What a Game's Trophies Can Tell You About its Players

By Kotaku on at

By Alan Wen

What is the point of game trophies - bragging rights, an arbitrary replayability checklist, or just little pats on the head? Who knows but, in the diversity of how developers use them, many can give you a fascinating insight into the players themselves. Many are awarded merely for making progress or using a feature and, if you factor in how PSN also shows the total percentage of the playerbase with the same trophy, it's almost a database of behaviour.

Forget the sales figures, and let’s think about just how many people who buy these games experience what's on offer - and how many are poleaxed by a difficulty spike on the third level. For you, dear reader, I excavated SEN’s trophy stats - and here’s what I learned.

Solo vs multiplayer

An action-packed single player experience like Uncharted 4 hardly cries out for multiplayer, an opinion most players would seem to share since only 31.1% were awarded a trophy for bothering to complete the multiplayer tutorial. The trophy for playing five matches falls even further, with just 19.8% of players having it, which at least tallies with my own experience of playing one match and thinking "nice but no thanks".

Call of Duty has always been about shooting and fragging others online, with the brief blockbuster campaign just expected as part of the package. So just how many care? Unfortunately, last year's Black Ops III doesn't award trophies for campaign missions on regular and easy difficulty so it's harder to get an accurate idea. That said, in my very brief time trying it before promptly trading in, I did join another 56% of players in getting a campaign trophy for shooting someone through a wall, so could we say half? Maybe all that expensive mo-cap was worth it.

On the other hand, Doom has had more focus on its acclaimed campaign, shown by the huge majority (85.6%) who were interested enough to complete the first mission. In comparison, its not-so-well-received multiplayer, awkwardly aping modern shooters' level progressions, has only seen 26.1% play for long enough to get a trophy for reaching Level 5.

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Then you have GTA V, the finest single-player open world experience of our time, though it's really GTA Online that's continued its success. Despite this, I never felt compelled to try it out for myself, and I'm not alone, as only 60% of players have actually been awarded a trophy for getting past the online mode's introduction. Then again, as one of the biggest selling games of all time, it's probably irrelevant – Rockstar would still be making a mint from just a fraction of its players online.

New features

What about content and features vocal fans cry out for, except do they? The rise of player-created content may be why the new Doom tried bringing modding culture to the masses with SnapMaps. Unfortunately, at least where PS4 users are concerned, people may not be as creative as we'd like to believe, with only 3.9% achieving a trophy for simply creating and publishing one SnapMap. It does fare better for those who just want to try out others' creations, since 9.1% have a trophy for playing five published SnapMaps.

Last year's FIFA 16 introduced women's international teams for the first time, and there's even a trophy for playing a women's match. Unfortunately, embracing gender equality still has some way to go, with only 21.5% of players awarded that trophy. That's just for one match – it goes down to an ultra rare 2.8% who carried on to win the women's international cup.

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Active Online

If your game is dependent on online features, then you want to know that it has an active player base. My initial study of trophy stats was actually on Street Fighter V, which offers so little in offline features that unless you regularly have friends over for local punch-ups, you need to be connected. It's here that trophy stats look miserable.

Surely even the most casual player can play at least 10 online matches. However, the trophy gained for fighting 10 network battles currently stands at just 28.1%. Not only falling ridiculously short of Capcom's 2m launch sales target, it's likely many have already abandoned SFV online, as only 16.9% of players have fought in 50 network battles and just a measly 6.9% have fought in 300, leaving the player base's matching pool in dire straits. If you were wondering why match-ups take so long or why you keep fighting the same player leagues above you, that's why.

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It's easy to blame this on SFV's botched launch because it is nonetheless a mechanically flawless fighting game. Perhaps it's also down to the fact that many people are just losers – only 29.5% have gotten a trophy for winning their first ranked match. Yes, one match.

Fortunately, Overwatch has a considerably more active player base, not to mention bigger sales figures, with 72.7% already having reached Level 10, though commitment may tail off, since only 47.1% have reached Level 25, down to 26.4% who have reached Level 50. But spare a thought for the billy-no-mates who haven't been able to share Blizzard's hero shooter with a friend – just 57.6% of players have a trophy doing just that.

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Survival of the Fittest

The unfortunate reality is that most games are never finished, though it's understandable for a tough cookie like Bloodborne. As you gain a trophy for every slaughtered boss, it paints a dispiriting picture of the poor hunters who fell at each hurdle, with over a third giving up the ghost before they could slay the first boss Cleric Beast, and these figures decrease with each subsequent boss until only a minority make it out of the nightmare. Although Bloodborne has multiple endings and a trophy for each one, making it less clear just how many have beaten the game at least once, we could go by the boss Mergo's Wet Nurse as the bare minimum requirement to reach the end, a trophy awarded to just 32.9% of hunters.

What is peculiar is that the easiest boss in the whole game, The Witch of Hemwick, was only beaten by 47.3% of players, less than the 49.4% who slayed Vicar Amelia, arguably one of the toughest. It's probably down to the fact she is entirely optional and some players just never even discovered Hemwick Charnel Lane, but fair play to anyone who took on Amelia and the rest of the game without rune perks.

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It's not limited to hard games. Looking at Uncharted 4, Doom, The Witcher 3, Metal Gear Solid V or even a two-hour game like Journey, regardless of quality, difficulty or genre, only a minority of players ever finish their games. Only the recent Lynchian narrative adventure Virginia has a majority (57.2%) who got the trophy for making it to the end, mainly because you barely have to press any buttons to even get there (or just watch the credits).

With a sprawling open world game like The Witcher 3, it's possible that players get so absorbed exploring the world's stories for hundreds of hours they just never want it to end. But for something brief like Journey or Everybody's Gone to The Rapture, so often criticised as 'non-games' that don't pose any challenge, finishing is surely a no-brainer? Or does it show that not as many were pulled in by these game's emotional narratives as we're to believe and just moved on to the next thing?

Early Quitters

You can see this with episodic narrative titles like Telltale's The Walking Dead, the trophies acting like a TV show's gradually dropping ratings, with 72.9% completing Episode 1 but only 48.3% completing Episode 5. It makes you wonder how over a quarter already tuned out before the end of the first episode.

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In fact, I have failed to find a single trophy achieved by 100% of players, even when you would think it would be impossible. You might expect people to give up on a game halfway but a tiny minority will still not bother to give the game a chance at the start. It might just be that over 5% of players had no patience for the hour-long prologue/tutorial in Metal Gear Solid V but 4% of those who bought Fallout 4 couldn't even bother to get past that game's pre-bomb prologue to actually enter the Wasteland.

My biggest surprise comes from Dark Souls II, which has surely the easiest trophy ever that's part-and-parcel of any Souls game – you just have to die. The figure for this is 95.2%. This can only mean that either a few find even the fear of death too much to take, or there really are some Souls savants who can play the entire game first-time with a single life. So much for death being the great equaliser.