5 achievement sins in games

I’ve discussed before how trophies or achievements in games can have a big effect on the player’s experience– many people use these meta-goals to influence how they play the game, or to extend their enjoyment of the game. However sometimes designers do not consider how achievements will affect players, and make some common mistakes. Today I’m looking at 5 of the worst things achievements, or trophies, can do! 

Not unlocking ‘easier’ achievements

It’s common for games to have multiple achievements for completing levels on different difficulties. The ‘value’ of the achievement can be linked with the difficulty, incentivising players to replay on a harder difficulty level. However, there is a simple error when making these achievements, which can ruin the player experience. Typically, playing on a harder difficulty level automatically unlocks the achievement for playing on the easier difficulty. Quake 4 however doesn’t, forcing the player to replay the game on easy to ‘complete’ the achievements – decreasing the challenge of the game, and ensuring that the experience isn’t fun. Developers should therefore always enforce automatic unlocking of the achievements for easy difficulties when playing on hard.

Rick Roll

Achievement Unlocked: Sorry!

Online only achievements

Often achievements are used to make players try the multiplayer mode within games, and can vary from the simple “play one multiplayer match” found in Resistance Burning Skies, to the slightly more epic “Win 100 matches” in FIFA.

The problem arises when these achievements rely on a continued fan-base for these games. Often games have a very short online popularity, and if you miss it, you will never be able to ‘complete’ these achievements. Some games, such as FIFA’s “win 100 matches”, rely on the participation of other players to complete. With rage-quitting being a big problem in FIFA, this achievement can be almost impossible. Last of all, some games (in particular sports games) close down the online servers after a few years, making online achievements impossible to acquire.


It’s always tempting to read the trophy list early on while playing a game, to influence how to play a game. However this can go wrong if the trophies aren’t hidden, and give away plot elements from later on in the game.

This issue is particularly relevant for narrative heavy games. Heavy Rain cleverly avoided the risk of people ‘spoiling’ the experience for themselves by making all the achievements hidden, removing the temptation of looking and discovering what happens later in the plot.


Secretly miss-able achievements

It’s common in games such as Deus Ex or Dishonoured to give achievements for playing in a particular style – for example completing the game without killing anyone, or without being discovered. Half Life 2 takes this to the extreme of having an achievement for completing the game while only firing one shot!

However, for the Half Life 2 example, the game doesn’t actually check if you’ve only fired once, it instead checks if you’ve only fired at one mandatory padlock and then never again. If the player passes this padlock without firing, but does fire one shot elsewhere, they will fail the achievement despite meeting the outlined ‘rules’.

The issue here is that the player is not informed when they’ve “missed” the achievement. Much like for Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s achievements for completing the game without killing anyone, or being spotted, players can continue to play unaware that they’ve failed. They will only discover this upon completing the game, and will then be unsure what they did wrong or how far they have to replay to ‘fix’ it.  The player’s time is wasted, and this will seriously affect their perception of the game.

Lazy achievments

This example may be a bit unfair. Let’s look at the achievements for Avatar: The Burning Earth –

Avatar Gamerscore

All done, and still in time for lunch!

A full ‘1000’ gamerscore can be achieved within the first 5 minutes of play time, with one extended combo.  I gather that the team making the game had to deal with a last minute rejection of their original achievements, requiring new achievements to be implemented with only hours to spare.

However they’re not the only game to have ‘lazy’ achievements. Achievements can have a major effect on player’s perceptions of games, and their longevity. For developers doing achievements correctly can prevent re-sales and have a direct effect on the number of first-hand sales. There is a huge benefit to putting effort into doing achievements correctly, and avoiding these ‘achievement sins’.


150 150 Steve Bromley

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