The Problem with the WoW Achievement System

questionHave you explored all of Westfall? Have you purchased a vanity pet? Have you done some other unremarkable feat like tie your shoes? If so, then you deserve something special. Of course you do WoW subscriber. You deserve to have your virtual back slapped by the omniscient WoW Achievement system!

I absolutely loathe the WoW achievement system. Both in it’s design and implementation Blizzard has created an obnoxious cuckoo clock that pops out every so often to annoy you and those around you with some banal fanfare. Is this what passes for state of the art game design these days? A database that catalogs your every burp and fart while you play your favorite MMO (most MMOs have “achievement” systems in one form or another) seems to be a step backwards for advancing the potential of virtual worlds. Instead of getting serious advances in design and technology that could really start to make virtual worlds actually live and breath we get a feature that belongs more in a daycare center then in a massively multiplayer online world called Azeroth.

Here are a few reasons why I don’t like WoW’s Achievement System:

Achievements Erode Immersion

One of my main problems with the WoW Achievement System is the method by which the player is notified that they have completed a particular achievement. Upon completing the requirements suddenly the player sees a graphic pop up notifying them of their accomplishment accompanied by a sound effect. Just who exactly is notifying the player? Some deity or omnipotent force? In fact it’s the “program” itself that is communicating with you — not a deity, a trainer or even another player.

It’s almost like the WoW client is like the fictional HAL computer that acts like a talking travel planner to notify you of the fact that you have explored all of the areas of a zone like Loch Modan. To be fair, the WoW client already communicates with you in many ways such as: “You have earned a new level!”, talents points and so on. The problem is that those kinds of mechanics destroys the immersion for the player if it’s done in a lazy and haphazard as Blizzard has done with WoW.

Now if WoW was a sci-fi MMO then each player could have either a personal computer, PDA, cell phone, GPS with them to explain this and it would make perfect sense. However, if your personal device had all the information then exploring would be pointless as you’d never be lost making the “achievement” pointless.

Achievements Are Infantile

As players, do we really need to be congratulated by the program when we have explored all the areas of an area? Exploration should be ample reward in itself — not a few more meaningless “points”. A true explorer doesn’t need bells and whistles to congratulate them when they have scaled a mountain top or found the darkest depths of a dungeon. Achievements in WoW remind me of how children in primary school have to be continually motivated by politically correct teachers obsessed by ensuring that their students are subject to false praise for completing the smallest tasks.

WoW with it’s Achievement system really feels like an extension of that very same warm and fuzzy self-esteem movement that passes for *coughs* game design that has infected other video game systems like the XBox Live. It’s like a comfortable soother that helps ease Xbox Live kiddies into MMOs like WoW.

If Real Life Had An Achievement System

To illustrate the absurdity of most of the achievements in WoW, let’s take a typical day with a Real Life Achievement system. It would go like this:

*You showered without dropping the soap! Congratulations you get 5 points!*

*You shaved without cutting yourself! Congratulations you get 7 points!*

*You made it to work on time without getting killed in traffic! Congratulations you get 20 points!*

*You survived another day in corporate America without getting laid off! Congratulations you get 50 points!*

Did that make your day go a little better? Every day, I somehow manage to complete those “achievements” without the need for an omniscient voice cheering me on. It’s called adulthood.

Achievements are Worthless to Achievers

I find it ironic that in a MMO that caters almost exclusively to achievers that the achievement system is largely worthless to achievers. What is the point (no pun intended) of all those points anyways? You can’t spend them or trade them in for any kind of worthwhile items. Sure there are some titles and mounts but they are only attainable after a player has usually completed hundreds of painful pre-achievements. Now this may be fine for hardcore players out there living on welfare or a disability but what of the players that don’t have obscene amounts of time to devote?

The fact that there are no achievement quartermasters is rather appalling considering it’s from Blizzard — the zen masters of the reward, reward, reward game design mantra.

A False Sense  of Accomplishment

Probably the worst thing about an achievement system is that it gives players a false sense of accomplishment for doing trivial and menial tasks; this ties directly into the above reward philosophy du jour of video game production. The problem is that these achievements can be quite addicting as noted in an excellent article by Gamespy a few years ago entitled: Are You Addicted to Achievements? which I found by way of a superb article on achievements at Werkkrew.com which discusses virtual achievements vs. real achievements (that’s another discussion for another day).

Here’s a quote that I am shamelessly borrowing from Werkkrew who quoted it from the Gamespy article:

Hello, my name is Will, and I’m addicted to achievements. Not the real-life kind, mind you, as I’ve pretty much given up on those (just getting out of bed in the morning feels like an achievement). No, I’m talking about the kind of achievements that you can only get by playing Xbox 360 games. At first, I didn’t really pay much attention to them, although I did feel a slight sense of accomplishment every time I was informed that I had received one. Lately, however, I’m finding that I can’t stop trying to get them. It’s gotten to the point that I’ll stay up late into the night just to get an extra 10 points added to my gamerscore. I … I think I need help.

It used to be that in MMOs we as players were addicted to the formerly hard achievements like leveling up, killing named mobs, killing bosses (yes those things used to be difficult many years ago). Now it seems even the smallest tasks performed within a MMO have the capacity to addict us — by design. Clearly the Blizzard devs are fully aware of the addictive nature of officially sanctioned achievements but they implemented them anyways. I suppose WoW just wasn’t addictive enough. Translatation: more addictive features helps keep people subscribing.

I guess I need to be realistic. Achievements as a feature seems to be here to stay in video games and MMOs — at least for now until the public wises up. So what is to be done? If you absolutely feel you need to have an achievement system in a MMO then here’s what I would have done differently:

Change the Lame Name

The Achievement system is a blatant theft from the Xbox Live Achievement System. At least other MMO companies used different names like Warhammer’s Tome of Knowledge and Lord of the Rings Online’s Deeds, Traits and Virtues.  If you truly feel you need an achivement system in your MMO then at least have the decency to disguise it’s name. Calling something the “Achievement System” makes about as much sense as calling new content a “patch”. With all the supposed talent working at Blizzard you think they could have at least called it something more imaginative and organic; something that actually makes sense in the context of the world of Azeroth.

Use NPCs to Acknowledge and Reward Players

WoW achievements could have easily been broken down into a number of areas overseen by in-game organizations of NPC’s. For example the Explorer’s League run by dwarves already exists and could have easily handled the administration of all of the exploration type achievements. Their representatives could be placed in most towns and neutral cities so that Alliance players could interact with them for acknowledgment and rewards. Instead of being notified instantly for completing an achievement, the player would have to physically speak to a NPC for recognition.

Other societies and organizations could easily be created for the other types of achievements. Players already have to talk to NPC’s to get quests, get trained, bank, purchase goods and items, why then should achievements be bestowed without having to visit an NPC? At least it would make sense and build more immersion for the player rather then eroding it.

Conclusion

The WoW Achievement system as is, feels disconnected to the other parts of the MMO. It should have been designed and executed with more artistry and professionalism. They could have at least disguised it as a tome or journal a la Mythic or Turbine but instead they chose the easy route. I do realize that many players like the seductive nature of being praised and I respect that; for them it has helped give their play experience in an aging genre some fresh air. It also appeals to the collector mentality that seems to be all the rage these days in the video game world. If that’s what turns your crank then all the more power to you.

But let me ask you: did you really start playing WoW to collect *every* vanity pet and cooking recipe? As players are we so mindless and spineless that we will perform any task (read: time sink) that a MMO company sets before us — just because it’s there? Do you really need your every action and step within a MMO to be noted and praised by an unimmersive game mechanic?

For my part, I like MMOs that don’t insult my intelligence. The Achievement System lacks originality, imagination, context, harmony and cohesion. Blizzard would have done well to study Warhammer’s Tome of Knowledge for an example of an achievement system done right. Honestly, it just feels like it was retrofitted into the game with a hammer and nails.

Not only does this make Blizzard look bad, it speaks to the sorry state of mind of the typical WoW subscriber. If today’s average MMO player feels they need a childish system like this to hold their hands and make their play time meaningful then this genre is in serious trouble. Even worse, if Blizzard designers felt that by adding a trendy feature from a console game system was the best they could do to improve WoW then it’s a sad day for all of us who still believe that virtual worlds have tremendous potential. By continually appealing to the lowest common denominator and dumbing down the MMO genre, Blizzard will most certainly not be the video game company that will take us to the virtual promised land.

-Wolfshead

30 thoughts on “The Problem with the WoW Achievement System

  1. As you probably know, I wrote about this topic recently. We are in the process of designing Achievement systems for our games, and I wanted to hear what people thought about them. As a player, I enjoy them… within reason. I do not like the absolutely insane and asinine ones (You have used the Fart emote 5,000 times!), but I like some of the more meaningful ones (like a specific tome entry for defeating a specific boss, or taking 50 keeps, etc.) Basically, I like achievements that are kinda like milestones marking the progress of things I would do anyway – even if there were no achievement system.

    Have you read about the “Legendary Defender of Ascalon” in Guild Wars? If you want to hate on achievement systems, you definitely need to check that out.

    -Michael
    Muckbeast – Game Design and Virtual Worlds
    http://www.muckbeast.com

  2. You pick up where our discussion at Muckbeast http://muckbeast.today.com/2008/12/28/achivements-the-new-hot-feature/ stopped some time ago.

    I found some insights extremely disturbing: That people will do everything to get this or that extremely odd achievement, no matter how stupid it is or how painful the grind involved is. Sometimes I even think the amount of pain necessary gives the achievement more value.

    It does not speak highly of the players that they fall for this system. I have fallen victim to such a system, too. Every day I vanquished 1 or 2 areas in Guild Wars, to get the title Vanquisher. Many of my friends are still hunting for this or that achievement.

    It is a motivator for those who are already done or feel bored with a virtual world, but at its core it is really a rather immature system, as it is often quite insulting to the player. Just wait and see, soon we will get the achievement goo-pile collector or something like that. Plus a statistics window that tracks how often I did every emote in WoW.

    I somehow feel people lost the ability to play a game, especially a sandbox game. They start the game and then wait for a quest to tell them what to do next. Then they download a software that paints a big arrow on their screen, sometimes optimizing the routes the player takes to complete a quest.

    This feels completely wrong, pardon, it does not feel wrong, it is wrong. It totally put me off and is partially responsible for me stopping to play WoW and GW.

    I think future achievement systems will have to be more carefully implemented, if there is a need for them at all. They also give players somehow the feeling that they are done with a game once they have “achieved” the complete list or almost complete list the listed achievements…^^

  3. I somehow feel people lost the ability to play a game, especially a sandbox game. They start the game and then wait for a quest to tell them what to do next. Then they download a software that paints a big arrow on their screen, sometimes optimizing the routes the player takes to complete a quest.

    The existence and popularity of this mod is a great bit of proof that heavy quest driven advancement is as much of a grind as the old grind. And quest based advancement has other problems as well: like the near impossibility for friends to join up or leave at any time since you all end up at different points in various quest/zone progressions.

    But back to the insane achievments: I think this is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. When MMO companies find something easy, they will do it absolutely to death.

    Why don’t they work on housing? It is a much stickier feature and it single-handedly keeps subscriptions. The lack of housing in modern MMOs boggles the hell out of me.

  4. I think you should start an article about HOUSING IN MODERN MMOS on your blog, Muckbeast! :)

    I will then tell you about my awesome Big Tower on an Ultima Online Freeshard that evolved over time into a settlement, as friends build their houses there, too. We even had sheep that we had tamed and released in the inner courtyard.

    Some guys from another guild managed to shear them nevertheless, and their wool needed 3 days to re-grow! And after we prevented them from shearing, they used vile magics or shot our sheep with their bows!

    This made me kill their pack horses in their fortress town, plus we did not spare their war horses after combat either anymore, which was considered very bad style! :>

    I would really like to discuss if something like this is even remotely possible in modern MMOs. Most lack the level of item interaction of Ultima Online, unfortunately! Most are build up in a very simple way: PLAYERS, MONSTERS, COLORFUL WALLPAPER BACKGROUND. Add in some merchants. You cannot chop wood in Elwynn Forest, you can fish or go mining, that was it.

    I think achievements are the end of the days were tons of quest chains were seen as the neverending source of fun. Even EverQuest turned into EverRaid.

    I wonder when MMOs will turn back to at least some roleplaying and more to the virtual world theme. All fantasy MMOs have basically become shooters/hack’n’slay.

    I would prefer a bit of Second Life and a lot of the ideas already introduced in Ultima Online. I would like Guild Wars 2 to pick up crafting and more world interaction, but their design ideas do not indicate anything of this.

  5. First, a disclaimer. While I have bandied a long time about how I would like to see core elements of MMO’s see a drastic change, (shared sentiment with Wolf here and Tesh et al at his blog) for the achievement context I am going to use examples on the current MMO sphere (because I don’t see them changing anytime soon). It is not to say the current is good and fine, but offer an alternate achievement advancement system in current context.

    Okay, that felt good to get off my chest.

    At the core? Make Achievements have game changing meaning. Some examples, if you will humour me, with some ficticious examples applicable to most current MMO’s.

    a) Level Achievement: Hit level 20 for the first time! (This achievement grants a 10% EXP bonus to all XP for all current and future characters under level 20. Have other ones at 30, 40, etc, whatever the level structure is)

    b) Exploration Achievement: Has visited 10% of all taverns! (This achievement lowers the price of general goods vendors by 10% at all taverns in the world. Have higher, additional bonuses for hitting higher percentages. Once you hit 75% of the taverns, earn the title “The Lush”. Applied to all current and future characters)

    c) Kill Achivement: Killed Lord General X! (Boss in some raid encounter. This achievement grants 10% more damage, 10% more healing, 10% more mitigation (etc.) when facing the same boss in the future. Extra bonuses for killing all raid bosses in an instance, etc. Suitable title awarded. Applied to all current and future characters)

    d) Combat Achievement: 1000 Killing Blows! (Increases damage to mobs by 10% when they are under 10% health. Appropriate title awarded) Applied to all current and future characters.

    e) Exploration Achievement: Visited 10% of the zones in the world! (Increases future exploration XP by 10%, for all current and future characters. Awards title: “Well travelled”. Higher bonuses once more of the zones are visited) Applied to all future and current characters.

    f) Crafting Achievement: Created 10 Swords of the Ultimate Lies! (Future Swords crafted will use 10% less components). Applied to all future and current characters.

    Those are just samples. My thought process behind achievements are basically twofold:

    1) Award players for doing things they enjoy in game: Travelling, questing, killing, crafting – without putting rediculous tags or grinds in – award the players for just doing normal in game things, along normal play experiences. That should be the core of the achievement system. Encouraging unrewarding gameplay (Kill 10,000 Elves!) can still be a part of it, but should award mocking titles. (Kill 10,000 Elves? Title: The Insomniac – or The Basement Dweller). The clone like nature of mainstream MMO players need to be retrained on what is “good”, and what is “bad” in playing MMO games in the first place. Grinding thousands of mobs is “bad”. Achievement systems can help retrain the current mainstream which will open up new and different core MMO elements, instead of forcing studios to try and copy the currently accepted principles.

    2) Have the achievements not only impact the current character(s), but FUTURE characters as well (where plausible). This will ease the burden of rolling alts, and having to replay old content. It is fun the first time, interesting the second, but by the time you are working on 3rd to 5th characters it gets painful. (I had 7 Max level characters in WoW, and I hated it. I still did it mind you, but HATED it. The only reason right now I am still not subbed to WoW, is that they dropped DK’s into Outland instead of Northrend. Why make me do 2 year old content on a new character class?) Having achievments flag account bonuses, instead of character bonuses, makes replayability that much more enjoyable.

    I’ll tack on more later as counter comments arise, but great article Wolf =)

  6. Long: I totally need to write a topic about the death of housing as a feature. It makes no sense.

    Chris L: Interesting achievement ideas. Your note about alts has triggered a general gripe I have these days:

    What’s with the alts?

    Alts were something people just kinda goofed off with “back in the day.” For the most part, people playing their “main” 95% or more of the time. In fact, people didn’t even call it their “main.” It was just their character. But all these repetitive grinds and no real meat in the game has caused people to have to make things interesting again by making alts. That’s another topic!

  7. Pingback: More on “achievements”. | mendax.org

  8. My view on alts is that they are just that: alternate ways to play the game. Honestly, if I could go into WoW, and alter my class to any of the possibilities at whim, I’d never need alts. I’m talking a complete change, to any class (OK, and race change since WoW limits things by race, too) not just a talent respec.

    I played through Titan Quest, and while I wanted to play some more with a different class, I most certainly did not want to play through the entire game again. So I downloaded the TQDefiler hack, and made my character whatever class I felt like playing that day.

    I got more playtime out of TQ because I had more options, but I didn’t feel forced to grind through to realize those options. Without the Defiler, I’d have dropped TQ after finishing it with my first character, idly wondering about the game design and fun potential of other classes but not willing to put up with the trouble to see them.

    Some players want to see all a game has to offer, and alts are one route of exploration. They are exploring alternate gameplay, but the same “geographical/quest” content. In WoW’s case, they are just one more element of grind to suck people in, but deep down, I see alts as an expression of the Explorer Bartle gene. If I could explore those tracks via the horizontal expansion of class altering, rather than alt rerolling, I’d be a much happier MMO denizen. Guild Wars did that to a small degree with the ability to alter your secondary, but even that is a half measure for what I’m thinking.

    Yes, that’s tangential, but it also ties into what Chris is saying; make Achievements matter. Make player choices and actions have a real effect. If Achievements are just another grind treadmill, they are worse than worthless. If they are a way to really personalize the gameplay, especially if they are an organic result of “normal play” (not grind), they have potential.

    I’m not one for the self-congratulatory nature of most of the Achievements in any game (curse the 360), but they do push that addiction factor a bit more. I can see their uses, even if I don’t agree with them, and see them as terribly shallow as currently implemented.

    Now, combine Chris’ idea about making Achievements matter, and Wolf’s NPC recognition, and you could have “faction standing” actually mean something other than access to recipes. If Achievements serve as a record of your character’s “life” in their world, who is keeping an eye on that record, and more importantly, what will they do about it?

  9. Muck: I do point back to my disclaimer. I kept it in current MMO context – picture my systems in WoW, and how much better that game would be. Now, if we are creating a new MMO from ground up I am definitely with you.

    Think of the time, energy, and expense used to create lavish, beautiful lands that are only experienced in an MMO for a few hours (all zones from level 1-15). Then they are discarded. A waste of all of that time, energy, and expense. That is where the current levelling system fails. It wastes resouces. If those expenses were used to create persistant content enjoyed at all levels, now there is a good investment!

    I touched upon a different levelling system here (again, in current MMO context) that would make gamplay more meaningful accross all zones by changing the relative power curve that levels represent. However, it is a patch fix on current MMO titles instead of a true “innovation”.

    I am all game for a new way to advance your character. After all, MMO’s are about advancement. In a MMO land with choices effecting gameplay, it could be a moral compass – you become more powerful as you become more “good”, or more “evil”, or even more “indifferent”.

    We are so off topic Wolf is going to lock us out =)

  10. Regarding alts, I had one alt for every primary class in Guild Wars and one became my new “main”. Achievements made me focus on my main char. I think I made the alts because GW did not offer further possibilities to develop my char at this time. So I tried another class with new abilities. I also had no problems to play another class if it was more useful for the party. But after they added maximum title trackes, people moved on to focus on one char only.

  11. In WoW, you basically get your world back. You can level into content, go through it again, yes, but you have a new class, new abilities and a different starting area makes for another experience early on, too. I know many people who park their alts at certain “boredom” levels. For me it was always the time when you are in the Barrens as Horde players. I hated this area. Maybe this is the reason why I usually played Alliance.

    P.S.: Absolutely off topic indeed… ;)

  12. Sry I’ll have to kind of bump back a bit to the original topic on this thread. Back too talking about achievements vs raiding.

    Welcome to World of Borecraft. A game that no longer requires an ounce of skill to play. For some reason Blizzard decided it would be best to remove all of the hard end game raiding content, and totally replace it with lengthy, time consuming, and completely rediculious Achievements that do nothing to satisfy the 2% of the gaming commuity that strive to be on top. It’s sad that I’m in a raiding guild and I see people that pug 25 man naxx that have better gear than me. So what you’re telling me that the only 2 things that seperate me (a raider) from a casual would be 1. Luck and 2. An achievement?

    The arguement could be raised that there are raid achievements that could be completed. Here’s the problem with that, not everyone in the guild cares about achievements, and what happens when people don’t care about something? They don’t try, or sometimes even show up. It’s coming down too this; before WOTLK came out you had like the top 500 US guilds complete all of the raiding content. Now everyone can do it. My guild completed everything in WOTLK within a week and a half of its release. Recylced content FTW. No learning curve, no challange. All end game content was one-shotted, except for Malagos and Sarth. Now it’s now January and still no content patch in site. This forces everyone to do achievements only to pass the time.

    It’s really too bad. This expantion really started off great. I was very impressed with the envriroment, and completely drawn in by certian quest lines. It was heads above the rest as far as normal everyday content goes. They really messed up their end game though.

  13. It’s sad that I’m in a raiding guild and I see people that pug 25 man naxx
    that have better gear than me.

    This is the attitude that makes WoW suck in general, and really hurts the development of other MMOs.

    WoW is a huge success IN SPITE of their gigantic raiding focus mistake.

    It is a huge success because of its accessibility, ease of use, nice looks, and consistent heroin drip.

    Once people get to the horrible end that is raiding, they are too connected, have too many friends in game, and invested too much time to quit.

    Achivements are a “whatever” addition to WoW. It is not well integrated into the game play, and in pure WoW style is just another grind.

    The fact that it annoys raiders is one of its few plusses.

    -Michael
    Muckbeast – Game Design and Online Worlds
    http://www.muckbeast.com

  14. This is the problem, TN. It is by far too easy, and mere and constant attendance (do your daily quests daily, clear as much heroics as possible and raid the moment the counter resets) is enough to progress. But for what actually. You do not need Naxx gear to clear Naxx. Do they want me to farm till March to prepare for Ulduar coming some time later, maybe June/July?

    The difficulty to get it done was what kept many people playing. As raiding itself is not that great endgame content at all, it needs at least some difficulty so that people feel that they achieved something.

    Nowadays an achievement is “you have cleared Boremexxamas 25 times, you get an achievement plus extra achievement reward”.

    Which is a pity, as WotLK really started off jawdropping stunning awesome.

  15. Pingback: Replayability and Keeplayability « Tish Tosh Tesh

  16. Being a W101 player now, and no longer a WoW player, it sounds like WoW Achievements = W101 Titles (or close to).

    Complete the Golem Tower quest and you can call yourself “Golem Tower Champion”. Find all the Dwarf Smiths hidden throughout Wizard City and you can be “Wizard City Explorer”. Kill 100 Crusher mobs and you get the title “Crusher crusher”. Negotiate peace between the Gobblers and Wizard City and become “Master Ambassador”. And so on.

    I don’t mind the titles, because they’re often stuff I’ll unlock just by playing the game and beating content. It’s cool to get a Title just for completing a series of quests, or killing a hidden Boss. But when I kill 100 Undead Mobs and get a Title, and I check my Log and see there’s another Title waiting for me if I were to kill even more Undead, maybe 200? or 500? (the goal is not specific) I’m not that keen to earn it. I might be an explorer, but I’m not a completionist. I don’t mind achieving almost secret content, like WoW’s Sprite Darter, but I’m not going to kill 500 Mobs just to get a silly Title.

    Congratulations! You just killed your 10,000th rabbit/rat/boar! You earned the Achivement ‘King of the Troglodytes!’

  17. WoW is a huge success IN SPITE of their gigantic raiding focus mistake.

    Very true. I recall a few years ago there was a theory circulating called the “horizon theory” which essentially states that MMO players *need* to see that there’s impossible content looming in the distant horizon. Even though they may never experience that content, still it provides a useful function to the player in that there is always experiences just out of reach — much like a cosmic version of the proverbial carrot that dangles in front of a horse.

    Most players in raiding guilds who “beat” the hardest content end up facing an existential crisis and suddenly feel that uncomfortable in that they have nothing left to do. This of course must never be allowed to happen in a virtual world/MMO as it would threaten the very core of a player’s suspension of disbelief.

    Note both Vox and Nagafen the two original dragons in EverQuest were never meant to be beaten and were essentially “horizon” content.

    So in effect as MMO players we are like Truman Burbank in The Truman show. We are happy living in a fool’s paradise as long as we never truly see the boundaries of our artificial albeit virtual world.

    So maybe the horizon theory is the real reason that Blizzard can continue to justify the disproportionate amounts of recourses being spent on an activity (raiding) that scant few subscribers will ever see.

    It is a huge success because of its accessibility, ease of use, nice looks, and consistent heroin drip.

    The polish and the simplicity of WoW can’t be underestimated. The achievements are just another addictive feature to keep people playing.

    Once people get to the horrible end that is raiding, they are too connected, have too many friends in game, and invested too much time to quit.

    I agree. Raiding is the penultimate social bonding experience. Long after the player becomes utterly bored of the predictable gameplay he feels the magnetic pull of his online family: the guild.

    Achievements are a “whatever” addition to WoW. It is not well integrated into the game play, and in pure WoW style is just another grind.

    My point exactly. Achievements weren’t implemented very well and don’t really seem to be cohesive to the rest of WoW.

  18. I would honestly say the one thing I hate the most about end game being rediculiously easy and mostly recycled content; would be the fact that I don’t think Blizzard was prepared for the entire server being in the same instance at the same time. I’m not sure about other servers but the lag in the naxx instance server on Tues, Wed, Sat, and Sunday nights is terrible and getting worse. Okay so even if Blizzard wants everyone to be able to complete all content….. At least be prepared for it.

  19. I wanted to speak on this but I kinda held back for awhile and have been rewarded with some really insightful comments. It’s honestly refreshing to come to a place on the interwebz where there is actual intelligence.

    Guys we first have to go back to the basic this is Blizzard mantra. Blizzard was founded by spoiled suburbanite yuppie larva. And these Larva were fed a steady diet of “your a special snowflake.” They were praised for not getting crap in their hair come bowel movement time…heck some of them were praised and called artistic when they did.

    And sadly this perverted ethos was passed to an entire generation, and Blizzard understands that this must be conveyed in game.

    What snookers? You don’t have the organization and people skills to make friends and tackle a high level monster??? Don’t you fret your little self one bit! See? You are special in this world and oh so special to us! Shh don’t cry…look.. we have recognized the fact that you fell off the flight deck in Stormwind and didn’t die! You are an achiever my little darling! Yes you are! No don’t you listen to those evil kids calling you a loser, they are just jealous of your achievement! Now give Mommy that 15.00 thank you off you go now my special little achiever!!

    If Blizzards special darlings want to name their character kiddieraper, or jewkilla it isn’t because they are sociopath little dips in need of a good ass whipping…it is because they feel that they are not special enough and need to be shown their uniqueness through the constant handing of items, gold and yes achievements with out any form of actual effort from the player.

    It gets worse this is now the gold standard of MMO’s…I doubt seriously that any developer will have the intestinal fortitude to create a game that isn’t a virtual placation simulator.

  20. > What snookers? You don’t have the organization and people skills to
    > make friends and tackle a high level monster??? Don’t you fret your
    > little self one bit!

    I am going to respond to this in a way that is very likely not where you were going with this point. If that is the case, please don’t be annoyed. I am just using this part of your post because it is a good jumping off point.

    It is my belief that you an MMO shouldn’t require good organizational or people skills to continually improve or develop your character. I think it is good game design to have a path of improvement that rewards those skills, but it should not be the only way.

    But that is the ONLY end game that is supported by WoW. You must have 9 or 24 or whatever people of just the right classes, or else you have nothing. And if you have 12 or 27, people sit home and rot, doing nothing. That’s a giant problem.

    The Achivement System is nice, but it is not a true path of character development. So it does not even take a step towards ameliorating this problem.

    -Michael
    Muckbeast – Game Design and Online Worlds
    http://www.muckbeast.com

  21. It is my belief that you an MMO shouldn’t require good organizational or people skills to continually improve or develop your character. I think it is good game design to have a path of improvement that rewards those skills, but it should not be the only way.

    A MMO is combination of a game and a virtual world, therefore it’s vital that a player have some semblance of people skills to be able to effectively communicate with other fellow players in order to further their character. Pure character advancement shouldn’t be the only consideration. We should be advocating MMOs where people can obtain some form of social and communal benefit derived from the company and kinship of others.

    Thanks to Blizzard, we are seeing far too much of the game and not enough of the world in current game design. Even the term “game design” implies the supremacy of the “game” rather then the world and that trouble me.

    EverQuest was brilliant in that both the character advancement system and the social system of groups and guilds created synergy that supported each other. In order to advance your character you needed to be able to communicate and *gasp* type; in order to advance socially you needed to be able to play your character properly in a group/raid. That to me is the true genius of EverQuest that is lost on the makers of WoW.

    But that is the ONLY end game that is supported by WoW. You must have 9 or 24 or whatever people of just the right classes, or else you have nothing. And if you have 12 or 27, people sit home and rot, doing nothing. That’s a giant problem.

    I agree that’s a big problem but the bigger problem is the fact you can solo to 80 without ever once communicated with another player. That is not a MMO, that is a single player game. The real problem is when that game play ends and the player is forced to confront the reality of the endgame version of WoW. Therein lies the disharmony and disconnect.

    The Achievement System is nice, but it is not a true path of character development. So it does not even take a step towards ameliorating this problem.

    All the achievement system does is acknowledge routine things that players do already. It’s like having a personal trainer with you when you workout at a gym. All he does is says “good work!”. Still, you the person does the workout not him. Some people like that kind of motivation. :)

  22. I think there’s room for both the “single player MMO” and the “group or die MMO”. I lean heavily to the single player version, since I don’t have the time or inclination to depend on a bunch of internet idiots to have fun. At the same time, I see that there is a great deal of game design space (or world design space, *grin*) to be explored with MMOs, especially in making them more about community than mercenary self-congratulation. I even have some good ideas for making that work… it’s just not really the sort of game that I’m necessarily interested in playing.

    …I’m not sure the mainstream really wants a very social (or socially enforced) experience. Perhaps that’s to be lamented, but rather than complain that the mainstream isn’t matching what we like, maybe we should find a niche and design for it? Wolf, how about a design document for your ideal MMO? Then we can dissect it and see how to make it marketable?

  23. WoW has been a huge success because it has grown the MMO demographic. I think besides the obvious factors like polish, established lore we have 2 primary reasons:

    1) The advent of a solo friendly character progression path which is more inclusive as the player is no longer reliant upon other people (groups) to self-actualize

    2) Easy content (cardboard mobs) that a person with limited ability can defeat

    My main concern is the tradeoffs that Blizzard has made to get all these new people (read: increase subscription revenue) which is dumbing down the genre worth it?

    Outside of instanced content the concept of challenge is foreign to most players in WoW. It’s become a MMO that is all about time investment rather then skill — old fashioned MMO notions such as class skill, social skill are no longer required.

    Maybe WoW is just like MySpace and Facebook where all that is important is that you exist and participate with your persona. WoW is becoming more and more like a social networking simulation yet without the need for players to even be social. The NPC’s, the story, the levels are all just window dressing to give you the illusion that you are progressing and becoming more powerful.

    At this point I don’t want MMOs to be more successful then they are. My concern is that the caliber of people in WoW has hit rock bottom. Call me elitist but do you really want the AOL crowd and people that live in trailer parks to play WoW? Maybe the problem is that they are already here among us.

    The design doc for my own MMO would probably never get funding. It’s too radical a departure from the current WoW model. :)

  24. It doesn’t matter. Talking theory is a good way to find solutions. :)

    Still, you’re right in that an MMO that realizes the genre’s potential would, of necessity, be different from WoW. Still, niche titles exist, and with the economy the way it is, there is more call than ever for differentiation in the market.

  25. Pingback: Forget Knowing The Fights, Link Your Achieve Plz! « ElitistGeek

  26. I agree for the most part. Achievements are an insult to the player’s imagination, initiative, curiosity and exploratory drive. They imply that doing those activities (exploration, collecting, raiding) are not inherently rewarding, and that the player needs external rewards, lacking any intrinsic motivation – and often kill that motivation in the process. Once you start rewarding an action, you will often find that people stop performing the action in the absence of the reward, even if they previously enjoyed the activity in and of itself (like so many children’s reading programs turn out). I loved your example of a mountain climber – it was very apt.

    I have one problem with your post – in several places you link this kind of “reward,reward,reward” mentality with the world of children – “infantile”, “belongs in kindergarten”, “childish”, you say (though at the same time you frown at the practice in primary school, a seeming inconsistency). I realize these terms and phrases may be just that – commonly used terms and phrases (which is telling in itself) – but give our kids some credit, eh? Rewards are an insult to their intrinsic motivators just as much as it is to MMO players’ or anyone else’s, and this mentality does not belong in kindergartens more than anywhere else – that is to say not at all. Meriting actions based on external rewards kills impulse. Kids are highly sensitive and want to live up to what is expected of them – and according to this “reward” worldview, those expectations state that children are inherently lazy, unsocial, flawed, that they don’t know what’s good for them and thus require extrinsic motivators, and that they need to be shaped by the adult. In fact that’s arguably where the problem of bad achievement-systems like this originates or is at least strengthened, because the children that learn this way of thinking and accept it as their reality are the same people who design our MMOs.

    Apologies if I haven’t made myself clear. I’m still mulling over these ideas in my head.

  27. I wonder how long it takes till the next LOTRO expansion.

    Why?

    They added meta-achievement rewards (fancy horses) for completing all the meta-achievements of various other achievements.

    The morale of the story? If there is “nothing to do” anymore, how about telling people to do some serious bullshit like killing a set and quite high number of mobs of this or that type?

    Does it keep them busy playing? Does it make them happy?

    Achievement systems quickly stop being about achievements, keeping track of especially glorious deeds. They always seem to turn into some kind of grind-quest and cheap content extender.

    • Great point about achievements being a cheap content extender.

      So-called “achievements” in video games are the biggest con job and swindle around. They inclusion in any form of video game and MMO is a disgrace. Its a wonder our crooked politicians haven’t started using them yet to social engineer society. Believe me, it’s coming.

      As far as WoW is concerned I am firmly convinced that they are the handiwork of Jeff Kaplan who seemed to spend all his time working on them as they prepared WotLK for release.

  28. The Achievement System is actually the reason I quite World of Warcraft in the first place.

    I spoke about this in my old blog (here: http://elitistgeek.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/forget-knowing-the-fights-link-your-achieve-plz/), but basically, I was a very geared healer willing to dedicate absurd amounts of time and dedication into doing raid content. The problem was I couldn’t find any guilds that weren’t already filled with a solid 25-man raid team and I had to resort to PUGs. However, it didn’t matter if you had the most amazing gear, if you wanted to do ICC 10/25 man and didn’t have the achievement, PUGS would almost never ever take you. Why? Because everyone in WoW knows a monkey could get decorate themselves in purple pixels, they are practically thrown at you once you hit level 80. Thus, they resorted to people linking their “achievements” as proof that you were skilled and capable of doing raids. A dangerous cycle then emerges, the same players will keep raiding over and over while new players will always be ignored until they miraculously managed to find a guild that is willing to be patient with you and teach you/show you the ropes. From personal experience, most WoW guilds that are interested in raiding, don’t even want to give you a second look unless you as a character could strongly benefit the guild. It’s this horrible sense of elitism and superiority to those of us who can’t experience raid content because we don’t have the achievement for it… I’d like to ask those selfish WoW players…

    How do you expect people to get the achievement if you only accept people that DO have the achievement?

    Because of Blizzard’s shameful WoW Achievement System, I was able to glimpse the true colors of the WoW community that would let such a stupid mechanic of the game decide whether you are skilled in the game instead of… oh I don’t know… socializing? Actually getting to *know* the person and seeing for yourself that this person is willing to learn the raid? Sigh.

    • Ah, I managed to find a small paragraph that summarizes how I feel towards the Achievement System:

      “Like I said, it all goes back to WoW players turning anti-social. Groups and raids these days have become all strictly business, rarely if ever do people bother to form friendships or get to know other players. If we did, however, players wouldn’t have to resort to ridiculously inaccurate sources such as gearscores and achievement links to make an overall judgement on your playing abilities. Is it just me or has these two constant requirements act as sort of in-game resume to whom we present the raid leaders who are essentially the “bosses”? When did playing a game that is suppose to be fun and relaxing become a job in disguise in which we must work hard in-game to qualify for experiencing content in a game that we pay $15 a month for?”

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