GDC 2013: Rod Fergusson: We Actively Used Achievements to Sell DLC in Gears of War 3

Dan Webb

There are numerous positive and negative aspects that achievements can promote, whether that’s replayability and exploration on the good side, or online griefing and bad habits on the bad side. Sometimes though, they can be used in rather seedy ways. 

Speaking at the ‘Designing Compelling Achievements Microtalks’ session at GDC, former Gears of War Executive Producer and Irrational Games Executive Producer, Rod Fergusson, lifted the lid on some of the darker tactics that publishers and developers can use, reminiscing about his time on Gears of War 3.

“We even do sort of this, I would somewhat call it a mercenary use of achievements and I’m not entirely proud of this, but my dark side of the force is kind of proud of it,” confessed Fergusson.

“So in DLC in Gears of War 3, when you bought the first horde pack you would unlock the skin for the Onyx guard,” he continued, referring to the “Kill Locust (Like a Boss)” achievement worth 100 points from the Horde Command DLC.

“We put in an achievement which was to beat a boss wave in horde as 5 Onyx guards. That meant the only way you can do that is not only you buy the DLC, but you had to get 4 friends to buy the DLC so that you can come together to get this achievement… so I was actively trying to promote people to buy the DLC, but it was one of those things that actually turned out to be more a marketing tool and find out people who really want this achievement.”

Fergusson touched upon the lighter and more positive side of achievements too though, pointing out how they used them to reinforce ideal behaviour and new features (a la the active reload) and ultimately, keep the disc in the tray. 

More interestingly, according to Fergusson, “Microsoft did a White Paper [guidelines for developers] that says that in a single playthrough, that you should unlock 70% of the achievements,” although it seems that not many developers take on board that advice too often. Whether that's for better or worse though, that’s debatable.

As for the nefarious use of achievements with DLC, we knew it was something that went on, but it’s refreshing – while also saddening – to see the elephant in the room tackled somewhat.

  • Well Duh!
  • Of Course!!!
  • In other breaking news, water is wet. Really though, the people at EPIC are greedy pricks, and this confirms what we already knew. Too bad they didn't support the game; the "Socialite" achievement is still impossible to get...and yeah, they're pricks.
  • What happened Epic?... We use to be cool... It seems as if the only game developers who care anymore are Valve and Bethesda. :/ They won't scam you into buying more content from their games.
  • And Telltale.
  • yeah because JUST Epic does this? Most all Developers do this. Its why I stopped caring about achievements, that and because games should be played to be played like it was before this gen, not because there is some meaningless E-peen reward for playing, but to do what real gamers do, play the game for the enjoyment of playing! I save so much money too when I don't need to worry about getting DLC for a game that I have already reached the point of feeling I got what I wanted out of it, or a game that really isn't worth putting money down for DLC just because of an achievement.
  • @3 I have the Socialite Achievement, actually. You mad bruh?
  • @7 You just showed you have no life. Go sit in your moms basement now.
  • @8 Actually I haven't touched Gears 3 in several months. I popped it in to prep myself for Gears Judgment and it randomly unlocked, hahaha. I was like "Oh...WELL ALRIGHT THEN." Also it's very funny when someone who has a higher Gamescore than I tells me to get a life ;3
  • @8 There were so many glitches, and so many upped opportunities to get it. If someone doesn't have it, it's not that they have a life, it's just that they didn't take the opportunity to get it like every lazy GoW2 booster who kept on asking for 30x XP because they were too lazy to get it the previous 15 times.
  • #8 I got that achievement when it was gliched. (playing private matches) You mad bruh?
  • The Gears nerds/apologists who spent countless hours getting the silly achievement are hijacking the thread with their inane "U mAd BRUh LOlZ?" comments. Point is: the people are EPIC are greedy pricks. Thanks for reading.
  • EA is far worse. Dozens of DLC packs per game, all over priced with little content and they wouldn't even have the integrity to admit it like this. I don't buy anything associated with EA now.
  • @8,9,10. Why don't you all just shut up because not only has epic set everyone's socialite tally to only require one event for the achievement, but also no one gives a shit. So kindly fuck off if you don't plan on being mature
  • I apologize @10 I meant @11
  • Epic definitely have gotten greedier over time, and that is true of some other Microsoft's other properties as well. Every new Forza that releases, there seems to be a little less content in the base game and a little more DLC. That being said, if you're going to whine about an achievement being impossible when it very clearly isn't (I'm like... level 48 in GoW 3 and I have it), you can't be surprised when you're called out on it. That doesn't make anyone a nerd (still trying to insult people with this? lol) or apologist. Increasingly, it just makes you look like a fool.
  • I'm not entirely sure why this is news. If it wasn't for Achievements in DLC I wouldn't have 170k+ Gamerscore, so obviously it helps to sell DLC to all of us. P.S. How do i make my Gamercard update on this site. its so out of date and i cant figure it out.
  • @14 Clearly people do if they're willing to bring it up over and over again. I was just letting Number 3/12 know that the achievement is not, like they mentioned, impossible. Not to mention if people are whining about how 'greedy' Epic is over achievements being in paid DLC; this shit has been going on for years and it's not just limited to Epic Games. Not to mention the only reason I see people calling Epic/others greedy is because WEEEEHHH I CAN'T GET MY PRECIOUS ACHIEVEMENTS. Y'know what'll be funny? Starting over from scratch when the new Xbox comes out. Whoops the pointless act of getting achievements is suddenly more pointless. DLC is meant to be sold. It's meant to make money. That's the point of DLC. Money. If you people don't understand that it takes, derp, money, to keep a video game company/franchise running, then something's wrong with you. Someone mentioned Valve? Yeah Valve does this too. It's called hats. $5 hats. $5 for pixels that don't even do anything, they don't even give you previous little achievements. I always loved 'Good Guy Valve' meme, when they do the exact same thing everyone else does so they can stay afloat. Granted, I love Valve, but if you're going to fault a video game company for needing funds in order to survive/pay their employees; then don't make one out to being the "saint" among them who do the exact same thing. ;3 With that, I'm out of here! Tah~
  • No shit. The maps sucked and I'd never get the dlcs otherwise.
  • I dont mind paying like 800-1200msp for dlc if its decent and adds replayability and at that price it should fucking come with 250gs. 10 achievements = 250gs = i gladly buy it. 3 achievements 60 gs = gtfo
  • So a highly respected figure in the gaming industry comes clean and confirms one of the many things we as fans attack each other about in forum debates on a daily basis, and for what? Is he doing anything to change this despicable type of marketing? Nah, he's gloating. He thinks it's cute that he got rich in the process of being a scumbag and didn't even miss the opportunity to get a shitty Star Wars joke in. At what point do we stop giving these fuckers our money once and for all and let the industry bleed out? That's what it's going to take to get gaming back to what it once was before this nickel and diming generation we're stuck in now came along. Save the "this guy thinks everything should be free" responses, that isn't what I'm saying. Cue the thumbs down for me and the excuses and thumbs up for the shady developers.
  • @20 Agreed, Lol
  • BF3 has been doing it. At least Epic is honest about it.
  • Are we supposed to be surprised ?
  • I can understand people who like achievements (Like I do), and I can understand people who don't like achievements. What I can't understand is people who complain about achievements actively using a website that is achievement-orientated.
  • @3 'Socialite' is impossible to get? I got it, they did an 'event' almost every weekend and they still, I got one for Judgement being released on GOW 3 not so long back. I don't mind this, sure it's a little devious but when all of my friends were playing it anyway, we were all going to get the DLC regardless, a good game will sell on its own. Still working on Seriously 3.0 though :/
  • Judgment is ridiculous for weapon skins etc. Only a quarter of them are unlockable through the main game. Others you have to buy. Bullshit. I did get the Onyx achievement he is talking about here, but I never held friends at gunpoint to get the maps. I went online and not surprisingly EVERYONE was wearing the Onyx skin.
  • @14/15 It's cool, man. I was like "What the hell did I say wrong? I said that it was upped!"
  • WalterWhite nailed it. Like I wrote, fine. "Socialite" isn't impossible. The hardcore, obsessive compulsive dorks unlocked it. Hooray for them. And like I wrote before, ***the real point is*** the people at EPIC are pricks for pulling stunts like the one mentioned in the article. The guy feels "proud" about using a cheap stunt to compel their customers to buying DLC...which was already on the discs anyway. Horde Command Pack "DLC" was really a code that "allowed" gamers to play content that was already on the disc to begin with. So not only were the people at EPIC d-bags for creating a stunt designed at getting gamers to talk their friends into buying "DLC", it wasn't DLC because it was on the discs!
  • No shit
  • For the people discussing Socialite, I unlocked it myself this past weekend. At some point in a final update they gave everyone 29/30 events so all you have to do is play one multiplayer game of Gears of War 3 and it will unlock. I hadn't played the game since the week after it released.
  • Here's hoping he doesn't pull this shit with BioShock Infinite!
  • Kudos to Rod for being so honest about it. I don't think I've ever bought DLC for the express purpose of getting achievements, they're more of a delightful bonus!
  • @4 You missed Rockstar, great developers.
  • Old news, they already did a study showing games with easier achievements sell better than ones with more difficult achievements and another study showing DLC with achievements sells better than ones without. Common sense says they wasted a lot of money on those studies.
  • So, they are aware of us, but no one has said that they put achievements in DLC so we buy it to keep our completions. That's the only thing I really argued about in this regard. Definitely didn't think they thought of it that way, though. I'm going to go see if I can find transcripts of this microtalk. We're not talked about enough. =P
  • Not surprising and why wouldn't they? Microsoft hit a goldmine buy coming up with achievements in games.
  • Rod Fergusson, do you even lift?
  • @ #35 That's true but the difference here is this is a situation where a developer who has historically been very respected and interactive with fans online coming out and basically confirming there's nothing behind the curtain. It's kind of like Hulk Hogan coming out and saying wrestling is fake, we all know it, but it's taboo to come out and confirm it. Theoretically this guy shouldn't have a career in the gaming industry after this. His fans should be angry that he's been a part of this behavior and his industry peers should be pissed that he spilled the beans which made them look like shit in the process. I'm sure Cliffy B is riding around in a Lamborghini full of models all sorts of pissed off because his former co-worker came out and said, "You know all the DLC we told you we poured our blood, sweat and tears into was just some bullshit to get players to buy junk content and grind our game to keep our online numbers up while we made a quick buck." So old news? Not really. This is a major player coming clean, it's not some zit-faced intern with an axe to grind.
  • @3 You sure it's impossible to get? I hadn't played it in around a year, than after playing a single match Socialite just auto unlocked.
  • I love this website but do not like achievements for many reasons like this. Most if not all achievement/trophy whores are kids with their parents money or unemployed young men with their parents money to blow. Both have ample tme on their hands and someone eles money to spend, developers know this. If you want shit like this to stop then speak with your wallet and don't buy crap DLC with a computer generated score attached to it. I highly doubt that will happen.
  • I remember the days when I played a game because it was great quality and not for achievements but I will say I've become addicted to the idea of if I have all the achievments I've gotten all I can out of the game and can then sell it. I still think that achievments have become a cop out to quality, you can put the most redonculous achievement in a game to make people play a game longer but it still doesn't make a bad game better. I hope this next gen ends up with more quality in mind one of my favorite games that no ones ever heard of is Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne on the PS2 I played that game more then I played Skyrim.
  • we all know that developpers nowadays use cheevos to sell DLC which are crap in 90% pf the case and overpriced (maps, 1 hour story, online access and other content that should be on the disc day 1). imo i would buy good dlc like skyrim or gta ones even if they were no cheevos. and talking about the guidelines for achievements given by MS, i wonder if EA got the document because their stupid FIFA13 achievement based on luck only was probably not in the menu ..
  • This information isn't new, and the audacity of that bastard to say "I'm not proud of it"
  • I love achievements but their DLC is what put me off to buying it. I don't like grinding and relying on others to do the same thing in order to get achievements. I bought the game because I loved the story and Gears 1 was the first game I played on the xbox so I have an affinity towards the series. Unfortunately this game sits as pretty much the lowest completion level on my profile...*sigh*
  • Why isn't Rod making a sob story on how he isn't proud about Disc Locked Content on Gears 3 like the Horde Command pack? :o (Hell, tell us why there's 6 more Versus maps on the Gears J disc!) It would probably make for a more exciting read ;)
  • The big thing is that MS achievements need to be standard on the PC. Steamchievements are worthless, and PS's Trophies are too The entire goal is to lengthen the e-penis, not make them bite-size
  • Gears 3 was excellent though so this was okay.
  • @29 well said. DLC was originally for developers had more to give to game after it was out. Now its a way for companys to rip us of by keeping things thats finished (BEFORE RELEASE DATE) and locked on a disc that we've already paid £40 for only to be charged for it (they would say its our choice to buy of course BUT now to here from x-epic knob Rob that they dont only whip in achievements to try to get you want to buy it BUT also try to talk your friends into buying e.g. "Like a boss" cheevo with a 5 onyx guard team with this skin only available in DLC.) at a later date!!! Rant over...........
  • @4: Bethesda? Bethesda doesn't fucking care. Go ask PS3 owners how much Bethesda cares.
  • @51 I've had to explain this in another article its not the publishers fault that PS3 is so much harder to code for its just how things turned out yeah Bethesda could hold all there DLC and patches until they can simultaneously release for everyone but how much more are people gonna complain about it taking that much longer?
  • Who cares? He helped run the franchise into the ground before he left anyway
  • *shocked* /sarcasm.
  • @7: I have it too, and I actually earned it legit by playing in the required number of events. And no #8, playing one match a week for 30 weeks or however many events it was does not mean I have no life. Again, all you needed was one match to get credit, you did not have to be playing Gears 3 constantly. @52: Wrong wrong wrong wrong WRONG. It is the publisher's fault that they released multiple broken games. "PS3 is hard to develop for wah wah wah" isn't a get out of jail free card for sucking at your job. If PS3 is so hard to develop for, how come other PS3 versions of multiplatform games aren't as hideously broken as Bethesda's games? Could it be because those developers don't suck at their jobs like Bethesda does? Why yes, that's exactly what it is.
  • I have little to no respect for Epic, or a number of game companies these days for this exact reason. Coupled with the miserable failure (IMO) that is Gears Judgment, it is pretty apparent that it's all about money over everything else nowadays.
  • who cares? gears is dead.
  • LOL, Epic Games have a history of pisstake achievements that unsubtly say 'Spend all your time playing our game, not theirs!' so this isn't suprising. There's someone who posts on our forums called 'The_b1ues' who has a link to a Road To Seriously 3.0 blog in his sig and in the final post he said something to the effect of "Now that I've gotten Seriously 3.0, I look forward to playing this game properly. Send me an invite if you're interested in playing." Literally the real life version of that WoW South Park episode. At some point you have to admit that achievements are ultimately meaningless and just cut your loses on some bullshit tasks. Tomb Raider's collectibles did it for me recently.
  • @9 Hahaha me too, popped in and *bloop* :) haha I was like wtf...
  • Um... when is Epic Games going to fix the Seriously 1.0 achievement from Gears of War 1.
  • I use this site for info more than anything but from posts so many make on new items its little wonder companys don't do this, amount idiots who will get dlc on a game the don't plan on playing other than to just to get gamer score, that at the end of the day means nothing is quite funny.
  • @ #61 Come to think of it I didn't either. I did buy one skin for Gears of War 3 and one for Gears of War: Judgement but outside of those few dollars, nothing. The Gears of War add-ons were free, Gears of War 2 I bought the Game of the Year Edition that came with everything and I skipped it all for Gears of War 3. I wanted to play Raam's Shadow but never felt the need to actually buy it, even when it was on sale awhile back. The lack of interest in long term Gears multiplayer and the horrible achievements put me off to all of the content.
  • @63 Gears 1 and 2 were topnotch, i bought all of the DLC for both. hundreds of hours in multiplayer for both as well. but gears 3, for some reason, just lacked that good ol' gritty 3rd person shooter feel, that which gears 1, 2 had. so a week or two in gears 3 multiplayer was all i had in me. and let's not even talk about gears judgement
  • @3 wow epic fail. obviously you're unaware of the last gow3 update. You can just play one match and bam the socialite achievement pop up.
  • @48 How are PS3's Trophies any different to Xbox 360's achievements? achievements on the 360 are no different in worth to trophies on PS3 so I don't know where you get that from.
  • Whatever...
  • lol, stop crying like a bunch of little girls...EVERY developer uses achievements to sell their DLC. Get over it, just because a memeber of a design team "revealed" what everybody knows and does doesnt mean a thing, considering most people do not buy DLC for achievements...get real. The game was amazing, the DLC extended the games life and sales, job well done EPIC...imagaine, a business trying to find a way to make people buy their products....madness...
  • Don't most of you complain about DLC that doesn't have achievements anyway? I have seen many posts saying "No Achievements, No Buy" or something similar. Now you get a report that a company is actually catering to you and you get pissy.
  • @6 : Well, you can get achievements for games you really liked (replaybility, like I would never have tried before the challenge to replay a game in hard mode for example), that's still doesn't mean I would bought a DLC only for achievements, there's no way I would do that;
  • @3 No, now Socialite is the easiest achievement to get in the whole game. When you get to the main menu, it automatically gives you 29/30 events played and just play the always running event and you'll get the onyx medal after 1 match
  • Gave up trying to earn Gears of War 3 achievements due to seriously 3.0. It's impossible to obtain without spending every waking minute trying to achieve it. Bills to pay!
  • I really didn't like how weapons skins were tied to achievements in gears 3. I tried really hard to get the ivory skin by getting the "I got this" achievement. My level and unlocks got reset and I was locked out from ever getting it again.
  • Seriously that is why I rather wait for prices to go down and for all dlc game versions because i know that is going to be cheaper then getting it from the marketplace but if you ask me if I buy dlc for achievements? Some yes some no. Those of yes are only to get the game destroyed but the no ones are if I'm really bored or wants to play with my friends so I'm kinda both.
  • Well yeah?! As long as the game is a good laugh to play with your mates and the money you spend gets you some enjoyment out of playing the game, who cares who's pockets are getting filled? It just shows that they have thought about their achievement list and maximized their profit stream. When you feel you have been properly ripped off by a DLC that's when you start complaining!
  • @71 Welcome to the Big Leagues is easier if you played beta or GoW2, but I see your point.
  • I am the same @72
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