Psychology student in need of help!

Yeld 101 Jan 02, 2011 at 15:48

I am currently working on my diploma project and I would appreciate any help you fine gentlemen are willing to offer.

I am trying to explain the success of Microsoft’s XBOX Live’s Achievement System by utilizing various psychological theories. (mainly the “Goal-Theory” and the “Self-determination Theory”)

I am lacking some kind of evidence for the actual success of Microsoft’s System. Even though it gets a lot of praise in the press, I have trouble finding in-depth papers or business reports to strenghten this point.

If you know of other scientific attempts to explain how achievement-systems / trophy-systems work and why they are so effective, I would really appreciate any information you could spare.

Thank you!

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poita 101 Jan 02, 2011 at 15:57

Chris Hecker (a famous game developer) wrote an article on the harm caused by achievements not too long ago ( I know that’s not what you are writing about, but if you go to the bottom of that page there’s a bunch of links to other writings and research about the psychology of achievements that could be useful.

TheNut 179 Jan 02, 2011 at 16:53

Is there a reason you’re limiting yourself to XBox live only? I think of all the XBox games I’ve played, achievements were simply title based. These fit in well with your psychological theories. Other achievement systems not related to XBox have had far more psychological impacts. These achievement systems have constructed social classes. The haves and the have-nots. Warhammer and Bad Company for example reward players with new gear for playing longer and better. New players are handicapped, which resulted in negative feedback from those who lack skill or time (see the Bad Company 2 forum). You have a polar response from the good players who of course will praise the system for the diversity and tactical advantages it brings them. Then you have games like Team Fortress 2 that reward players randomly (originally use to be skill based). Instead of classing players by time and skill you now class players by luck. Again, you see this extensively on Valve’s forums where players expressed their anger over playing for long periods of time and were rewarded garbage or nothing.

With title based achievements like with XBox live, I see them more like I see adding a game feature. You have nothing to lose and only to gain for having it. It gives your game more to market with. Players that dig it will love you, players that don’t will still love you because the achievement system doesn’t interfere with the game itself. However if you look at how other games implement achievements, then you have a more challenging answer. If you want to broaden out a bit, contact Valve. They have done extensive research with achievement systems, specifically with their Team Fortress 2 game. They should also have statistics on how often people cheated in order to win achievements. It should be quite valuable for your paper, assuming of course they will release that information to you :)

alphadog 101 Jan 03, 2011 at 15:09

Harmful? Effective? I’m curious on how you define “success of Microsoft’s XBOX Live’s Achievement System”.

I don’t think I’ve ever put one iota of attention to them beyond a small LOL at the wacky ones flashing by my screen.

Maybe I’m in the minority?

Luz_Reyes 101 Jan 03, 2011 at 17:53

Sounds like a fascinating paper, hope you post it on the web and post a link to it here when it’s ready!

alphadog 101 Jan 03, 2011 at 19:14

BTW, Dan Pink would be a good read, but beware! He’s entered the “popular zone”, where new ideas are taken up in overs-simplified droves by so-called early adopters.

As an example, there are newer papers than Pink’s body used in his recent book that show that different people (cultural, gender, introvert vs extrovert, etc.) respond differently to extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivators. I looked at this in the context of a debate I had six months ago on the benefits, or lack thereof, of individual metrics in the IT shop I’ve run. A contentious paper shows that “tangible, expected, contingent” individual rewards actually motivated better performance of both individuals and teams in a complex, cooperative scenario.

Yeld 101 Jan 03, 2011 at 22:28

First of all, thanks for the awesome responses so far! I really appreciate the input.

Thanks for the link to the Chris Hecker text. It will definitely be used! Pointing out downsides and unwanted sideeffects of achievement systems is somthing I definitely want to elaborate on.

I immediately sent an email to Valve. I hope they will share some of their data.

The papers you suggest sound very interesting. I would be very grateful if you could tell me where I could find them.

Edit: My project’s topic is still open to change at this point. I initially wanted to focus on the XBOX-Live system, because I thought it was the most renown and would probably already sport a number of publications. Since this is not the case, I am enclined to branch out further.

alphadog 101 Jan 04, 2011 at 00:40

Two names I remember are Pearsall and Beersma. That should get you started. Grab some recent papers from them and the reference list should allow you to “spider” through the field.

IMO, Kohn has a ton of stuff that I would put on the “extremist” end of the whole motivation spectrum. He makes a point, but way to forcefully.

jorian9001 101 Apr 16, 2013 at 01:03

my opinion is that the achievements’ names can be funny at times but that’s about it,
it only pulls you out of the game causing it to be less fun…

TheUndesigner 101 Apr 21, 2013 at 06:01

How about that. Well, here’s my take as a long-time gamer with more than a little nostalgia for ‘the old days’.

Of course that article talked about extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation (something my own ethical studies have familiarized me with already), and that’s an interesting take on the issue; but what concerns me more is the implications of Achievements on game design.

Here’s an example: a very common achievement type in many games takes this rough form:


So, “Kill 100 Enemies With The Knife”, for instance, or “Win 10 Races With The Red Wagon”. Now, I’m not getting into the idea that these are all necessarily dull, repetitive tasks; in some cases, these Achievements are things the player might be likely to do in the normal course of gameplay without even noticing it.

My point here is that achievements of this sort, which take an imperative form, are not only extrinsic motivation, they’re intrinsic instruction as well; they are to player behavior in ordinary gameplay what explicit tutorials are to the player learning process. That is, they take the player outside the action of the game in order to give him information relevant inside it, which by its nature destroys suspension of disbelief and immersion. And the frustrating thing is, most of these behaviors can be encouraged invisibly through game design. Take the Metal Gear Solid series as an example: in the later games, the player is provided with a weak tranquilizer gun that can be used to incapacitate most enemies without killing them. It is slower and less effective in the short term than later weapons, but by using it the player avoids certain snarky comments from Snake’s (or Raiden’s) operators on the Codec, achieves a greater degree of stealth (making overall gameplay easier at the expense of greater difficulty in some individual encounters), and in some cases gains in-story benefits as well. By integrating a goal that is numeric and repetitive (Defeat X Enemies With The Tranquilizer Gun) with basic gameplay elements, the designers modified player behavior in a non-compulsory way, and without destroying immersion.

How does this relate to the success/failure of XBox’s Achievement system? By forcing its use on every game it hosts, it essentially forces a bad design element on developers, lowering the quality of the players’ experience and reinforcing bad techniques on an industry that is suffering horribly under them already.