ECGC Conference: Designing Achievements That Matter

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At a 10:15am session in the East Coast Gaming Conference held in the Raleigh Convention Center, Lucas Blair spoke to the Design Track audience about Designing Achievements That Matter.

ECGC Conference: Designing Achievements That Matter

Achievements. Some people hate them. Some people love them. Some people have to have them all.

Lucas got interested in achievements as he became an Accomplished Angler in World of Warcraft. This achievement was not a main focus of the game. Getting the achievement allowed him to get a special title (salty). This was a meta achievement requiring multiple achievements from multiple categories.

Chris Hecker at GDC 2010 gave a pivotal talk: Achievements considered Harmful. It was a packed room. Most people were upset. He showed research that extrensic motivations for rewards aren’t helpful. They aren’t fun and working toward the rewards for the players is more important than the fun of the game.

Dissertation: Lucas’ dissertation was on The Use of Video Game Achievements to Enhance Game Play. It was a study to see if we are using rewards to trick players into achieving things they don’t really want. The study used 20 different variables to look into what makes an achievement effective. We made games and then tested their performance. The results? (Its complicated.) Its more than just rewards and the rewards are bad. Some people didn’t have an effect and other results were overall achieved!

Why does it matter?

Achievements are ubitquitous. All pc, mobile, and console games have achievements. They are in badging and education. Other industries copy what games do. People really look to game industry for guidance. Sometimes it is straight up copied, without ideas being introduced. In reality, it can be more extrinsic rewards. Rewards can change your life:

  • goals
  • feedback
  • challenge
  • autonomy
  • videntity
  • social
  • evidence
  • a memory
  • context (where you fit what awesome)
  • information (how you’re doing, what is good behavior)


The rest of the talk is the stuff Lucas Blair think about and the questions he asks himself. He admitted that he didn’t have all the answers to the questions. Only you know the audience and what the game should be. Truth is, its complicated or it should be. For many failed participants, achievements seem to be given at the end of the game development process, and not thought about.


Completion: Killed a boss

This is often a progress marker in linear games. For the mundane they are instructions (join a public party). Can it be improved upon? Maybe some kind of different strategy. You cannot really kill a boss, because its still around for others, or it comes back. A boss fight is a marker how far you’ve come. A better example is WOW. If you kill the same boss, but no one dies, no health loss, or win without healing, several different options become available as achievements. These are better achievements. They cause interested gamers to strive to be better.

Measurement: Collectng 100 thingies

Can the achievement itself be incremented? Is the difficulty appropriate? This is just a measure of performance. Either you did something or you did not. You can kill 10/50/100/1000 boars. You can go low and be cool completing the minor goal, or you can seek mastery. Some achievements are really hard.

Have both. But have more “real achievements” that are outside average gameplays. Milestones are not great achievements, because people do that anyway. They have played, not really achieved.


If its easy and everyone does it, what is the purpose of the achievement? It doesn’t make you amazing- everyone gets a trophy and no one cares.

What kind of hard is “HARD”? Time, RNG, performance? Grinding things out can be fun or NOT FUN. Do you need 1000 tries to really get something required to begin an achievement?

When will the players earn them? first play through? If expectation is they should achieve in the first time, is that an achievement-worthy performance? Different levels can be built into the game to amp up difficulty and implement more challenge without extra coding.

Have an even spread throughout gameplay and then a cluster of difficult achievements at the end.


Not everything in a game is exciting on its own: grinding, exploring, crafting are not. For normal activities there needs to be a great reward. Here’s the incentive for the massive boredom. People will fight dragons no matter what, but they may not fish or garden in a game. Exciting things don’t need a nudge, just different levels of challenge.

Have achievements which can be completed, but next playthrough you should have options for more grinding and greater achievements.


meta: an achievement for achieving achievements. Are the achievements required logically grouped? Is the reward worth all the time and effort involved? Is the juice worth the squeeze?

incremental: progression of related achievements. Do the achievements themselves drive performance? Are they spaced properly? Is there enough meaningful content between achievements.

aggregators: does the score mean more than the achievement? Does the % of completions matter? Can seeing that 45% have earned this achievement and 1% have bothered to achieve that achievement matter? Does it mean the same to the programmers as the user?


How much content is there? WOW has over 3,000 achievements for solo play.

Do the players have choices and can they differentiate themselves? Can a player ever actually get them all? Should they try? What is the Goldilocks number for your game.


Does it match player expectations and mindset. Negative mindset might let you know you need to try harder.
Some games have negative achievements because the game is so difficult.

  • Dark SOULS II: This is dark Souls.
  • God of War: “Getting my Ass Kicked

I use all positive. If you have negative be very careful. It can be disheartening and raise bad feelings


Does the player know there are achievements? Do they get ignored? You want the players to know there are goals and you should actively go for them. If they pop up randomly and you don’t care, that’s bad. If you allow them a mental model so they can see the achievements and try them out.

Are they striving to earn them? Can they be used for creativity?


Accommodate different player types. Can players FIND other players? guild level achievements? Is your game competitive? is you audience competitive? What is their experience level of the person? Low level players are often no competition in the game.


Achievements can be an identity for a player. History, expertise, preferences, imply a play style, speed runner, completionist, etc.

However, it can be baggage. “Want to participate with us? Link me your ‘X’ achievement.” Is this a negative? If a player cannot join with others because of a progression issue, is this discrimination? How can you enter a dungeon if you cannot enter a dungeon? How can you join a high-level party if no high-level party will let you join them because you haven’t gotten far enough on your own? Achievements have now stopped you from playing the game. Negative achievements could stop you from playing further.

Can you showcase or share different things with different people? For example, could you show one player that you’ve beaten 1000 orcs to join their group, but show other people that you’ve failed to beat the dungeon because you need help?


During or after play: when achieving, will you receive immediate or delayed feedback? How disruptive will this be? Think of the paperclip from MS Word. How much did you LOVE Clippy?


everyone loves lists and grids. WHow do players encounter the achievements. if only there was a better way to resent them. Skill tries. PATH OF EXILES

Why don’t we represent achievements like skill trees?

Achievements are a glimpse into the mind of the designer. Achieve the things we want you to be! Consider presenting your achievements in a way so that students and players know what to achieve. Show them all at once presented clearly. Allow students and players to Make a plan to get there.

Promote goal setting. If you get one but don’t read it, you don’t care. On the other hand, if you make a plan, people can see where they want to be, and they provide context and hierarchy education (digital badges) individual achievements don’t really matter. The context they are in matters more. The pathway skill tree matters more. The path is your identity. If they are on a pathway and plan to make their goals. If the game knows you are trying to achieve these goals, how will it effect their gameplay? How can The programmer or program get them there? Is it time? Speed, Power, etc.


Game designers do, and choose to make them or not. Why not achievements makers? DODA. It could be a closed system. I’m going to do this thing, to this degree, with this tool.

After his presentation, he opened things up to a Q&A session

What do you think of hidden achievements

Hidden achievements can be found, so its not being hidden, but if you cannot set a goal for themselves, it can be addressed. There are some secrets that are fun, but its more for second playthrough. It might be a teaser to let people know on second playthrough.

Kill someone on the development team?

Random encounters are kind of fun. They can make interesting memories. People like novelty.

Trading card sytems with steam and wii?

A lot of the following items are trophy or achievements, etc. its just a question of symantics. They are pretty useless, but should have the same outlines.

What about locking people out of achievements when skipping ahead?

Designers are probably showing an implied hierarchy, but it should still let people skip ahead. It seems unfair to achieve the conditions, but fail to receive the achievement


Some requirements for achievements require high amounts. Gears of wars needs 100,000 kills. It might disincentivize new players. Few if anyone will earn it, but those who do will grab lots of attention by telling EVERYONE.

Lucas Blair PhD is co-founder and game designer at little bird games.