it. I then looked at my trophy list and noticed I only needed to collect some feathers for the platinum. After about 4 hours of searching for a single feather I became enraged and only sheer bloody-mindedness kept me going until I found it.

    Afterwards I looked back and thought I had wasted several hours in doing it. Game designers are really good at manipulating us like that though, they use the fact that we all like the little appraisals we get from achievements and that if we are set a task, no matter how tedious, we’ll do it out of competitiveness.

  • Great points in this article. I hate the whole achievement list concept that has invaded virtually all genres, especially in games that try to create a realistic experience. If I’m playing a FPS or a RPG that has worked hard to immerse me into the world it has created, the last thing I’m motivated to do is scour every square inch of the map to find all 86 of the hidden widgets to gain the “I’ve got nothing better to do” achievement. It does seem like every game franchise on the market is turning into nothing but an endless, repetitive grind.

    And then the game publishers have the audacity to blame piracy for the drop in sales. I used to by 10 or more games a year. Now I buy maybe 2, and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything because they are all turning into the same bloody game anyway.

  • Seriously, you were pushing the cart 3 years ago at the TF2 launch? Imagine that, you managed to somehow have a patch from the future that added payload as a game mode. Instead of whining about stuff like hats, how about you embrace the fact that by introducing new elements that keep people playing, and even spending money, you get to enjoy more content FOR FREE as well as have a community of people to play with.

    • Like I said, I’m sure a lot of what I said was specifically inaccurate. I don’t hate TF2, and I’m extremely happy that TF2 DOES continue to provide free updates. However, the article isn’t about what TF2 does well, nor is it about TF2 specifically; it’s about the bullshit ways that developers trick us into playing and playing and playing games for reasons other than what was intended. Such as setting up a game-contained market that values hats.

      I’ll embrace the things I feel need to be embraced, but I seriously doubt someone would like to read an article that’s all about how much I love video games.

  • I agree with the bulk of this post. Remember reading (just recently) about gaming achievements having the same mechanisms as a skinner box. Certain games it makes sense to be skinner boxes, e.g. Farmville making the bulk of their money by sucking people in and keeping them addicted. While other games it seems they added achievements just because.

    Personally think Halo: Reach did a good job with their achievements. Most of them are by doing something of worthy (defeating a ship in 3 minutes, beating a firefight on legendary without dying, etc), however even some of them are mindless or simply just there (1 million, use a health pack, upload a file). Where Halo:Reach gets you is via The Armory and Challenges. Some of the Challenges are fun but I personally stay away from the Campaign related ones as multiplayer is where I find my fun.

    • Edit to add: In the article I read showing game design using skinner box, one thing of importance, items gathered\won in a game have just as much value to us as items gathered\won in real life. Yes it might be someone else’s intellectual content they created and we bought into yet isn’t that also the same about diamonds? A stone that only has value because we say it does.

  • I do agree with the general tenor of the article though, but using TF2 as an example makes no sense. The core game play has been updated over the last three years to add variety, and create a more varied experience. Hats are neat item that many people really get into, but there is no need to play the game to get hats. For that matter the game can often be purchased for less than $10.

    I think the points you have made make far more sense in the context of a game like WoW.

    • The new guns and the new game types are excellent, but I have friends who have just now got the game, and the core motivation for playing are the hats, and the trade items. I’m not criticizing the game, I’m criticizing the trend that leads to fake motivation. I hate that a game as splendid and fun as TF2 is resorting to dumb, throwaway methods to attract gamers.

      I was also using Call of Duty as an example. IN fact, I find the prestige class busines much more pointless than gathering hats.

  • Your opinion is valid but overly critical.

    You fail to recognize that gamers are putting the time and effort into trophies and achievments because they want to. No one is forcing them. Personally, I collect all the trophies in a game if I can handel the tedious nature of the process so I get the full money value from the game. If I just ran through the game and beat it there is not much replayability unless multiplayer is available. With games being about 60-80 dollars an extra month collecting trophies make me feel as if I played every dollars worth.

    “It’s like saying you’ve beaten Half-Life 2. Congratulations, Nub, you were supposed to. It’s just another part of the experience that is expected, rather than earned.” –

    You are generalizing. If I beat Half-Life 2 in under fifteen hours and got a trophy then that was not a part of the expected experience. You are singling out the easier trophies/achievements which collectors think are silly anyway.

    • They’re putting the effort into trophies because they know it’s a cheap – that is to say, cost-effective – way to be popular, and to keep people playing. A game like TF2 an’t come out with single-player expansions, nor does it have a fanbase as willing to purchase $60 bugfixes like the Call of DUty crowd. So, inevitably, they have to keep content fresh by adding variable weapons, new maps and game modes, etc. and among those -good- additions, they also have the pointless ones.

      If being aware of throwaway, pointless trends that even come across from developers who care about their players comes at the cost of being overly critical then I’ll take that cost.

      Also understand, I’m not criticizing achievments in general; I’m criticizing the attitude that has spawned around them, the idea that since an achievement is there, it”s something that -must- be completed. Mostly, that is an attitude by gamers, but developers are aware of it, and now they’re exploiting it.

  • Good, another 800 word sentence saying, “I’m getting tired of achievements.” There are four general types of gamers:

    1. People who don’t like achievements.

    2. People who like achievements and enjoy earning them.

    3. People who couldn’t care less one way or the other.

    4. People who obsess over achievements (and the like) at the expense of other gaming aspects.

    #4 is “bad” to all us conscientious game lovers, but is it “wrong”? It’s not a new thing, the metrics of gaming have been around since the beginning (if not often at the forefront back then). Scores, points, leaderboards, whatever – some people love ’em, but do they need to be rescued? Will you teach them the “right” way to play?

    “Wrong” is a function of POV. I’m one of those conscientious, bleeding heart game lovers, so I can say that #4 is lamentable, and come up with several reasons why it’s bad for the industry and/or for the medium in general. And yes, some gamemakers abuse the system, using achievements as marketing gimmicks and artificial game extenders – for shame, we’d all be better off without them.

    And yet, I also think the principle is sound, and MOST gamers have good clean fun with it, be them completionists or not. Even more, I also think they (achievements) are as susceptible to superior game design as any other aspect – when done right, gameplay can not only be extended but enhanced.

    But that’s just me.

  • I agree with your article, and I’d like to add my two cents. My beef with games as a whole lately goes hand in hand with your complaints. I believe that what you’re seeing with achievements and needless grinding is merely a symptom of a much bigger problem. The games industry has become so big and popular that nobody is trying anymore.

    Now I know there are all kinds of excuses and reasons for why I’m wrong to say that, but compare the games we play today to the games we played last generation. Remember what happened when the last wave of next gen consoles came out, and how everyone kept referring to it as the “next gen” of gaming even? I remember those huge promises. I’m still waiting for even one of them to be fulfilled. Let’s make a list of what we had back then, what was promised, and what we have now:

    The Promise: Smarter AI

    AI was understandably bad at the time. You have to give credit for the achievements that a lot of well known game developers such as Konami accomplished with the hardware provided back then. It was truly impressive for the time. It was a step forward from when we played on our Nintendo 64s, our Playstations, and our Sega Dreamcasts.

    Did We Get It?: Hell no.

    There are way too many games to reference from even this past year that still have atrocious AI. How many times have you stopped playing a game recently because you killed someone quietly in the middle of nowhere only to have every enemy in the game gunning for you? Don’t answer, I already know it’s a lot. It’s taken Microsoft liar extraordinaire Peter Molyneux how long to come up with the idea for Milo the interact-able AI that responds in real time to your actions? This level of interaction hasn’t been attempted since Seaman for the Dreamcast if I remember right. Not that anyone believes it’s going to be anything more than another Nintendogs anyway…

    The Promise: Movie Quality Graphics

    Once again, I think that what was possible at the time, and what we got was nothing short of extraordinary. I don’t remember anyone complaining about crappy looking graphics back in 2000 other than people who were fooled into buying all-around bad games. That and annoying PC loyalists and their 800$ graphics cards. (Jokes on them now amirite?)

    Did We Get It?: Not really.

    I’m pretty sure we have a problem when the phraise, “This looks like last gen PS2 graphics,” from thousands of savvy gamers the world over. Disagree all you like, but the only game that I can think of that even comes close to movie quality this generation is Uncharted 2, which is being generous. Speaking of which, I seem to recall hearing when the PS3 first launched that developers weren’t yet tapping the full potential of the system. Something in the neighborhood of 10% was being used at the time. (That’s a very small number, which sets up some very high expectations for the future, no?) Years later we’re still looking at games that really don’t do the preview trailers from the console’s launch any justice.

    I feel like this one needs further elaboration. Yes, graphics have gotten immensely better since the last generation. In that, I believe we have made some progress. If I started naming games off the top of my had that I think have great graphics, I’d be here way longer than I’m already willing to write about. However, I haven’t seen a game yet that makes me think I’m watching a movie. Games that come close to that mark would be stuff like Uncharted 2 obviously. Metal Gear Solid 4 has some exceptionally good scenes too. Mafia 2. GTA 4, etc., etc. Good graphics yes, movie quality, not quite there yet.

    The Promise: 1:1 Motion Controls

    The closest thing we had to motion controls back then were rumble packs that let you “feel the action” so to speak. I honestly didn’t notice my controller rumble when I wasn’t paying attention, and neither did you I’m betting. Still it was pretty cool at the time and definitely better than nothing.

    Did We Get It?: You already know the answer.

    First off, who the hell was asking for motion controls really? I guess I’ll just admit that this one is more opinion than factual, but I feel like I’m in the majority on this one. I don’t think anyone expected the Wii to revolutionize gaming like the way it claimed it would. But I’ll be damned if not all of us went running to the store the day the Wii finally came out so we could play with that new motion controller. Then, after that initial wave of denial, everyone that wasn’t a grandparent finally admitted that they’d been gypped big time. Do you remember how disappointed you were when you finally figured out that you barely had to shake the controller for the exact same outcome you’d been so gracefully articulating with your whole body before? Stings doesn’t it?

    I’ve long since sold my PS3 and Xbox 360 so I can’t really say a whole lot about PS Move and Kinect, however it looks like what the Wii did but in HD so far. By the way, Microsoft and Sony are very late to the party with these products. I’m pretty sure grandma doesn’t care about HD versions of the crappy party games she’s been playing anymore than the ones she has now. Your average gamer has already figured out that the Wii is a joke anyway. Only the gullible masses will fall for this trick again before motion controls are forever shunned by all audiences.

    That’s enough examples for now. You get my point. The next (this) generation of gaming isn’t nearly as magnificent as the developers would have us believe. I have heard arguments from well known sites such as Joystiq and Kotaku claiming that we gamers have been pampered by games in the past and that we’re all looking through rose colored lenses at the games of yesteryear, but are we really? Maybe a little, but the proof to the contrary has already been laid out before you.

    I’m being critical I know, but I have a good reason. I’ve brought out the big guns because the games industry is making a mockery of the common gamer. It’s no longer about our enjoyment and satisfaction. It’s about exploiting our stupidity. They’ve learned what makes us tick folks. They know what we like, and they’ve figured out how to charge money for it too. Think I’m talking crazy? Take GameStop for example. Notice how they market their ridiculously unfavorable trading conditions to the average joe? They made it into a game. It’s subtle, but they’re using game psychology to convince you to trade in that game you spent sixty bucks on for a measly amount of trade in ‘points’ so you can buy that shiny brand new game. And if you hurry up and pre-order now, you’ll get a special limited edition useless trinket/costume/weapon you’ll get bored of instantly. But hey it’s cool, those losers who didn’t buy it on launch day at full price don’t know what they’re missing out on, right? GameStop knows how we love to collect things. They know you’ll wait in line in the middle of the night for the Limited Edition copy of a game in a tin can container. While you’re at it, do you wanna pre-order for that next super awesome piece of shit you’re going to trade back in next week, tonight? They are banking on the fact that you’re going to trade that game back in eventually. They know it’s just a matter of time before they put that game back on the shelf and then make sometimes up to 200% of their money back on the re-sale. If you haven’t figured it out, you are that rabbit in the commercials, and GameStop is playing you.

    Oh you thought I was done? This shit doesn’t stop at GameStop. The industry has taken a cue from stores just like it, and now they’re getting that extra piece of the pie too! Yay, it’s a great day to be a gamer isn’t it? Can you guess what I’m about to talk about next? Two words: Downloadable content.

    Did nobody else arch an eyebrow when they first heard about Horse Armor in Oblivion costing an extra two dollars and fifty cents? I loved listening to people try to rationalize it being a fair price, but didn’t that sound like something that would have taken maybe a couple hours to put into the game before launch? Oh well, that one was pretty harmless and I’m sure Microsoft learned their lesson once nobody downloaded it. Of course I’m being sarcastic and we’re all now happily accustomed to spending an extra forty bucks no less than a month later on games we spent sixty bucks on to begin with. No really, everyone is ecstatic about that.

    Now some of you pricks might ask why game developers don’t just delay the game that extra month so they can get all the content into the game before its release. The simple answer is fuck you. That’s not how it works anymore. You’re going to pay an extra fifteen to twenty bucks for sometimes not even two hours of gameplay and LIKE IT.

    Oh you think that’s a dick move? Well guess what? Things just got even better. Now we’re seeing games being released without endings. Dead Rising 2 for example. Raise your hand and immediately put it back down if you unlocked overtime mode and was completely perplexed as to why it was not only really short, but felt like a poor rehash of the first game? How many years has this game been in development? Like four years, right? And what did they announce before the game even launched? Case West. Ladies and gentlemen, this has become the status quo.

    How far are we into this generation that the developers still haven’t figured out how to work with the systems yet? Dead Rising 2 is a great game, but it should not have taken four years to make the sequel, especially when it doesn’t add anything. Lacking a real ending in favor of making us wait a few more months for DLC should be a crime.

    It’s all about the money. That’s why they charge money for Xbox Live. That’s why they charge extra money for minuscule limited edition crap before release. It’s why they charge you out the ass for content that should have been in the game from the start anyway. And it’s why I’m going to stop buying games altogether when they start charging subscriptions to play games online on my PC. (MMOs excluded however not forgiven obviously.)

    So if you’ve read this far, I’d like to sum this all up. The games industry has become so big and popular that nobody is trying anymore. They’ve got your number, and instead of us gamers seeing progress, they’re exploiting our stupidity in every way they possibly can.

    One last thing. I said my points go hand in hand with yours. Well it’s just like you stated. They know you’re going to fork over more cash for that extra DLC so you get get ALL of the achievements. It’s just one more devious way the games industry has exploited our stupidity.


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