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.
The current state of Xbox achievements
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.
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?
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
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
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 a Managing Editor at 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!