Keeping Achievements Relevant

With December quickly approaching we’re finishing up our next major update to Tilt to Live. We just finished putting in the new achievements and I figured I’d share with you some of the guidelines I try to follow more or less. Maybe you’ll find some good ideas for achievements for your own game if you happen to be working on one, or maybe re-think some of them.

Bad Idea

Don’t make the player grind (actively)

This might be fine in a hardcore RPG (I don’t think it is personally, and just a sign of an outdated design philosophy), but in the mobile games arena time is of the essence. Most games have a very short life span in regards to how long a player will play it before moving on. Using your achievements to artificially pad out the time spent on a game doesn’t not improve the quality of the game. I’m referring to achievements where players have to simply spend  X amount of time doing Y and there is zero challenge to doing Y other than overcoming boredom.

I put the ‘actively’ qualifier because there are certainly some achievements that could be considered ‘grinding’ in Tilt to Live, yet I feel they are still fun to have. But I tend to think of those as passive achievements. There is one, for example, for traversing a few hundred thousand pixels (the pixels equivalent of a quarter mile or something). Players don’t actively go into a game trying to get that achievement. They simply accumulate that from playing the game normally and enjoying it. It’s comes as a surprise, a nice milestone, and interesting fact all rolled into one!

Don’t reward the player for things that are inheritant to the game.

Beat level 3? Achievement! Bah! It kind of annoys me that a lot of Xbox console games do this, but I’m not sure if it’s from sort of political pressure to make the 1k gamer points easily attainable or just lack of interest. I haven’t seen this much in mobile games yet, but in case you were considering it….don’t. The few exceptions I would grant this case would be in tutorials. And the reason would be to not only reward the player for learning some skill set for how to play the game, but also introduce them to the concept of ‘achievements’ overall so they are familiar with the system and sequence of events.

Don’t make achievements for the ‘hardcore’ only

Keep an eye out for the less experienced players out there. Don’t make the difficulty curve for your achievements flat and high. This one is definitely hard to gauge on your own and will probably require some user testing. Despite what you may think, if you’re making the game you are an expert player. We recently ran into this when assessing our new achievements and had to introduce some new ones and tweak the current ones to get a more varied difficulty curve. Having developed the game for so long it’s hard to really judge what is easy and hard now.

Good Idea

Think outside the normal play mechanics

What is a fun thing to do in your game but doesn’t necessarily make the player get any closer to finishing the game? Encouraging exploration with the game mechanics and tools at hand I think is usually a good thing. If the player loves the game enough they’ll take to these achievements and have fun with them, and feel like  the game acknowledges their dedication and curiousity. If another player simply wants to blaze through your game, there isn’t anything lost here. Any example of this is in the picture above for one of the Tilt to Live achievements. Putting an artificial constraint the player has to enforce in his or her head makes the game play at a slightly more deliberate pace, but still frantic and fun regardless.

Softening the blow

We recently added one that falls in this theme to the new Tilt to Live update. We made it hard enough where most players will have to consciously achieve some ‘massive’ goal and in hilarious fashion lose it all. Acknowledging the player just royally screwed up can help lighten the situation and reduce the frustration. This is probably a hard one to fit in most contexts, but I think can be fun in the right places.

Badges of Honor

I like to think of these as just more of the old-school ‘OMG I R 1337’ achievements. They are so hard that only the truly dedicated will have the skills to earn the achievement.

Outside the Box

What about achievements that are accomplished not in-game but inside the menu systems themselves? Or externally somewhere (with mobile devices and location API’s this could get really fun). Here’s one: Hey! You just played Game X at 400 MPH!!! (assuming the player is playing the game on an airplane)

Meta Achievements

There seems to be huge potential here for some fun achievements involving not the game itself, but some sort of factor influenced by the game. This would really put the ‘social’ in social gaming platforms. A straight forward example is having some aggregate number of enemies killed between all players who own the game and once that number is reached everyone unlocks that achievement as a community. They are pretty much community milestone markers. Noby Noby Boy has a similar meta game. With iPhones being constantly connected it seems this could be a really good fit for this market.

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