Collectables in games – Best Practises

In most current-gen action-adventure or FPS games collectables are common. Usually linked to trophies, they allow designers to extend the life span of their game, by giving the player additional meta-goals to complete. However, making successful collectables is not as simple as just placing random objects throughout your game. I’ve written about issues with collectables before, and in this post have identified some best practises for making successful collectables in a game.

Missable vs. Unmissable Collectables

Missable collectables are those where the player only has one chance in the game to pick up each collectable (without restarting the level). This is often seen in action-adventure games, such as Uncharted.

The key advantage to missable content is that it encourages players to replay the story/campaign in its entirety. This can increase the longevity of your game – however can also be a cause of frustration. Allowing players to replay individual levels of the game and making sure players are aware when they’ve missed collectables before they reach the end of the campaign is essential.

Unmissable collectables are more common in open world games, or games based around “hub” worlds that players can return to at any point. By allowing players to return at any times to find them, the pacing of the game is not disrupted, and players aren’t forced to fully explore each area before moving on. This can be seen in games such as Assassin’s Creed, where the player could return to find the feathers at any point.

As a player, I prefer unmissable collectables – I often don’t have much time to play games, and will only play through a game once. If I believe that I’ve potentially missed a collectable, it will discourage me from bothering to seek out any further ones – what’s the point, if I won’t be able to complete the set?

Hidden vs. Visible Collectables

Hidden collectables are those which the player has to actively look to find. They have been designed in such a way that the challenge is finding them – but when found, they’re easy to collect, like the ‘grey boxes’ in Resistance Burning Skies. This can be an effective tool to easily create a longer game – players are incentivised to fully explore the entire environment, although it is questionable whether they will enjoy this exploration.

Visible collectables are ones that they player can easily see, but lay tantalisingly out of reach. Good examples of this are the Riddler trophies in Batman Arkham City. They are typically visible from the start of the game, and the player is forced to walk past them many times until they finally have the gadgets (and the skill) to acquire them. Visible collectables like these can often be used as a test of the player’s mastery of the game’s mechanics – and set short meta-goals for the player to complete.

As a player I prefer visible collectables – by being on view at all times, I feel they don’t disrupt the pacing of the game. Their implementation in Arkham City was aided by the new ability to “tag” trophies so that they show up on the map, and return to them later. This allowed the player to feel free to move on, knowing it was simple to return to this point later.


Currency rewards vs. Exposition.

Currency rewards are those that can be spent in-game to improve the player’s character. They often take the form of upgrades to the player’s equipment or stats. They incentivise the player to look for the collectables, as they see an instant reward for their efforts, and players can directly correlate this with their success in the game. Currency based collectables were used successfully in Spider Man: Shattered Dimensions, where the spider emblems could be spent to give your character more combat moves and abilities.

Exposition rewards typically tell you more about the story, but don’t increase the ability of your character. They reward the player by providing additional context on their mission, and work particularly well in games that create an interesting setting and narrative. The ‘tape machines’ in Bioshock, which provide audio diaries and give back story about the environment you are in, are a good example of this.

Both of these types of collectables have distinct advantages, which is why many games have decided to feature both, such as Resistance Burning Skies where players could discover weapon upgrades and background text. When used in moderation one game can support both types of collectables – as long as both have some function to the player. Arbitrary collectables, like the Thermos Flasks in Alan Wake, are more difficult to justify!


Although collectables seem like a simple thing for developers to add, we’ve seen that their implementation can have a great effect on the player experience. What have been some games where the collectables have significantly altered how you’ve played the game?


150 150 Steve Bromley
  • In terms of your comment on missable collectables. I think (unfortunately for you) the point is that they aren’t there for you (i.e. they are not there to support your particular time limited play opportunities).

    As you say you have little time to play and that means you will progress through the story relatively quickly and prefer to have your collectables unmissiable. However, the general idea of a collectable as you say is to extend the game play and making every collectable visible, and unmissable would defeat this goal.

    Also, if I get Behaviourist about all this then missable collectables are likely to create a stronger variable interval schedule of reinforcement than collectables that would always be unmissable. Which in theory should also encourage longer play periods.

  • You know…These missable Collectables might cause frustration, I am telling you that as a player… I personally, play games to relax my mind, so the less there is things to think about the better is the game, though it’s good to have some levels that need thinking…

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