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.
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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.
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 :)
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?
Sounds like a fascinating paper, hope you post it on the web and post a
link to it here when it’s ready!
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.
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
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
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
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…
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:
[VERB] [NUMBER] [NOUN] with [NOUN]
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.