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It's time: Xbox's achievement system is due for an upgrade

Xbox controller achievements
Xbox controller achievements (Image credit: Windows Central)

Few things in gaming are more satisfying than the sweet sensation of the cheevo pop. Those little hits of dopamine, praised for your hard work unexpectedly, often with a humorous phrase or positive affirmation. Xbox achievements are one of Microsoft's crowning gaming innovations, adapted and remixed by PlayStation, Steam, Battle.net, and various other games and storefronts. Alas, cheevos (as they're often lovingly called) have fallen by the wayside a bit.

The achievement hunting community is strong, with sites like TrueAchievements dedicated to their cataloging and pursuit. YouTubers like Maka91Productions create thousands of hours of Xbox achievement guides to help people pump up and celebrate their gamerscore. That same cheevo hunting community has frequently reached out to me on Twitter in recent years, to decry some of the prevailing issues with the system.

With the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S out the door, perhaps it's time Microsoft took another look at the Xbox achievement system. It's time to unlock an upgrade or two.

The current state of Xbox achievements

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Xbox achievements launched with the Xbox 360 back in the day, and would later spread to Games for Windows Live on PC, Windows Phone 7, and later Windows 10. Microsoft typically allows games to offer up to 1000 gamerscore initially. Indie and mobile games were previously only afforded 200 gamerscore, restrictions that would be later removed.

Xbox achievements are triggered at a game developer's discretion, often rewarded for collecting items, accomplishing difficult tasks, or progressing through the game. Some games have notoriously difficult or high-investment achievements, such as Gears of War's infamous "Seriously" achievements, which require you to kill hundreds of thousands of enemies or complete the game on their hardest difficulty modes.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

For the most part, the Xbox achievement system remained largely unchanged. In 2016, Microsoft added a unique achievement pop for "Rare" achievements, that game with a shiny diamond animation and a more prestigious sound effect.

We also discovered in a previous scoop that Microsoft was exploring an overhaul of the Xbox achievement system, nicknamed the Xbox "career system,". The career system would have rewarded gamers in new ways, including possible cosmetic items for Xbox Avatars. At some point during that system's development, however, it was shelved.

Since then, Xbox achievements have barely seen any love whatsoever, and in some ways, have even gotten worse.

Are some game publishers selling gamerscore?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

One point of contention in the Xbox achievement hunting community pertains to the accrual of points in recent times. Sure, achievements are just a fun little thing and perhaps shouldn't be taken too seriously. For those of a certain age at least (and I can only speak for myself) it does seem that achievements do add a dimension of fun and reward for investing in your platform of choice. When I play on my Nintendo Switch, I really do find myself missing Xbox achievements.

In any case, back in the day, achieving hundreds of thousands, or even millions of achievement points was a truly epic feat. It required tons of investment in terms of time, and in some cases money, since smaller indie games weren't given the full 1000 gamerscore like they are today. Some publishers actually seem to be abusing that fact too. Xitilon, for example, has been cited to me by numerous achievement fans as a company that sells simple easy games for $5, giving achievement hunters an incredibly easy ride to 1000 gamerscore with 10-20 minutes of light work. And what's worse, some of the games even gain extra gamerscore over time, abusing Microsoft's policies which let game developers add gamerscore after so many months.

In essence, this devalues the effort to some degree of more recent achievement hunters, since there are so many games out there that let you get gamerscore with relatively low investment both in terms of time, effort, and skill. What if there were other ways to show off your gaming achievements, though?

Other achievement systems are passing Xbox by

Source: Rand_Al_Pokemon_19 (Image credit: Source: Rand_Al_Pokemon_19)

PlayStation was late to the game when it comes to in-game achievements, but their trophy system has become the standard-bearer in some ways for these types of mechanics.

Sony's trophy system is a bit more granular, awarding different levels of achievements based on the difficulty, rather than a flat score. In addition, PlayStation's "platinum trophies" signify 100% completions of games — something Xbox doesn't have, and something that is often highly-requested. Steam's achievements are a little less glamorous, but they sometimes reward digital trading cards which are a fun little addition. Battle.net's achievements for World of Warcraft even go as far as offering titles and cosmetics, which is awesome. World of Warcraft's "Insane in the Membrane" achievement rewards players with the title "The Insane" for undertaking some truly mind-numbing grind that can take dozens of hours. But hey, if you build it, they will come. Apparently?

I don't think Microsoft necessarily needs to go all-in with granularity like the trophy system. Nor do I think they need to offer cosmetics and titles like Battle.net's achievements do. But, recognizing the number of rare achievements, or 100% completions should be a baseline feature perhaps at this point. It feels like there's a lot they could do with this system, and a few years ago, Microsoft seemed to agree.

Achievement unlocked: Written an article

Xbox career mode patent (Image credit: Windows Central)

Xbox career mode patent (Image credit: Windows Central)

Source: Windows CentralThe Xbox "Career System" showcased more detailed stats of your gaming achievements, and included new ranks and levels.

In previous interviews, former Xbox CVP Mike Ybarra expressed to us a desire to change up the Xbox achievement system, noting that gamers diverse playstyles aren't necessarily being rewarded in the current system. "As more people come into gaming around the globe, we need to have a service that recognizes and makes heroes of people for their style and their diverse ways of gaming," Ybarra said. "That's absolutely something we're looking at." Mike Ybarra is now at Blizzard Entertainment, but many of those who worked on the patented "career mode" are likely still part of Microsoft's Xbox platform team.

The "career mode" really made use of all the telemetry and stats Xbox receives on our gaming habits, allowing us to showcase our accomplishments in our profiles, or even earn titles. These sorts of features were well-received when we leaked them, but sadly never materialized into a finished product.

With the next-gen (well, current-gen) consoles now available across the world, you have to wonder if perhaps Microsoft will revist some of these older plans. However Microsoft decides to proceed with Xbox achievements, I think it's long overdue for some love and development.

What do you think about Xbox achievements? Hit the comments, let us know.

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Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

31 Comments
  • 1,000,000 percent agree! I know that I am in the minority, but I love hunting achievements! At the very least, something comparable to the Platinum Trophy would be great. There is nothing more frustrating than getting a game complete to 100% only to see it knocked back down to 80% when the DLC releases.
  • This one of the best things about True Achievements. It defaults for the main game only and excludes DLC. I wished a few years back that Xbox did a partnership with TA and used some of their trackers. Till this day I still think that is a great idea. Careers still sounds like an awesome idea.
  • Yeah, just give me a cool green X next to the top of the Achievement list for getting all of the original achievements and I'll be good. Sony was late to the table, but they nailed it with the platinum trophies (for the games that have them anyway).
  • Make it so that achievements are related to replay than game progression. I got more gamerscore in two weeks of playing the TellTale Batman Games than I have so far managed in the MCC because the latter is so much more based on replay whereas Batman was just given for playing the game. You could almost spam through it. When I migrated to Hitman 3, I got 400 GS upon loading the game! Despite playing for hours after the fact, there is little more I can do for GS that isn't going to require advanced level gameplay and a lot of hours NOT earning GS. So, get rid of the grindy and progression GS and make them matter. But I'm not sure how Xbox can enforce that short of reviewing every single one.
  • I think there's no real way around it, how else would you put achievements in a short, story-driven game? I guess what you could do tough, is weigh the achievements by rareness, something akin to what the TA score is on TrueAchivements.
    Overall, I'd like to see the system revamped too. I agree with you though in a way; I am currently playing Hand of Fate 2, where the achievements are very well made and they help you explore further facets of the game and even add some difficulty sometimes, or actually give you tips on how to play.
    I've been thinking about how cool it would be to gain the ability to get achievements multiple times on a single profile (obviously it wouldn't count twice towards your total gamerscore). You could select your profile on the game start's profile screen, but switch to another "achievement slot". I'd like to get back to Dark Souls Remastered, but I've already got all achievements, so I'll probably just play something else instead. I'm most certainly in the minority, though, but it would actually increase replayability for me in a handful of games.
  • I still can't believe I played Bullet Witch for the achievementz
  • The "platinum trophy" on PlayStation has also become pointless. It used to be reserved for big games back on the PS3 but now you get them for playing a 10 minute indie title. I can’t understand why some Xbox gamers would want this!?
  • Not every game on PlayStation has a Platinum trophy.
  • Wow, Games for Windows Live reference. Have plenty of games that I'd like to finish the achievements, but getting Microsoft to fix the GFW Marketplace app to download your games has just become too painful. I've chatted with them, they claim it's just not compatible with Windows 10 (but all Steam purchased GFWL games work fine, at least the ones that still use GFWL). Using Windows Vista or 7 still won't let you download your games. Plenty of us have asked them to just admit it's been shut down, and you'll get no response. Think they're afraid to say they shut it down, as then they'd be admitting they removed the ability to download games you paid for, and that could be a negative look for buying games digitally, so they just continue to blame it on Windows 10. I've emailed your tip line multiple times over the last couple years asking if you could do a story on the inability to download GFW Marketplace games, and why Microsoft refuses to address this issue, but get no response. Ability to download your games just stopped working in Feb 2018, with no prior notice.
  • They weren't fixing or helping customers for GFWL the whole time it was supposedly operational and you think you are going to get help getting your software when the service has been discontinued? "Microsoft refuses to address this issue" What do you want them to tell you, they stole your money? Hopefully you learned your lesson and don't purchase software from the Microsoft Store. I'm actually surprised you got some of it to work till 2018, most people couldn't get their games years prior to that. Microsoft consumer products/services as a strong generalization.... don't work out for the end consumer.
  • So you come here to lecture people? What a tool
  • I would say I stated the obvious. It seems like you came out here to lecture under your definition, the irony. The obvious is very easy to figure it out in this case, terrible consumer Microsoft products/services.... hearing people cry about Microsoft consumer support was old 5 years ago. If he is buying Microsoft's bad consumer products/services and buying **** off the Microsoft Store, he/she has nobody to blame but themselves.
  • If one wants to see how broken Microsoft crap is i.e. Microsoft Store and Game Pass... do a search on free gamepass exploit on youtube. The author of the video said Microsoft was told in 2016 that it was completely broken. People are getting free games and most likely in my opinion Microsoft isn't paying the publisher/developer for what are essentially sales. LOL Microsoft is now potentially the biggest video game pirate in the world.
  • If one wants to see how broken Microsoft crap is i.e. Microsoft Store and Game Pass... do a search on free gamepass exploit on youtube. The author of the video said Microsoft was told almost 6 months ago that it was completely broken. People are getting free games and most likely in my opinion Microsoft isn't paying the publisher/developer for what are essentially sales. LOL Microsoft is now potentially the biggest video game pirate in the world.
  • I myself don't care that much for achievements. What I do enjoy seeing is when I play games like Trials and it compares my score/time against my friends, pushing me to do better. I also enjoy going to the arcades and seeing my high score and enjoy the few Xbox games that support this as well. I like in game achievements like Titanfall 2 collecting all the helmets also Halo collecting all the Skulls. But getting achievements just for playing and not being able to compare how you did that achievement against others is pointless. Now if it kept some kind of stats for each level, like how many bullets you shot and accuracy and time to finish that level and then compare it to your buddies, that would be cool. Just a few ideas.
  • The worst part is Microsoft Rewards on Xbox. Every other week you have to collect 3 achievements in a game to continue the streak and those achievements must be collected that week. I have stopped myself from progressing or even playing some games because I don't want to get the achievement at the wrong time.
  • Yeah, I don't like how they tied it to achievements in games. They need to do more like the "Get X number of kills" ones. It is really frustrating when a game comes to GP and then you can't get points because you completed the game a year ago.
  • Same here. If I have the opportunity to get paid to earn an achievement, you better believe I will take that opportunity, even if it ruins my playing schedule.
  • Achievements based on tracking the player style?
    Maybe a new, *Parallel* set of achievements based not on specific games but on XBOX usage?
    Something like tiers of meta achievements based on game types and time spent whether on one game or a dozen.
    RPG novice, prince, King, Emperor, Deity?
    FPS recruit, specialist, Lieutenant, etc
    Platforming, driving, sports games.
    MMORG and Online players tend to spend the bulk of their time on a single service so they might spend a year playing and be a terror in the game world but get little achievement reward.
    Maybe music and Video achievements for hours spent streaming since those are also XBOX time sinks, too. Use of the platform has evolved beyond playing a game and moving on to another.ea
    Some tweaks would make sense. I'd keep the existing system as is, maybe tightening it a bit to address the abuses, and then add a (multiple) tag based ranking system on the side, seeding it by a scan on existing achievements. It wouldn't be perfect but vets wouldn't be starting from scratch. $0.02
  • If I'm not mistaken, Battle.net aren't the one that first "sold" cosmetics for points earned with achievements.
    That's something ubisoft was doing for years on uplay, you can even use those points for discounts in the store.
  • The “career mode” you mention doesn’t seem to be anything new. Xbox already shows the number of completed games and game statistics. The only difference is that they’re not showcased on your profile the same way achievements are. Simply changing a bit of the front-end of a system is far from an overhaul.
    Bringing back the old Rewards system and merging it with the achievements system would be a good move.
  • Where is the number of completed games shown?
  • Changes I would like to see:
    • separate lists for compilations of games (like Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, Assassin's Creed The Ezio Collection, Halo: The Master Chief Collection). PlayStation's Trophies are doing this very good.
    • separate lists for base game and DLCs. Same like it's on PlayStation's Trophies.
    • prohibition to odd Gamerscore in games!
    • Gamerscore should be always ended with ×250, ×500, ×750 (for example 1750 G, 2500 G or 3250 G) with DLCs. Not like 1240 G (DESTINY 2), 1420 G (The Division 2), 4780 G (TESO), 1255 G (Fallout 76), 3435 G (Warframe), 2790 G (Sea of Thieves), etc.
    • showing some completion of base games with 100% of achievements with 1000 G.
    • I would consider backing to lower Gamerscore for indie games, like it was in Xbox 360 generation. 500 G for ID@Xbox?
    • OBLIGATORY and well working achievement tracking for EVERY games which have some collectibles, progress in game, etc.
    • achievements for OG Xbox game in backward compatibility. There are only a few of them, so it shouldn't be any problem. If they could add better resolution and framerate from hardware layer, so they could add some achievements from platform layer. Especially that Sony did that for some PS2 Classics on PS4 and I liked it.
  • I remember people buying certain games like the King Kong game for example just for easy achievements. You just had to finish the game and you got 1000 gamerscore
  • Remember the BURGER KING 360 Games?
  • That controller in the thumbnail is due for an upgrade.
  • He's just showing the last time the achievement system was touched. 😉
  • I have an easy fix for the Xbox's version of "platinuming" a game: A big green X in the style of the OG Xbox logo, that sits next to the game card and at the top of the achievement list (and maybe even appears on the thumbnail in your Games & Apps section). It would be especially awesome if it would pulse a brighter or darker green what have you, sort of as a call back, again to the OG Xbox's start-up screen.
  • I personally am heavily against having a "platnum trophy for Xbox". I think platnum's are useless and way too much effort. Wheras adding rewards for different completion milestones somewhat akin to the x360s avatar rewards would be more wanted especially for cool rewards. What you may ask? I'll leave that to your imagination/& /or wants😉
  • Good summary and ideas, Jez.
    Gaining XP and leveling up for playing/completing games, popping achievements (bonus for rare) just makes too much sense. Show off your level on your profile and social media. It's a no-brainer. It would increase engagement (from some) and exposure too.
    It's disappointing that Xbox has dropped the ball on this. Though I do applaud them adding unlock % to achievements mid-last gen.
    The current state of "buying gamerscore" to climb the leaderboard couldn't be further from an ACHIEVEMENT system, IMO.
  • Okay for achievements gamers diverse playstyles.
    Mode Pro ?
    Platinum bof.
    Social : Evolution of avatar with gamerscore.