False Achievements

Everyone likes to be praised, complemented and told that they’re a hero. It’s one of the main reasons we play games.

The sense of achievement we get when we finally work how to beat that puzzle or when we put the final, killing blow to that end of level boss is a reward for the time and effort we have put in. It was a challenge and we quite rightly feel pretty good about ourselves for completing it.

But how do you give this same sense of accomplishment to people with no hand-eye coordination or who simply aren’t willing or able to learn the required skills? Traditionally we’d say ‘tough luck, keep on trying until you crack it’, which is fine for pre-paid games but is a tactic which won’t work for the huge numbers of free to play games on social and mobile networks.

In order to persuade players to continue playing the game, they first need to feel like this is a game which they are good at and will enjoy. This is where the notion of false achievements come in.

A false achievement is a way of rewarding the player when they haven’t actually done anything particularly noteworthy.

In social games particularly, players will level up at an astonishing rate when they first start playing. In one twenty minute session you’ll probably reach level four just by clicking a few buttons, normally the ones that the game tells you to at that. You come away from the game thinking ‘wow, I gained four levels in twenty minutes! I must be the best player this game has ever seen!’

Of course, you’re no better at the game than anyone else is, but because you’ve been told how amazing you are so often in such a short space of time you start to believe your own hype, and you come back for another play session. You level up a few more times, though not as quickly, and by the time you start levelling up every five hours instead of every five minutes, you’re already invested in the game. At this point you may also be tempted to get your wallet out to start levelling up a bit faster, like you used to.

The graph below shows a typical levelling curve that you’ll find in free to play social games, where the Y axis is your level and the X axis is the number of hours played.

There are two ways in which people respond to a challenge. One set of people (the RPG and Facebook game players) see a challenge as an opportunity to perform while another set of people (the skill-based, arcade game players) see a challenge as an opportunity to master.

Those that fall into the perform camp will most likely stop playing a game if a task takes too much effort to complete, as they do not get the same sense of achievement from mastering a skill. Performers need to be constantly praised to keep them interested in a game, so they thrive on false achievements.

Congratulations! You made it all the way to the end of this blog post. You’re amazing!

About Adam

Games designer, Newcastle fan and prolific tea drinker
This entry was posted in Achievements, Design Discussion, Social Games. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to False Achievements

  1. Pingback: Using Fibonacci for Game Balance | Adam Russell, Games Designer

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