Too Peeved to Achieve

Well over a year before I started Indie Gamer Chick, I stumbled into the Xbox Live Indie Games channel for the first time.  I had read about this retro-themed RPG parody called Breath of Death VII.  It seemed right up my alley, so I snatched it up.  It was my first XBLIG purchase.  As I went to boot it up, the very first thing I noticed was there was no space for GamerScore points.  In other words, no achievements.  Lame.

I consider myself to be, more or less, the average video game consumer.  If that was my initial reaction, I’m sure that most Xbox owners felt the same way when they booted up their first Xbox Live Indie Game purchase.  Now, I’ve never been hugely into the concept of achievements, but I will admit that they’ve conditioned me to feel a sense of satisfaction every time I hear “Beep Boop” sound when I unlock one.  I much prefer the Playstation trophy system over the arbitrary points one used by Microsoft.  I just find something to be very wrong about a system where you get only 30 points for something as damn near impossible as beating Mega Man 10 without taking a single point of damage, while you get the full 1000 points possible in Avatar: Burning Earth by doing little more than booting up the game.

But a quick and unofficial poll on Twitter confirms that most gamers prefer the Xbox achievement system.  That’s probably because most of the people who read me are Xbox users.  The irony is I’m guessing the system based around numbers instead of actions is the very reason why Xbox Live Indie Games get excluded from the achievement party.

If the Xbox was more like the Playstation, where games hand out four levels of trophy based on the difficulty of the action performed, it would be extremely easy to come up with something for indie players.  A fifth class of trophy for indie games that in no way can be used to abuse the entire achievement system.  Xbox doesn’t discriminate, so the five points you have to work your ass off to get for the Crowning Glory achievement in Perfect Dark mean absolutely nothing more than the five points you get just for turning on The Simpsons Game.  From a personal perspective, I have to say that in the six-plus years I’ve been playing on the console, I’ve seen some mighty-high gamer scores and never once have I been inclined to look and see how someone got them.  I think that’s true of most players.  Conversely, I have looked at people on my friends list on Playstation 3 to see if they’ve unlocked particularly difficult trophies on games I also play.  I don’t recall doing that even with friends on Xbox.

But some people take those gamer scores very seriously.  Too seriously.  Get-a-life seriously.  And they’re not going to want Indie Games besmirching their precious arbitrary numbers.  The thing is, we all know what will happen if XBLIGs get their own achievements.  Within the first month of it going live, no less than two dozen “instant points” games will hit the market.  It’s inevitable.  The majority of “solutions” I’ve seen for this issue range from impractical to laughably absurd.  Some examples include having some kind of fail-safe system in place to assure that such games can’t be made.  Others have suggested, possibly while stoned, that there needs to be a governing body in place that sanctions indie achievements.

All these “fixes” come at a high cost to Microsoft.  Adding achievements is going to require additional infrastructure and overhead to the entire channel.  The bottom line is the bottom line.  Adding this feature, no matter how it ultimately turns out, will cost money.  Someone will have to code it.  Someone will have to debug it.  Rolling it out will necessitate a system update that requires close monitoring.  And people who are on the clock will have to take time out of their schedules just to discuss implementing it.  It’s not as if they only have to flip the “now you have it, now you don’t” switch that some of you seem to think is there. Changing the way things are is rarely free.

Having said all that, I want to make an appeal in the name of capitalism: Xbox Live Indie Games should have achievements.  Why?  Because it makes them more competitive.  Money is the only thing that should matter in the decision-making process at Microsoft.  If a system can be created at a minimal cost with minimal intrusiveness on the current system, it should be given the green light.

I believe the most cost-effective way this can be done is by segregating the standard GamerScore with a new category called IndieScore.  This score will NOT be displayed on the snapshot of a Gamertag.  IndieScore would only be visible by viewing a the full card of a Gamertag.

Kind of like this.

There will be no standards, regulation, or extra moderation for how developers implement IndieScore.  Sorry guys, but it’s really all or nothing.  In a system as open and inclusive as Xbox Live Indie Games, adding this feature means people can and will continue to be dicks and put in as little effort as they can if they can get away with it.  So while you might meticulously spend years crafting your dream game and fine tuning it to perfection, developers can and will be releasing EASY INDIESCORE XII: JUST PRESS START FOR 200 POINTS countless times in the interlude.  Obviously, there will be a cap, but people will abuse the system, and developers will have to accept that it’s better than nothing.  Again, if that seems flawed, remember, you are the guys who love the arbitrary number system.  The scoreless Playstation trophies would be so obviously better for XBLIGs, yet not one person out of dozens on Twitter voted for it.  Fools!

Maybe this isn’t the perfect solution, but it has the advantage of being the easiest to create and the cheapest to implement.  It would be one extra line in the Gamertag’s card.  Mind you, that one extra line will come at a cost of months of programming and overhead to create, not the mention the added infrastructure that the new system will be based around.  It’s the cheapest reasonable solution, but that doesn’t mean it’s free.

So here is something I ask of developers: what are you willing to pay?  Since this system will costs tens of thousands of dollars to put into place, money Microsoft is under no obligation to spend on your behalf, what are achievements worth to you?  Would you pay more for your XNA membership?  Would you take a smaller royalty on your sales?  And don’t try using the argument that Microsoft would stand to make more money, because that’s speculation.  Solid speculation based on good old-fashioned common sense, but speculation none the less.  Microsoft executives are not going to cut a single check to alter the indie system that they’re perfectly satisfied with (even if you aren’t) based on a hunch.

Microsoft is willing to change the way things are to allow Xbox Live Indie Games to be more competitive with mobile gaming, or with Live Arcade games.  Adjustments to pricing policy have already proven that.  There is little doubt that adding achievements would make XBLIGs more attractive to consumers.  Yes, the system will get abused, but so what?  I just played Hypership Out of Control for iPhone and it took me all of five minutes to unlock about ten achievements on that for Game Center.  That kind of thing happens all the time in iGaming.  I do know that many people are less likely to buy iOS games that don’t feature Game Center support.  This shit does make a difference to gamers.  If you think of the Xbox 360 as a car lot, disc based games are the souped-up sports cars like Ferraris or Lamborghinis (even if the occasional Alfa Romeo finds a way in), Live Arcade games are the affordable yet dependable Toyotas, and XBLIGs are the used Pintos with shaky engines and bad handling that most people fail to see the hidden depths in.  Maybe if they had shiny hubcaps in the form of achievements, people might be more willing to take them for a test drive.

Thanks to MasterBlud and Vintage Video Games TV for the video and screenshots.  Well, most of them. 

Hmmmph. 

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About Indie Gamer Chick
The most read Xbox Live Indie Game critic in the world.

25 Responses to Too Peeved to Achieve

  1. This is actually a great way to implement indie game achievements… I’m hard pressed to come up with any other way that doesn’t involve constant moderation from XNA reviewers. I also think that there could be a way to ban a developer of their indie game achievement rights, by the same process games are approved or rejected via XNA. If someone tries to release “PRESS START FOR POINTS!” simply start a vote to kick that person out of the point system.

    • Kairi Vice says:

      No, sorry, can’t do that. The addition of such rules requires moderation, adds to bureaucracy, and drives the costs more up. Everyone gets the same rights or everyone gets no rights at all. With the way Xbox Live Indie Games is set up, achievements need to be implemented to the same standards. You’re asking for a slippery slope. If you can tell someone they can’t make achievements, you’re not too far off from saying they can’t make a massage game or a TV tuning app.

      Brian wants to add, who makes that decision?

      So yea, slippery slope.

    • Petty says:

      It could be something as simple as limiting the gamer points that you’re allowed to dole out to the cost of the game. A game that costs 80ms points would be allowed to give out 80 gamer points in achievements. Leave it up to the developer to decide out how to break that down, but as long as the architecture is what is limiting the amount they can give out there is no need for a committee or anyone else deciding how they give the points out.

  2. The controller doesn’t go where? juuust kidding. As for your proposed solution I’m not sure if I agree with you, I think people still won’t bother to buy indie games unless it affects your actual score and wouldn’t really give a damn about indie score, especially considering not every country get’s to see/play indie games, myself included.

    As for people abusing the system I think you could add just a few more parameters to peer review such as “do achievements have a degree of difficulty appropriate to their reward”. Of course some one will find some way around the system no matter what, buts it’s just another line of defence.

    Perhaps something good will happen to indie games when the Xbox 720 comes out, considering how Microsoft is reportedly “changing the whole system” but then again XBLIG may not make it to the next platform.

    Just a speculation.

  3. Callen Shaw says:

    Yeah great idea! Oh wait it will never happen. This would pretty much require MS copying their entire gamerscore infrastructure just for us. Idk if you’re fully aware, but there actually is no high-level support for indie games these days.

    The admins on the forums are the same guys you tweet, are the same guys who answer support emails (sometimes, usually no one does). The recent changes made were blasted on the forum (even by admins) as being something that NO ONE was asking for. And from the very very very start they have adamantly told us they don’t want us to have achievements. I liked the idea of zero-point achievements (essentially text-trophies) but again, no one at MS even engages us on this – OR ANY ISSUE.

    You’re right that implementing ach. in indie games could be simple – the API calls already exist in XNA for devs with XBLA contracts using XNA. So the work has been done, but not for us. They actively wave it in our faces now.

    I also disagree that the ‘average video game consumer’ cares about achievements. I think IGC is more into video games than the average girl who pays $500 just to play Lets Dance on Kinect.

    Some, let’s call them ‘uncommitted gamers’ play with the idea that they put the game in to have fun, and stop when they get bored. These ‘gamers’ don’t try to even beat the game sometimes – like EA’s fitness games where you might only get them to do yoga (or zen or whatever). They could care less when an achievement is unlocked, but would probably react more fondly to a trophy. Actually I’ve wondered why many of my friends who used to do this on xbox now play ps3. Maybe sony has a better casual-centric dashboard?

    In conclusion, I think much like the Indie community came up with great plug-and-play solutions for peer-to-peer highscores, we could at least make our ‘awardments’ propagate p2p to our friends – and why not give them cute tropies to boot?

    devs more committed than me, implement this! i might try it myself, based on the p2p highscores… but my code will suck, I promise.

    • Kairi Vice says:

      “The recent changes made were blasted on the forum (even by admins) as being something that NO ONE was asking for.”

      I was asking for them. As a consumer, I felt XBLIGs were sometimes forcibly overpriced. As a businessperson, I felt they were forcibly uncompetitive. I spent an entire week talking about it here. A developer actually changed his tune and talked about it on this very site that same week.

      And really, if it’s true that people were complaining about Microsoft’s price change policies, that shows me that the community is whinny and is not worth lifting a finger for. This is the first I’ve heard about that kind of reaction though. Anyone want to confirm what he’s saying?

      • I can’t vouch for him but I vaguely remember this happening and everyone packing a big fuss over it. As for the community being whinny well I’m afraid you only have a limited scope of XBLIG developers. Your in contact with people(mostly) trying to actually make quality games and better the community but there is a truckload of people out there just trying to make money as quick and easiest possible. Those people don’t do any good for the community and are really the ones dragging the rest of us down with them.

        • Kairi Vice says:

          Seriously? The new pricing policy gives everyone a chance to make more money by having games be more competitively priced. Anyone who can’t see that is officially too thick to qualify as tar.

          • Yes but cash grabbers probably don’t see a problem with the system, which is why they complain so much when changes are made. You can’t improve something you believe to have no flaws.

          • I’m all for the price change policy, my first game bombed badly because I was forced to sell it at 240 Microsoft Points because due to the music assetts and the like it was over the 50MB limit. It was my first game and really wasn’t going to be good enough to sell at 240, I wanted to sell at 80 points. Now with this change I have 150MB to play with before the price has to go up which is a lot less restrictive and allows me to make the games the way I want to and not to have to chop and cull to keep them under a ridiculous limit.
            I did manage to scrape some sales of the game and a select few really liked it, but a lot of people probably never gave it a chance because of the price …. plus my presentation skills at the time were worse than a small child and it had ugly as sin and overcomplicated menu systems which definitely didn’t help :p

    • Starglider says:

      Microsoft could just charge developers a few hundred $ to have their games checked for achievement sensibleness by the same guys who do the phone app testing (which is free). It should at least cover its costs, and I’d pay the charge. ‘Indie Achivements’, not worth much, maybe 20% more creators club subscription fee, but frankly any sort of support staff responsiveness would be more useful.

      Callen : I implemented peer-to-peer trophies in my game (Windhaven) as an extension of the leaderboards, but peer-to-peer is limited by the fact that you can’t share trophies across titles, so you have to start the game to see if someone else has the game’s trophes (and hope the info has propagated).

    • Yet again: Ian Stocker saw a huge increase in revenue when he dropped his prices to 80 MSP. Anyone who ‘blasted’ the pricing policy change is a moron, and if it’s ‘something that NO ONE was asking for’, why weren’t they asking for it? They should have been.

      (I could at this point reiterate Kairi’s discovery that her site coverage of the pricing debate actually contributed to Microsoft’s policy change. So clearly they do listen, they just don’t listen to YOU. Maybe they don’t think you’re saying anything worthwhile.)

      • Kairi Vice says:

        I’ve heard that my site’s coverage of it caught some attention (not to mention Ian’s magnificent follow up which was reblogged at a higher-traffic site) and was entered into the discussion, but I’ve also heard the pricing stuff was in the pipeline for a while and the whole timing of the announcement was just a coincidence.

        Developers sure seem to think I had something to do with it, because ever since it happened I get requests to “do” other XBLIG related issues.

  4. Tim Roast says:

    Great article, until you started talking about Developers picking up the cost and not Microsoft.

    For me gamerscore (or some other system such as Indiescore) not being available is an issue when it comes to XBLIGs. Without gamerscore there are so many games I would never have played.

    As for the Indiescore system you mention it’s a good idea but if you have this separated from Gamerscore it would open up the gates for more separate score systems to come in. What next? Kinectscore? ArcadeScore? You could have so many it’d make the system pretty difficult to get to grips with. At the moment it’s pretty simple – one score is easy to follow. Therefore if anything were done it would have to, IMO, be incorporated into the current gamerscore system. Indeed if it were implemented then there would be developers abusing the system to make a little bit of cash for those who like easy gamerscore but setting up a whole new system to combat this counter-intuitive seeing as it’ll happen for the new system too.

    • You haven’t put much thought into this, have you?

      Firstly: No one is talking about ‘the developers picking up the cost and not Microsoft’. Reality works like this: implementing an extra feature costs Microsoft more money, so they recoup that expense by increasing XNA subscription fees. This isn’t an ideal fantasy solution. It is the only sort of solution that could possibly occur in the real world. Implementing indie achievements would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and you think Microsoft, a capitalist profit-centred corporation, would volunteer to just take it on the chin?

      Secondly: There is no chance of indie games ever being integrated into the current gamerscore system, considering the indie channel is unavailable to most of the world. Anyway, read the article again and notice that the Indie Score idea was proposed to keep extra costs to a minimum. So if you’re in favour of integrating indies into gamerscore, here’s a question. Which of these options would you choose: separate Indie Score system with a 50% increase to your XNA fees, or full integration of indies into the existing gamerscore system with a 300% increase in XNA fees?

      • I’d go with the latter. But I think indie score would cost more to implement than just adding normal gamer score because they would have to create a new system JUST for indie games which I imagine Microsoft would be aware that it will shit all to our sales statistics so it would take a lot more lining in there pockets to implement such.

      • Tim Roast says:

        I was just saying it was a good article up to that point talking about how achievements are needed in XBLIGs. I was thinking up to that point that it should be shown to Microsoft to convince them that something is required. But then it went off on a tangent for me talking about who should pick up the costs.

  5. plezfiction says:

    I’m actually enjoying XBLIGs because they DON’T have achievements. Well that and the fact that they’re cheap, fun, and in most cases I actually have a chance of completing them in this lifetime. 😉

    Before I started hating on Sony and still played PS3 games, I became addicted to getting trophies for a while. I’d buy and play the most awful games (Leisure Suit Larry Box Office Bust comes to mind) just to get more trophies. I quit playing PS1 or 2 games because they didn’t have trophies. I’d spend hours not enjoying playing a game just to get a difficult trophy. It was really sucking all the fun out of gaming for me.

    Switching over to Xbox 360 and getting a fresh start broke the cycle. I do still look at what achievements are available and enjoy a challenge in getting them, but only as long as I’m still having fun. I could care less about my gamer score and don’t see any need for XBLIGs to have an effect on it.

    Having an “indie gamer score” would probably only result in more achievement-whoring for a meaningless number that nobody cares about anyway. Except other achievement whores of course. 😛

    Anyway, thanks for all you do on this site! Before I started reading your reviews I hadn’t cared much for XBLIGs — everything I had bought was pretty much crap. Now I’ve purchased and played through most of what’s on your leaderboards. Oh great, a new addiction! Thanks, dammit.

    • Kairi Vice says:

      The paragraph meant a lot to me. Thanks. Hearing stuff like that makes it all worth it. I hope you’ve enjoyed the games you bought via IndieGamerChick recommendation.

  6. In my opinion, XBLIG should just get real achievements. Anything would be better than nothing, of course, but I’m not a fan of indie specific achievements.

    On iOS, my games have access to the same achievements and leaderboard systems that Electronic Arts and GameLoft use, and the world hasn’t ended. Of course, people aren’t exactly rabid about their Game Center points score. Perhaps that’s a good thing.

    While I’m spouting my crazy ideas, I think they should just scrap XBLA entirely, and just have an Xbox App Store that’s open to all developers. There are so many amazing games that we haven’t gotten to play because Microsoft didn’t want to give away one of their coveted XBLA slots. Hopefully the PlayStation Suite succeeds and we end up with that model everywhere.

  7. Who thinks adding achievements (real or otherwise) will increase the quality of the average XBLIG game? I don’t…..so any effort by Microsofts to implement them seems pointless to me.

    Just my 2 cents.
    Niels

    • Kairi Vice says:

      It’s not about quality. It’s about being competitive.

      • And part of being competitive lies in the quality of the games.

        The availability of achievements would help make a good game even better to some gamers, I will agree with you on that.But the game has to be good to start with, a low quality game will not become great just because it has achievements

        Grtz,
        Niels

  8. I think you have a well reasoned opinion. I just think the games aren’t that good. Games aren’t that good all over the world, including other app stores. XBLA and Steam are curated to a reasonable degree, so they have a better reputation.

    Personally I am grateful that hobbyists can even just mess around with XNA and publishing for a console. I don’t feel like achievements are the missing link that will push XBLIG over the top. And I think that some games do break through. Sure it’s not always the best games, and some great games get left in the dust, but that’s true about a lot of things. Who doesn’t have a story of the great movie nobody saw or that awesome album nobody else heard.

    I am not saying I am opposed to change. I think XBLIG should change and should respond to the marketplace. But I just don’t think people who would even be looking for these games in the first place care about achievements. I play games on Steam and i can’t stand their achievement system. I don’t look at them and I don’t strive for them. On Xbox I’ll strive for them unless they are not worth the effort or the game isn’t fun for long enough. And yet I played DLC Quest and was just happy to enjoy that couple of hours… getting all the achievements but one. And I’m fine with that.

  9. “Since this system will costs tens of thousands of dollars to put into place”

    I’d be willing to do it for 1 thousand

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