The Achievement Machine: Understanding the Xbox Live Metagame

Mikael Jakobsson presenting.

This was a brief overview on achievements – not nearly enough details (so I might check the paper out) and not nearly enough on the problems and counterarguments to achievements – it was very much “players love it, it’s good”, annoyingly. Even what I saw as sad examples (Halo 3 achievement collecting) came off as a “good thing” that they were able to game the system, but this might be just how it came across.


Xbox Live Achievements, basically:

  • 1000 points total for a main game, 200 for downloadable games. Points given by getting achievements.
  • Achievements listed in (usually public) profiles that can be checked
  • Not new things really – Activision provided badges for really high scores being sent in

It does have an effect on the way people play. Mikael as an example; a casual achievement earner. More opportunities to get achievements once finished the game, but no pressure to. The completionist wants to get every achievement before finishing the game – the Xbox Live achievements are much more visible for 100% completion.

At the mercy of a game developer to choose what is an achievement – some are menial, such as Gears of War kill 10,000 people in versus ranked matches – Cliffy B loved that it gets people constantly playing it, and took one person 4 weeks of constantly playing it to get the achievement.

There is also great pleasure from them such as Guitar Hero “Inhuman” doing the bonus songs – a person screaming at the TV was so pleased.

“Over the Rainbow” for Bully – kissing 20 boys – the reaction on a pre-release-achievement discussion was that it was “messed up”.

Some achievements also don’t encourage real gameplay – such as Grab Bag from Turok since it requires killing a team mate and killing yourself.

There are also services to pay for points to get more gamerscore. It possibly is a bit of Keep up with the Joneses so that they have the money but not the time to get the points by paying for them.

There are also ways around random matchups – putting Halo 3 on a specific Mandarin can match up people who are friends even though it is never meant to happen. Some achievements were just nearly impossible to get in normal games such as getting two people in one shot. Very different kind of gameplay experience.

Ona higher level, is it that simple that a reward so intangible people are going to have to get it? It seems there are no other way to read the results. There are some who don’t participate intentionally, but that (form social scientists) is also a valid meaningful choice. It has a forceful impact on everyone involved in any case, even those who don’t get them.

There is also gaming the metagame – playing it how Microsoft never thought about. Perfect Dark Zero had 2 achievements needing 40 more hours playtime, so he built the Xbot Machine which could play it automatically, getting 1000 netmatch games and 1000 darkops matches.


What about the commercial aspects?

There is the resale question – getting rid of a game second hand will mean the publisher gets no money and this ties the game to the person.

(From other questions I didn’t note)

There are also problems with the shadow Xbox where journalists and developers play it on there but it doesn’t appear in their public note.

There is also the fact some achievements are just for playing the game – and some also import different language versions or play kids games to get larger game scores.

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