Worst ideas in WoW! Today: Achievements

There have been a couple of additions to World of Warcraft that drastically changed the way we playe the game or how we experience the game world. In this series I’ll take a look on some major features that have made the game as a whole worse. Today we’ll start with a very popular gameplay feature: The ingame achievements.

“Blasphemy!” you say. “Achievements add so much to the game!” you say. Achievements are extremely popular and even I often go the extra mile for an achievement, so how can I complain? Most people like them and usually people who don’t like achievements are told to just ignore and not do them. Ignoring achievements is an option and a very good one. I applaud people who have the willpower to completely ignore them and just play and enjoy the game as if they didn’t exist in the first place. But I believe that most people who do achievements don’t really like to do them, but don’t realize it. Even I “like” getting an achievement, but I still think they’re a bad thing. I try to explain why 🙂

October 15th, 2008...the horror began!

Achievements were unleashed upon the unsuspecting mass of WoW players with the Wrath of the Lich King pre-patch 3.0.2 on October 15th of 2008 (14th if you played in the US). It was a huge new feature and followed the very popular achievement system introduced by Microsoft for the XBox360 in 2005. Many people accused Blizzard of just copying the original and they’re pretty much correct, as there’s not much to hide about the fact that the WoW achievement system is more or less identical to the XBox counterpart.

At first I thought achievements were great. Depending on your progress in the game prior to patch 3.0.2 you started out with a smaller or larger amount of already completed achievements.

When the achievements were introduced I immediately noticed just how much Blizzard tracks of our daily activity. As someone who’s always been somewhat concerned with people, websites and companies tracking my activities and storing data about them, I was pretty surprised to see the amount of data stored in those achievements and especially in the “statistics”pane. My first thought was “If this is the amount of information they’re willing to disclose to everyone, then the total amount of data they have stored might even be a meticulous log of everything I ever did, said, killed and looted.” Of course nobody but me cared back then and with the advent of social networking sites even less people care now…heck even I don’t really care about that anymore, but when achievements were new, it was a serious concern of mine.

But that’s not why I dislike achievements, at least not anymore.

Like I said, I initially liked achievements. It was fun to see what other players did in the game, to see the overall progress of guild members and do them together for fun. There were also a couple of achievements which required some serious dedication and investment of time, like these two guys here:

 

Almost there..
This might take a while...

You might not remember this, but these achievements (especially the Kalimdor part) were quite difficult. A lot of quests didn’t count towards the achievement and you really had to comb through every single zone again to check all NPCs, quest starting drops, dungeon quests and more to get the loremaster title. After a while the Kalimdor achievement was lowered to 700, because it was deemed to be just too difficult. The irony is: With the way these achievements work post Cataclysm, even the 700 Kalimdor one can be considered extremely hardcore. Nowadays you just need the separate zone achievements, which don’t even require to finish the regular storyline in a zone, let alone find hidden or rare quests.

Dedication to a character was also becoming more relevant, because achievements were earned per character and not account wide, like they are today. Switching mains usually meant leaving a lot of achievements behind and/or doing everything twice, missing out on the old main and maybe regretting switching in the first place when returning to the old main character. The role of alts is another topic I’d like to talk about some day, as it has also changed quite a bit and achievements played a significant part. Let’s just say, characters used to have a lot more individuality and sentimental value than today. And since individuality in WoW was already pretty rare to begin with, that’s quite an accomplishment.

 

Gratz!

Here’s one more thing that annoys me about achievements: Other people constantly applauding and congratulating you for doing completely trivial and/or mundane stuff. Got a character to level 10? “Nice bro! GZ!”. Bought your first pet from the NPC for 5s and right clicked on it to learn it? *bling* “Sweet, gratz!”

Just stop it! It isn’t hard, it isn’t difficult and it requires no effort so stop congratulating me every time like I’ve won the special olympics.

“Explored Westfall” *gratz* *thanks*

“Going down” *gratz* *thanks*

“Victory in Alterac Valley” *gratz* *thanks*

“Deadmines” *gratz* *tha…SHUT UP!

That problem has gotten slightly better over time as many people have done these already and they pop up less frequent. But there are also players who get upset when they’re not getting praise from their fellow guildmates when doing one of these pseudo achievements.

Which brings me to my next point: “achievements”…I’m not sure, but doesn’t the name “achievement” suggest that you actually achieved something? And apparently WoW is setting the bar so incredibly low, everything counts as a huge accomplishment. It’s like receiving a medal for getting out of bed each morning three times in a row. Most of these so called achievements are so simple that they just don’t deserve to be called achievement. But wait, Blizzard thought of that, didn’t they? That’s why there are “Feats of strength!”…achievements so incredibly hardcore, they deserve an extra category…yeah…right. While some of those are really impressive, like getting a server first FoS (well, depends on the server population), there are a lot of duds in there as well. A lot of them just require logging in at the right time (anniversaries) or *gasp* logging in at the right time and clicking once or twice (brewfest stein). It’s considered a Feat of Strength because it can’t be obtained anymore after that particular holiday/event has passed.

Other ingame activities, like getting your wintersaber mount used to be time consuming but can be completed with no effort nowadays and are a Feat of Strength…why? I haven’t got the slightest idea. Oh and apparently spending money is worth a Feat of Strength as well. Buying a collectors edition of a Blizzard game grants you a Feat of Strength. Great!

Other stuff is left completely out, while it would fit perfectly in there, such as obtaining an eternal quintessence or finishing the awesome, long and removed D2 questchain.

 

 

So much awesomness...NOT!

But let’s get to my last and most important gripe with the achievement system: Wrong motivation!

Achievements coax players into doing stuff they wouldn’t normally do. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, as they could discover fun activities or find new challenges. Except the exact opposite seems to be happening. In order to complete those achievements, most players will do things they neither enjoy nor get challenged by. Was it “fun” to do all these old dungeons again at a high level, just because there was an achievement for that? Was it “fun” to go to the battlegrounds on several holiday occasions even though you don’t like PvP but wanted the protodrake for the meta achievement?

Achievements suggest players that there’s something in the game that has to be done. Why? It presents itself as something that’s unfinished. In addition to that, completing that achievement gives a pseudo reward: Some shiny effect and points that are completely useless. Of course I don’t “have” to do it, but I don’t “have” to do quests or dungeons or use all of my characters skills. But just like quests, the achievements are pretty much content in the game that can be completed by doing something and in addition to quests, they constantly tell you that you haven’t completed them yet, which can even put a certain level of stress on a player if they really feel like they “should” do this or that achievement.

But here’s the catch: Many players feel compelled to do these achievements and they spend a lot of time on them. But not for the activity…for the achievement itself. This is what’s wrong with achievements! They don’t reward you for doing a worthwile activity, the reward at the end of the activity is the only worthwile thing about them! Achievements give players an incentive to do game content THAT ISN’T WORTH DOING without the achievement attached to it. Nobody in their right mind would consciously do some dumb daily quest 10 times, even though they don’t need the reward or the reputation and don’t find the quest to be fun, entertaining or enjoyable. But behold, slap an achievement to it and suddenly everybody will do it…and that’s just wrong! Very very wrong!

Game content should be worth doing because it’s fun, entertaining, challenging or rewarding, but not because the game just tells you to do some boring sh*t, pardon my french. Achievements are just incredibly lazy and dumb game design and it’s a shame that they’re so damn effective. Without achievements players would probably get bored a lot sooner and play a lot less of the game. But doesn’t that actually show that the game itself just is boring after a while or that there’s just not so much to do? Achievements drag out content and create player activity where there shouldn’t be any, because the game content itself isn’t compelling enough on its own. Blizzard should make their game more interesting, challenging and fun to play without achievements.

Yes, there are achievements for very difficult challenges, but these challenges still exist without the achievement. Players have always come up with interesting activities, long before achievements suggested them something to do with their time. In fact: I believe achievements actually work against that form of player creativity. Players are much less motivated to do something off the beaten path if there’s no achievement for it. Fortunately there are things like the ironman challenge, proving that at least some players are still interested in playing the game their own way.

 

Just think about the last couple of achievements you did. I’m not talking about achievements you got automatically…I mean achievements where you made a conscious decision to complete them. Now, think about this: Would you have done ANY of the activities required to get that achievement if achievements didn’t exist, but if someone told you “Hey, let’s do [activity]!”?

I didn’t think so!

I'm outta here!