Why Trophies are Terrible
Confessions of a Trophy Whore
The other day I was sitting in my hotel room, trying to decide what to play next on my Vita to keep myself occupied while work had me in the middle of nowhere. I could play any of the 6 or so Vita games I hadn’t beaten yet, or start in on the new Metal Gear Solid HD Collection I just bought. In days past the first thing I’d look for is the online reviews to see which one I’d enjoy more. So where did I turn to make my decision? Not to a review site, I went straight to ps3trophies.org to check out the trophies. After choosing NOT to play the brand new game I had bought because of the time it would take to get the trophies, I started thinking how trophies affect the experience of this generation’s games.
Trophies were no longer an afterthought, and I’d compulsively check the trophy lists before I even booted the game up…
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a bit on the ridiculous side of gaming. By that I mean I have all of the current-gen consoles (in addition to an odd N64 or Dreamcast here and there) and impulse-buy video games the way normal people buy gum. At the start of this generation I played more on Xbox, and Achievements were only a way of telling me that I had reached some kind of milestone or maybe discovered a secret in the game I was playing. It was a happy and carefree time then, and the games that I had high Gamerscores on were the games I had enjoyed playing the most. [cue gravelly Behind the Music announcer voice] Then my old college roommate and hetero-gaming-soulmate bought a PS3, and gaming as I knew it was about to change.
Julian and I “competed” for trophies at first, meaning that every once in a while we’d check each other’s score and whoever was in the lead would razz the other a bit. At some point (probably due in large part to the Trophy Whore War at IGN) the air-quotes dropped off and we graduated to a full-on trophy war. Trophies were no longer an afterthought, and I’d check the trophy lists before I played to make sure I didn’t miss out on a possible advantage over my gaming nemesis. We’d say to each other “Nah man, I don’t have time to game” while secretly gaming until dawn. Weeks would go by without syncing our trophy counts so we could launch a sneak attack before the other knew how much we had played. My Xbox and Wii sat untouched, the Xbox because Achievements didn’t matter anymore and the Wii because it’s awful. Games used to be my way of relieving stress after crazy work weeks. Now they were causing me more stress because I couldn’t game enough to retake the lead after crazy work weeks.
So why am I writing this article now? Is it because I had a revelation that Trophies are a meaningless collection of 1s and 0s and I’m returning to my gaming roots and only playing what I want? Heck no, and in fact while writing that last paragraph I placed an order for NCIS. (I’ve already “earned” a platinum on Hannah Montana.) But I have devoted some time to thinking about the games that I ENJOYED getting trophies on, and which were simply chores that I felt obligated to complete.
What makes a good Trophy/Achievement Implementation
Before I go further I should note that Hannah Montana is not indicative of the usual games I’m playing. I’ve also earned platinums on games like Mass Effect 2 (soon to be 3 as well), Uncharted 2, God of War 3, and Fallout: New Vegas. Why did I platinum these games, and not Red Dead Redemption, Assassin’s Creed 2 or Dead Rising 2? Read on to find out what differentiates a good from a terrible trophy hunting experience.
“Collect 300 of 300 wizzle wozzles.” No. Stop it. Finding all of the feathers/orbs/trucker hats in a game is not fun. It doesn’t mean you were better at the game, you saw more of the game, or really did anything deserving of a trophy. Most likely you just found a collectible guide online and ran through with that in front of you.
Now I know the Uncharted series is also guilty of this to some degree, but for some reason I can forgive Naughty Dog simply because I loved running around in Drake’s world looking for these trophies, and each one was unique. In most cases I don’t even want collectibles in a game unless they’re all useful. The Lego series of games actually does a good job of this. For example, in Lego Harry Potter years 5-7 almost every collectible gives you something – whether it’s health regeneration or new characters, they all ADD to the game. It’s not simply collecting for the sake of collecting.
There are very few games where I think “Okay, it makes sense to have that online trophy.” One example would be Uncharted, which simply asks that you try each of the online modes. I love that. I’m sure many people wouldn’t touch the online mode at all if not for trophies, and some of them might find a new love if they just give things a chance. Another smart implementation of online trophies is Mass Effect 3 – many of those trophies have dual-unlock methods, giving you the choice to unlock them through online or offline play.
Then there are games like Resistance 2, which requires you to get 10,000 kills in online competitive multiplayer. No sir, I don’t like it. To me that’s not “Hey, you’re good at videogames, here’s a trophy!” it’s “Hey, you spent a ton of time listening to 12 year olds yell expletives at you, here’s a trophy!” And now that the game is no longer shiny and new, there will be fewer people online making it even harder to get. Splendid.
And don’t forget Red Dead Redemption, the game that broke my heart. I absolutely loved this game and this is something I’d normally spend the time to platinum. However there are 3 multiplayer trophies that stopped my platinum hunt before it even began – reach the highest level in multiplayer, win 3 matches in a row, and win 4 team based matches in a row. Now winning 3 matches in a row is one thing, which at least only requires you yourself to be good. But a group trophy, unless you have a pre-formed group who can work together, is just plain mean. The widely accepted statistic is that 87% of gamers online are just awful, so good luck finding 3 other good ones in that pile. Or maybe I just made that statistic up, but still, online gamers are not awesome.
Keeping It Fresh
To me this is absolutely the most important criteria in what makes for good trophies. Developers spend a LOT of time on creating each and every area and experience in their game, and why not reward their audience for going through it all? This is one reason why Fallout: New Vegas is still my most satisfying platinum. Yes, it took a while to do, and it wasn’t easy, but it made sure that I saw each storyline and all of the incredible side quests. Skyrim is the same way for me, and although I know it’s going to take me forever to actually platinum, I know I’m going to do it eventually.
The opposite of this, and precisely the reason I didn’t start playing Metal Gear Solid 2, is when your forced to play the same content over and over. MGS2 makes you play through the game on every single difficulty. C’mon now. I don’t have enough time to play all the games I own ONCE, and you expect me to play through your game FIVE times? Developers need to be aware their audiences are inundated with games these days, and expecting them to devote so much time playing old content is a bit absurd.
A study a few years back by EEDAR (Electronic Entertainment Design and Research) found that games with more than 30 achievements sold three times as many copies as those games with fewer than 30 achievements. That was back when not every game had trophies and achievements, and today it’s a given that every game will have some form of achievements integrated. No longer is it simply enough to have trophies and achievements, developers need to put as much thought into them as they do to the storyline, artwork and characters. They’re a bit like the icing on the cake, where you could either have a delicious cake with some chocolate frosting, or a delicious case smeared with asparagus paste. Yeah the cake itself is still delicious, but that taint of asparagus can’t be ignored.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go dust this soda can for prints.