Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What Microsoft Needs To Do To Revamp Achievements

Yesterday, I got the full 1,000 available GamerScore for Assassin's Creed II. That makes my thirteenth game - according to my 360 - that I've gotten 100% Achievements for (15, if you count Resident Evil 5 and Tomb Raider: Legend, both of which I've earned all retail achievements). That's a pretty astonishing feat for myself, considering I don't necessarily go out of my way to nab all of the Achievements or Trophies in a 360 or PS3 game, respectively. For those wanting to keep record, I've gotten five Platinum Trophies for my PS3, and I've completed an additional two other games, bring that number to seven, fully completed games. Remember, when I say "fully completed," I mean "all Trophies/Achievements."

When Sony came into the "gamer rewards" program, they were pretty late to the game; the PS3 firmware update that enabled Trophy support hit nearly two years ago (July will be the two year mark), and that was two and a half years behind Microsoft and their Achievements system, which shat all over the industry, creating a unifying system that brought all games together, forcing gamers to become so-called Achievement Whores, increasing their - I fucking hate this phrase - "E-Peen." However, Sony did an incredibly interesting thing when they introduced the Platinum trophies.

These, as we all know, are only earned once you've gotten all the other trophies. What do you get on your 360? Nothing. Not a goddamned thing. Well, actually, lemme rewind a bit here, as there is something Microsoft does: by going to "My Xbox" on the Dashboard (not the Guide), go to the second panel (the one with your Avatar stapled to it), then scroll through either one or two panels, and you'll see a collective of all games you've gotten 100% for, plus your Earned-to-Obtainable ratio progress bar of Achievements and GamerScore. We'll call this the "Completion Panel." It all seems a bit complex, but as something I just learned today, once you earn your thirteenth tile, you can't scroll up and down to view older games; I can never see Cloning Clyde ever again, unless they do something about it.

However, there are some minute differences when a game is declared "100% completed" on different systems. When a retail game ships on the 360, you can earn up to 1000 GamerScore for that game. If you earn all 1000 before and downloadable content arrives that comes with Achievements, the tile will appear in your Completion Panel. However, I have earned 1000 GamerScore in Dante's Inferno, before the Dark Forest DLC hit, so I still have the tile in my CP (we're getting oddly close to Final Fantasy terminology here, people), as I have not installed the title update for the game that adds the extra 40 GamerScore from the DLC, as I'm not paying the points for this half-assed prequel chapter. Since I don't have the update installed, the game's tile is still on my CP; if I install the update, the new Achievements get added, but I don't know if my tile will disappeared. As bad as it sounds, I don't want to find out the hard way (or, until that particular piece of DLC appears as a Deal of the Week deal).

Let me throw another example your way. This takes the Dante's Inferno issue and flip it 180ยบ. Resident Evil 5 as a total of 1400 GamerScore now; 1000 from the retail, 200 towards the Mercenaries Reunion, and 100 towards each new DLC chapter that comes with the Gold Edition. I earned all 1000 of the retail points after the Mercenaries Reunion DLC hit, so my tally was at 1000/1200. However, I didn't get that fancy little tile on my CP. Hop across the Console Pond to my buddies with a PS3, and they have a Platinum trophy with Resident Evil 5, but their completion percentage is something around 85% complete.

That's right, Sony's system better manages your 100% complete games. More of, they reward you a Platinum Trophy for snagging all Trophies that are deemed "retail Trophies." Microsoft's Platinum Trophy appears that it can be rewarded and taken away, simply by installing an update that gives you a chance to earn more Achievements. To solve this problem, simply have the Achievements tack onto the game when you download the corresponding DLC. Done and done.

But it doesn't end there. Microsoft's Platinum Tile isn't all that grand. As broken as I have shown to you how this system is, Microsoft just allows you to earn points and ends there. Sony's system has tiers. You go up levels, depending on how many Trophies you have. Each Trophy has a certain amount of points tacked to it:
  • Bronze - 0-15 Points
  • Silver - 16-30 Points
  • Gold - 31-90 Points
  • Platinum - 91-180 Points
The average point value each game's retail Trophies are worth is about 1,230 points. There are some games that have more or less total, so this has led to believe that the Trophy's point values can be altered; once a threshold has been exceeded, the Trophy "levels up," so to say. The static image to the left is my current Level on the PSN; I'm at a level 9.54 with 437 earned Trophies. I say "9.54" because that yellow progress bar is at 54%, according to playstation.com. If I take the maximum amount of points for the Trophies and convert this to a 360 GamerScore, my PS3 GamerScore is 11,085. Take my GamerScore and throw in the Level thresholds, and I'm at a Level 13 or 14 (can't remember, and I lost track of the calculations for levels). With this Level tiers, you can immediately get a grasp on how dedicated each gamer is to their games or system. The highest level any of my friends have obtained is a Level 12, with 722 Trophies, and 7 Platinums. I immediately can tell he's done a lot more gaming than I have on a PS3; I've know this guy since our days on the GameShark Forums, and he was always the Sony Fanboy, I the Nintendo Fanboy. He doesn't have a 360, so we'll use someone else.

My GamerScore lies at 48,835, with 160 games played (a paltry 40% completion rate). That's pretty good, honestly. Many of my friends have scores much lower than I (I have friends still in the thousands, as opposed to tens of thousands like I). There are a handful of friends that have more than me. Yet, there is one friend in particular, one that befriended me after writing an Achievement Guide for Shadow Complex over at xbox360achievements.org. His GamerScore? A whopping 157,051 across 291 games at the time of this writing (a 52% completion rate). Yea, that's fucking insane. He has over 100,000 more GamerScore than I do. That triple digit in front of the comma tells me he's dedicated to his 360. I don't know if he has a PS3, but I image if he does, his Level would be pretty low. I have another friend, one who has both a PS3 and 360, who I met at the Wii launch at a local Wal-Mart back in 2006. During a heated battle of Mario Kart DS while smoking hookah, the tail-end of the 28 gamer deep line was circled amongst each other, whoopin' ass at this newly released DS game. I've kept in contact with him, and his GamerScore/Level would be a good example of cross-platform playing. His GamerScore is 78,049 spread around 181 games (56% completion rate). His ratio is great. That tells me he's more dedicated to his achievement hunting. But what would happen to us if Microsoft actually opened this up to allow for better completion tracking and comparing, or maybe even a redemption program. To put it in better terms, a rewards program.

If you'll remember back to October of 2009, a story ran around the interweb about Microsoft starting a reward program (not to be confused with the terribly implemented, strangely still alive Diamond card program). Emails were sent out to select few 360 gamers that would allow them to earn Microsoft Points for certain actions, such as renewing your Gold membership for a year or subscribing to Netflix. Here's the email that was forwarded to Kotaku:

This is an exclusive pilot rewards program. That means that the people who get in get stuff. Cool stuff. You want cool stuff, right? Sure you do, we all want stuff. Especially cool stuff. Well, you've only got until October 21, 2009 to let us know you want cool stuff, because after that, the doors close and someone else gets the cool stuff.

So, you click the button below and register to let us know you want in and pretty soon we'll let you know if you got in or not - and not everyone will (that's why it's called exclusive).

This offer is for a select few - you can't send it to anyone else (why would you send something this awesome to someone else, are you nuts?). If you make the cut, you can pass or opt-out whenever you want.

But then you'll never know how it ended.

Interesting, right? Well, the website for the rewards program was not shut down to those who were sent the email, but anyone can view it. Anyone. The points seem paltry: up to 60 points for 1 and 3 months XBL Gold renewals (10 Microsoft Points per 1 month and 30 points per 3 month), 100 points for each survey filled out or 100 points for making your "first marketplace purchase." First purchase? Not so sure about that, but this one seems very intriguing: earn up to 5% back for staying on Gold and buying shit on the Marketplace. They say 1% for Month 1, 2% for Month 2, 3% for Month 3, etc. It only says until the end of the promotion, so that can be taken as either until the beta ends, or that different ways to earn Points will come and go as Microsoft pleases.

This program, entitled "Xbox LIVE Rewards," seems legit. It's Microsoft giving back to the gamers by staying with them and buying stuff. Think of it as similar to Best Buy's Reward Zone program (which is awesome, by the way; I had $65 worth of certificates banked up over the past several months, and I ended up walking out of the store paying 48 cents for Splinter Cell: Conviction). Yet, there is a slight problem with the program: you're not being rewarded for your GamerScore.

Taking your GamerScore to a whole new level - in the manner I've been hinting at throughout this post - would allow you to redeem your points. Of course, there would be two separate point tallies: 'GamerScore Earned' and 'GamerScore To Spend'. Your GamerScore as of right now, the one you've been working on for all these years, would be referred to as your 'GS Earned'; this number will never deplete, and represents your hard work. 'GS To Spend' is the amount of points you can spend towards whatever the rewards program would be. Let's say, for example, that you can redeem a certain amount of points for an Xbox Live Arcade game, and you need to cough up 5,000 GamerScore to do so. If I were to do that, my 'GS Earned' will stay at the 48,835, however, my 'GS To Spend' will drop to 43,835. See where I'm getting at? Good.

You'll probably be asking yourselves: "But Tim, why 5,000 points for an XBLA game?" Well, considering this isn't real money we're spending, the stakes are higher for developers when they give away a game for points earned in other games, most not their own games. 5,000 for a $10 XBLA game seems decent enough; that would make it a 5 GamerScore to $0.01 conversion - or 500:1 ratio. So, for every 1 cent of a Marketplace item's worth, it would cost 5 GS. 80 MSP on XBL would the same as 500 GS. Confused? Well, any rewards program is riddled with minute details that befuddle anyone. With this kind of program in place, sales for bad games with easy-to-earn GS would skyrocket (King Kong and Avatar: TLA come to mind).

Last year's Club Nintendo Platinum and Gold tier prizes

A key place to look at a gamer's reward program would be Club Nintendo. First in Japan and Europe, and finally brought to the Americas, Club Nintendo has gamers signing up for a Nintendo account, and registering first-party products (systems and games) to earn Coins. These coins can be redeemed towards swag, ranging from awesome to bad, and anything else in-between. Coins are roughly a 1:1 scale: DS games, ranging between $30-40, get you about 35 Coins. Wii games get you 50 Coins (Wii Fit nets you 80), and systems get you nearly their worth in Coins. The rewards are not appropriately priced. I bought the Game & Watch Collection from their redemption page, setting me back 800 Coins. I had to spend $800 worth of Nintendo shit to get that many coins. Of course, you earn coins in other ways, by filling out post-play or intend-to-buy surveys, and you get a small, 10 Coin bonus. They also reward you once a year with special prizes to those who reach a certain threshold amount of coins. Last year, their Platinum bonus was either a replica Mario hat or a WiiWare redemption code for a Punch-Out!! training room; I chose the hat.

Sony has been digging around, with a patent popping up near the middle of last year for something called "P.S. Thanks." Their own reward system, it was scantily detailed by 1UP as an "incentive rewards program geared toward quantifying, identifying and motivating top consumer base with the goal of promotion and sale of video game hardware and software." Nothing has come out since then, but at least their thinking about it.

Rewards programs for gamers are new, so making one that's good isn't that hard. What will be hard is making one that properly rewards gamers for their accomplishments or being faithful to one company. Like myself, I'm varied across multiple brands, so it's up to the companies to make something so worthwhile, they can divert my attention away from their competitors and focus solely on them.

Let's just hope they can get something out the fucking door.