Talking Point: Achievements, Trophies and Wii U

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Back in 2005, Microsoft kick-started the HD console era with Xbox 360, at the time a technical marvel with online capabilities that were one of the jewels in its creamy white, far-too-easily overheating crown. However, while online play, reams of downloadable content (DLC) and a single, unified community were indeed admirable features, the one aspect of Xbox 360 games that has arguably been a major draw to consumers has been the Achievements system, something Microsoft made obligatory right from the start. This system meant that every Xbox 360 game — be they retail titles or games downloaded via Xbox Live — was required to contain Achievements, unlockable by meeting specific criteria in-game. Each one carries a numerical worth, which all adds up to form a player's Gamerscore. These Gamerscores are displayed on every single Xbox Live user's online profile, viewable by all their friends and every random opponent they encounter while partaking in online play, should their privacy settings allow it.

For some gamers Achievements are a driving factor, spurring them on, providing them with an extra incentive to gain 100% completion and get maximum value for money from each and every game they purchase, as well as a track record of accomplishments and awarding them with bragging rights among their fellow gamers. Some people take this to an even higher level, with Achievements even having so much power as to actually influence what games they buy. Then there are gamers who take it one step further, playing literally everything ever released for the Xbox 360 in a bid to unlock as many Achievements as possible. One notable individual who has taken this lust for Gamerscore to a whole new level is Raymond Cox — known as Stallion83 on Xbox Live — a man who currently holds the Guinness World Record for the highest legitimate Xbox 360 Gamerscore, having at the time of writing amassed a colossal total of 695,235 and still battling his way towards his ultimate goal: a Gamerscore of one million.

With so much enthusiasm surrounding Achievements, you have to hand it to Microsoft for conjuring up the system in the first place: after all, it couldn't have been an easy decision to give gamers an excuse to hang onto and play a game for as long as possible because, well, this could feasibly mean that they would hold off on buying anything else until they'd unlocked every Achievement. Alternatively, it’s not too much of a stretch to think that some games — especially the shoddy licenced tie-ins that more often than not throw Achievements at the player like they’re going out of fashion — might not have enjoyed as much success had the system not been in place.

So love them or loathe them, Achievements are a major component in HD gaming, so much so that Sony adopted the idea for PlayStation 3 a whopping 20 months after it launched. Upon its release, PS3 had no such system in place, yet Sony concocted its own version of it and made it mandatory for all games to include Trophies. These come in four flavours — bronze, silver, gold or platinum, depending on difficulty — and are also combined into a total count on every PlayStation Network user's online profile, whether that be on PS3 or on the upcoming PlayStation Vita. So while there are differences in how the player’s accomplishments are awarded, displayed and tracked, the similarities with Xbox 360 Achievements are most definitely there.

Despite the success of Achievements and Trophies, an all-encompassing accomplishment tracking system has remained absent from Nintendo consoles. Many games have contained their own sets of similarly unlockable accomplishments, but these have only existed within each game: self-contained and hidden from other players.

Despite the success of Achievements and Trophies, an all-encompassing accomplishment tracking system has remained absent from Nintendo consoles.

With Wii U on the horizon though, could this be about to change? The much lauded online functionality of Nintendo’s first foray into HD gaming, which will tie into the new Nintendo Network, could very well stretch to a unified online community complete with an Achievements/Trophies style system being in place from launch. But would this be a benefit to Wii U and its user base, or will it have a detrimental effect?

With the right online features and an accompanying accomplishment system, Wii U’s online presence could rise up to match those of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Should this eventuality come to pass, these accomplishments — or whatever name Nintendo might opt to christen them with — could result in a sizable community building up around it, in turn providing Wii U owners with reasons to take their consoles online beyond chucking red shells around in Mario Kart or shooting each other in the face in Call of Duty. It could offer them the chance to convene, confer and generally assist each other in how accomplishments are unlocked or the best methods to do so, acting as a community of friends should.

Additionally, websites such as Xbox360 Achievements and PS3 Trophies already offer players a convenient place to track their progress and view available Achievements and Trophies for every Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3/Vita game. Should a similar system be put in place for Wii U, you can guarantee that a relevant website will spring up to accommodate adopters of Nintendo’s next machine, helping the Wii U’s online community to grow even further and giving Nintendo a nudge in the right direction in its quest to position itself as a major player on the online console scene.

This could also have negative ramifications as well, however. As we mentioned earlier, Achievements have often been a major driving force behind what games people purchase. Many titles have lured addicts in with their promises of easily earned Achievements and another coveted 1,000 Gamerscore or platinum Trophy notch for their virtual bedpost, and been snapped up regardless of their quality, or lack thereof, in many cases. With an accomplishment system in place, all those games that regurgitate their achievements with unrelenting shamelessness could find themselves given a significant leg up in terms of sales. Great news for the developers and publishers of these games, of course, but the potential for the Wii U’s software library to become diluted with a deluge of shoddily developed third-party titles could be damaging to the console’s reputation.

Nintendo may have roped in the non-gaming crowd with Wii, but it arguably lost its hold on some of its long-time devotees due to the console’s supposedly lacking collection of what are perceived to be “core” games, lost in a sea of haphazardly crafted mini-game collections and party games. Whether that generalisation is fair or not, Nintendo has pledged its desire to regain this lost audience with Wii U, and an onslaught of the same types of games that turned many gamers away from Wii could be detrimental to its new console’s success.

There’s also the potential for developers to use accomplishments as a means to push consumers into purchasing DLC on Wii U that they otherwise wouldn’t have wanted. Many games on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have had DLC made available for them through their respective online services, with these additional levels, maps and such containing new sets of Achievements or Trophies. This is a major knock to the completionists who like to earn 100% success in their games, as they regularly watch in horror while their beloved list of completed games quickly diminishes as more and more DLC is released for each title.

What’s your opinion on Achievements, Trophies and these issues? Do you think Wii U — and even 3DS — would benefit from having a similar system put in place? Perhaps you have your own thoughts on how Nintendo could morph the idea into something better? Or would you prefer that Nintendo opted to leave the idea alone altogether when Wii U launches later in the year? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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