By Russ Frushtick
Let me start by saying that I realise I'm crazy.
The obvious response to anyone ever talking about Achievements is "Why do you care? They're not worth anything."
At present, my total Gamerscore sits at 117,365. It may sound like I'm bragging but I'm not. I honestly don't care about my total Gamerscore number. All it really means is that I've spent a bunch of time playing video games. It's no indication of, say, how good I am at them.
But I still care about the idea of Achievements. Not as a simple way to increase my total Gamerscore. More as a way to keep a record of my experiences, like when I finished Hell in Spelunky for the first time or found the last bobblehead in Fallout 3.
It's like scanning the spines of books I've read, paging through them to get to my favourite parts.
Since the launch of the Xbox One, though, my satisfaction in collecting Achievements has diminished considerably.
There were plenty of features that were bare bones at the launch of the Xbox One. Achievements, for example, were relegated to a full-screen app that was a pain to browse and navigate.
But Microsoft has made strides since then. The Achievements list can now be snapped. Searching the solution of how to unlock a given challenge can be done painlessly within the system's browser. Indeed a lovely addition that prevented the need to keep an iPad on-hand whenever I went Achievement-hunting.
But there's still plenty more to be done. Here are two suggestions on how to make the experience even better.
Problem 1: Completion Percentage
Throughout the Xbox One's user interface, completion percentage is the focus. If you've got 750 out of 1,000 Gamerscore points in Battlefield 4, you'll see a giant 75% on the Battlefield 4 icon. And that's fine. I'm satisfied with getting 75% of the Achievements in a game. I don't need to complete all of them.
But the feeling of seeing progress go down is miserable. Getting all of the Achievements in Titanfall and seeing 100% is great...until a new piece of DLC comes out and that number drops to 82%.
Xbox One isn't the only platform that does this. PlayStation 4 works similarly, with the key difference that the main game's trophies are separated from the game's DLC trophies. If you get 100% in a given game on PS4, you'll never lose that 100%. The completion percentage for all trophies in that game might go down, but at least you'll always know that you completed the main game entirely and, for many games, you're given a platinum trophy for your troubles.
On Xbox One, the reward for completing all of the Achievements in the main game is the sinking feeling that DLC will come out and spoil your feeling of perfection.
There's a business logic behind this. If a completionist finishes a game on Xbox One and then sees their satisfying 100% drop down into the 80s, maybe that'll encourage them to purchase the DLC and right that wrong.
It has discouraged me from going for perfection on Xbox One, knowing that it's merely transient, taken away by poorly-designed DLC Achievements that require hours of grinding.
This is easy: Just indicate when players have completed all of the standard, at-launch Achievements. Stick a badge on the game's icon or something. Just add some visual indicator of accomplishment. So long as there's something that doesn't disappear when new achievements gets added, I'll be happy.
Problem 2: The 1000-Point Scale
On the Xbox 360, disc-based games offered 1,000 Gamerscore points from Achievements. Downloadable games only offered 200 points initially, though the cap was eventually raised to 400.
With the launch of the Xbox One, all games on the platform were made equal. Every single game that releases gets 1,000 Achievement points to dole out however they wish.
The spirit of this is fine, in that it doesn't religate smaller indie games into a corner of Xbox Live, but rather puts them right alongside bigger titles.
Unfortunately it does impact the value of the Achievement point system. It's inherently easier to gather points in smaller games simply because there are fewer challenges to tie Achievements to.
The result of this is that the individual value of Achievement points are diminished, because people could simply focus on smaller games to get their numbers up. A newly-added leaderboard keeps track of which friends have increased their Gamerscore the most in the last 30 days. This only encourages the idea of score boosting on smaller games.
Adopt the concept of "rarity" that Sony introduced on the PS4. Show what percentage of players have unlocked a given achievement, thereby making players feel like they really accomplished something when they nab one that hardly anyone has. But take it one step further and let people highlight their rarest Achievement on their profile page.
On PC, Steam already lets users customise their profile pages with this sort of data. It makes individual Achievements way more interesting. Granted it doesn't fix the "value" of achievement points, but I think that concept is too far gone to be solved.
(Image via Reddit)
Achievements will always be meaningless.
My obituary probably won't delve into how impressive it was that I was able to play through Deus Ex: Invisible War without killing anyone (though maybe it should, if only for the irony). But I still love them. I want them to be as satisfying and memorable as possible.
After all, Atari isn't sending out those patches anymore. I need something to prove to the world how great I am.
Russ Frushtick is a freelance writer based in New York. He was a co-founder Polygon and the editor-in-chief of MTV Multiplayer. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times. He is somewhat colour-blind.