The GRID 2 Cheevo Diaries: What Makes the Perfect Achievement List?

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Having been around trophies and achievements since their respective inception, and been so heavily invested in them for so long, I honestly get asked this question a lot:

“What makes the perfect achievement and trophy list?’

It’s a valid question, and something that we’ve been thinking about for years, but there isn’t a simple answer. Like I’ve said previously, there’s no genius mathematical equation behind it, there’s more of a science to it. Naturally, we think we’ve cracked it, or are there and thereabouts.

Before we get down to the nitty gritty with Codemasters to discuss the actual GRID 2 list, we felt that this was an important issue to touch upon. It’s slightly different to our 20 Dos and Don’ts of Creating an Achievement/Trophy List feature, but not so much that we’re disregarding what we said there. In fact, we’re going to apply those formulas into making a recipe of sorts.

An achievement and trophy list, first and foremost, should capture the spirit of the game. If your game doesn’t have a spirit, then start worrying now. You’re basically bottling up the game’s soul here and pouring it all over the game’s achievements and trophies. For instance, Half Life 2’s achievement/trophy list (in The Orange Box) had some interesting and humorous ones, but they reflected the game’s sense of choice, morality and rebellious nature in more than one or two ways – whether that’s breaking the mini-teleporter in Dr Klein’s lab, using the grav gun to make a basket in the yard with DOG’s ball or choosing to put the can in the trash can or slap it against the guard’s head. They’re three examples that sum the game up perfectly. The rest of the list contains nods to what have become franchise’s staples, like the crowbar, the airboat, the grav gun and so on. In GRID 2’s case, what we have here is a racer that’s all about speed, style and immersion, and that should come across somewhat in the list.

That’s a good starting point, but the most important thing and core aspect of an achievement and trophy list should be its balance. The whole single-player versus multiplayer; career progression vs. creative, off-the-beaten path rewards; and so on. Not just that though, rewarding the player with the right amount or correct value of trophy is just as important. If developers are having players spend 30 hours going after a 5G cheevo or a bronze trophy, they’re doing no-one any favours, especially themselves.

A key part of the balance should be length and difficulty of the list. The “How hard? How easy? And how long should it take?” aspects. Well, they're genre dependent for the most part. If you’re churning out a yearly title, don’t expect players to play it for 100 hours. If you’re an RPG that takes 150 hours to complete, having a list that takes 150 hours isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re a shooter with a single-player mode that takes players 5 hours to complete, don’t force them to grind for 20 there. There is though, in our opinion, a sweet spot for all of those. There needs to be some easy ones and there needs to be some really hard ones – ones that require a bit of practice and patience to unlock – but there should never be an achievement or trophy that causes the player to grind. The ones in between need to be spread out and encourage players to keep playing, keep improving and keep striving to become better players.

In terms of hours, I personally think for the most part that the 30 hour mark is spot on for most genres, whether it’s sports, action-adventure titles, racers, shooters, and so on. That obviously depends on skill too – there needs to be difficult rewards in there otherwise the sense of accomplishing something won’t shine through. I may be in the minority here, but 30 hours feels like a.) I’ve accomplished something; and b.) When I see others with the full allocation, I know they’ve applied themselves to reach that goal. And that’s all you want, right?

It should be relevant to how long your game is though. Maybe something like: if your single-player is 15-20 hours long and you want people to dabble online for 3-5 hours, then spend 5 more hours or so trying to improve and letting them try out all the important facets of the game, as well as retry certain achievements and trophies, then you shouldn’t be far off. So… single-player top end time + MP bottom end time + 25% of single-player top end time = perfect amount. Well, I don’t think we’re that far off with that, as a general formula. That said, if you’re a single-player only game, your MP isn’t the game’s focus or it’s been tacked on, then the formula should probably change to single-player completion time x 1.5 = perfect completion time. That includes time to do side-missions, collectibles, and whatever else too.

Understanding the objective of an achievement and trophy list is just as important though. The perfect list should lay a breadcrumb trail to encourage players to finish the majority of the game – if not all of it. In other words, the majority being the single-player, save for the odd occasion where the game is an MMO or MOBA – where the goal should be to encourage players to progress the narrative or its core element.

It should also encourage players to test out the other areas of the game, but should be there to steer players there, not to keep them there. If you’re a single-player game who’s attempted multiplayer, a la Assassin’s Creed, tempt players in, don’t bribe or force them to stay. If you have a map editor that’s in the vein of Halo or Far Cry, then use achievements and trophies to tempt people in to sample its brilliance. Co-op? Then encourage players to try it, but nothing more, unless you’re a game like Borderlands, but even then, be careful, as you don’t want to alienate the single-player audience from the off – chances are, they make up a good portion of your audience. The same could be said with multiplayer in general, actually. The last thing you want though is to change the face of your online by forcing players to play a certain way, there are other ways – a la Infinity Ward with Call of Duty, and Halo, for the most part – of keeping players entertained and progressing there, such as unlockables and the like.

There absolutely must be an element of creativity and originality in the list as well, no matter how restricting the genre. Thinking outside the box is a necessity, whether that’s in how players get the achievement or trophy, or in the name or the actual tile itself. It’s a common misconception that creativity is defined by what you do to get the achievement or trophy, and while that’s true for the most part, there are other ways to be creative. I don’t care what genre the game is, there’s always enough room in the gameplay for developers to be creative, whether that’s a sports game or a racing game. If it’s a sandbox game, there’s no excuse. None. If you’ve got a chance to be funny, humorous or intelligent too, then why not show off? We plan to. These elements are a necessity in creating the perfect list, because without them, the greatest you can aspire to is excellence, which while that might be good, it’s not “perfect”…or close to what is classed as “perfect.”

So after all that, what we have in the end is this:

For the perfect achievement or trophy list, take a dollop of the spirit of the game; mix in copious amounts of balance, including easy achievements and trophies, and hard achievements and trophies; sprinkle in career progression rewards; scatter a smidgen of breadcrumb rewards to entice players into all hefty elements of the game; stir in oodles of creativity and originality; and to finish it off, the cherry on top should be a healthy amount of humour and nods to other mediums. Don’t cook too long, because if it takes too long to cook, it sullies the rest of the dish – yes, cooks is a metaphor for how long the list takes to complete. We’re wordsmiths like that.

That’s our Christmas recipe right there, in essence, but any good developers out there reading this, this “perfect” achievement and trophy cake recipe is not just for Christmas, it’s for life.

As usual, let us know your thoughts on the above in the comments below. With what we’ve said above and in our 20 Dos and Don’ts of Creating an Achievement/Trophy List feature, do you think we have everything in place to design a stunning list? If not, where are we going wrong?

That’s the announcement and theory stage out of the way though, folks. The next stage, which starts in January, will have us actually researching other lists for inspiration, as well as meeting with Codemasters to talk balance, the usual creation process for the list and getting some advice from the GRID 2 development team as well. It’s going to be a blast, so keep your eyes locked right here.


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Game Info


US May 28, 2013
Europe May 31, 2013

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