Nintendo isn't at all keen on mandatory, system-integrated achievements or trophies. The idea was ignored for Wii, while gamers with an Xbox 360 got used to notifications re-affirming their awesomeness for acts as simple as starting a new game, with their Gamerscore continually getting bigger with each accomplishment. Sony introduced its own Trophy system in mid-2008 through a system update, opting to award varying levels of trinkets and reserving the Platinum awards for gamers with a lot of time on their hands. Despite this, Nintendo held out, and Wii gamers debated the pros and cons of achievements on a very regular basis.
When 3DS was announced, achievement-hungry gamers wondered whether the new handheld would start a new era of rewards in Nintendo games, but once again the feature was missed out. The StreetPass Mii Plaza has its own achievements, while titles such as Resident Evil Revelations, Kid Icarus: Uprising and others have included their own incentives, all isolated to the individual titles. Wii U brought renewed hope, with supposedly leaked details laying the ground for an accomplishment system; yet those that follow Nintendo closely — and more importantly listen to the words of its most senior executives — would have still had doubts. And so it's transpired, that despite all of the online functionality that it's bringing with the Nintendo Network ID and Miiverse, Wii U won't include trophies or achievements. At least, not for now.
It's interesting that, for all of the people who say they don't give two hoots (including some members of the Nintendo Life team), whenever the topic arises it prompts a fair bit of debate in the community. It clearly matters, as we all seem so keen to say why achievements are either a vital part of modern gaming or a frivolous load of old nonsense, with some sensibly arguing a point somewhere in the middle. Today's confirmation — assuming that the creative director and co-founder of 5th Cell, Jeremiah Slaczka, hasn't misspoke — means that Nintendo is showing a quality that we're accustomed to in so many areas with its gaming systems: it's going its own way. While competitors make achievements mandatory to developers, Nintendo is once again ignoring the trend.
On the one hand, Satoru Iwata's recently stated hope that Miiverse will become a games diary, of sorts, offers a more independently spirited approach to rewarding progress. Rather than developers telling you that collecting six pointless items from a building is worth some points or a trophy, Nintendo lets you decide which accomplishments give you pride. No doubt we'll see plenty of Miiverse postings saying "I got all of the star coins in World One, whoop!" and so on, and if the community grows it could, as has been speculated, become a gamer's environment not dissimilar to Twitter.
The Nintendo policy has been simple: the reward is in playing the game, exploring it and eventually conquering it, only occasionally offering unlockable bits and bobs in titles such as Super Smash Bros. Brawl — Masahiro Sakurai is clearly a fan of earning extras through meeting certain requirements. Imposing achievements can have the danger of distracting you from playing the game naturally and finding your own way. Make no mistake, achievements can have that effect. Anyone who plays games on an Xbox 360, PS3 or even the Steam platform on PCs will know all about their siren call: a notification piques interest, so you look at what other achievements are on offer. "Hm, complete ten consecutive kills with headshots, I can do that." Before you know what's happened you're playing the game to find enemies, aiming for heads and muttering expletives if you have the misfortune of killing them with a bullet to the gut and not the skull. Yes, willpower can defeat the obsession, but these features are included because they take advantage of human instinct.
So Nintendo's saying that it's up to developers, and we'll likely see achievements integrated into games. That's enough for some, but there are plenty of gamers that enjoy the chase of having a visible tally on their user accounts, as with Xbox and PS3's systems. There'll be no such unified score or tally to show off on Wii U, and that may be a disappointment for Nintendo gamers who like the idea but don't game extensively, or at all, on other systems.
The obvious and logical answer would be to mimic the systems from Microsoft and Sony, and make it entirely optional. Users can join an accomplishment system and gather points to gawk at in leaderboards or separate areas of Miiverse, while others select the "no achievements" option and ignore it forever more. It could still be left to developers to decide whether to use it — much like Miiverse integration can be minimal or more substantial, apparently, depending on developer effort — and those that like to brag about completing a particular lap in less than 90 seconds can point to their trinket and say, "hey, look at me". Yes, there could be an imbalance with some buying games that include achievements outperforming those that have the mis-fortune of buying a game that doesn't use them, but it'd at least be better than what's on the table at the moment.
This may happen in a future update, of course, and aside from some development effort we don't see any reason why Nintendo can't implement an optional user account-based system. While it's Nintendo's system and it can do as it pleases, including ignoring achievements for its own games, it seems slightly short-sighted to leave it out entirely. Time is needed to see the company's intentions, of course, as Wii U's software, much like that of 3DS, will evolve in the immediate months and years after release. The answer to this could be simple, and everyone can be satisfied.
If you want a Sony perspective of trophies, and why developers must share blame for the system's problems, check out Talking Point: The Trouble With Trophies from Push Square. Let us know what you think about these issues in the comments below.