2.05.2009

PS3 Trophies: What Are They Good For?

As a kid, I collected many things: baseball cards, action figures, anything with 'Star Wars' written on it. Most of these items didn't have much value, but they meant something to me at the time. Especially regarding my binders full of baseball cards, most were not worth any money. Yet I cherished them because they represented larger than life personalities. And stumbling across a popular player in a fresh pack, an uncommon event, was pure joy. In some ways, Microsoft and Sony's inclusion of Achievements and Trophies (respectively) in this hardware generation reminds me of my earlier childhood hoarding tendencies.

I'm conflicted, though, in that I think trophies (I'll speak of them since I don't have a 360, although my thoughts should largely apply to Achievements as well) are both a welcome evolution to video games and an unnecessary burden. Much like with my baseball cards, I feel strongly compelled to collect as many trophies as I can, just because they exist. Similarly, I try to complete games I own as much as possible. This why Fire Emblem (GBA) still sits in my unfinished pile, because I still need to re-finish the game with another main character, Hector. So with the two games I have played that feature trophies (Pixeljunk Eden and LittleBigPlanet), I try to gather as many as I can.

Trophies work best for me when either the game itself is not excessively challenging, or when the unlocking of the trophy can be found through a mostly normal play through. For example, Pixeljunk Eden has a trophy for collecting all 5 Spectra in each garden, a reasonable and worthwhile request. Similarly, LittleBigPlanet has trophies for completing each main level or gathering all the stickers in each level. These trophies make sense within what the games set out to accomplish. Pixeljunk Eden is about repopulating and rejuvenating a large garden, thus capturing all the Spectra both furthers that goal and your sense of purpose within that world. LittleBigPlanet, while it includes numerous developer-created levels, is really about sharing and interacting with other users. Thus, the trophy for collecting all the stickers can only be earned by playing with others, either online or off, since some stickers require 2-4 players.

However, trophies are at their worst when they require you to go far outside the realms of normal activity within a game world. Sure, these types of achievements might be cherished by regular gamers seeking an extreme challenge from their tired old games. But I'm more of a Tourist/Completist, so events that force me outside the normal arc of a game don't interest me much. For example, one trophy in Pixeljunk Eden is rewarded for finishing a garden without missing any pollen. For those unfamiliar with the game, when your avatar swings into an enemy, they release a certain amount of pollen, which appears as a burst of numerous, extremely tiny drifting dots on the screen which disappear after a short time. Fail to grab even one of these, and you might as well start over. With so many games to play, I have no time for such tedium.

At the same time, the value of some difficult trophies is purely dependent on the characteristics of the player, and of the game itself. In LittleBigPlanet, I was immensely proud when I finally earned the Play trophy, for beating all the main story levels without dying. This was quite hard, because some of the later levels are long and reasonably nasty. But I didn't mind retrying levels until I earned this trophy, because the mechanics were relatively simple and restarting a level was quick and seamless. I didn't need an extraordinary amount of skill to earn this trophy. I mainly needed patience, and the ability to remember where I made mistakes and correct them the next time.

So my general attitude toward trophies is that the best ones are acquired through the normal course of play, or when the game is so compelling and fun in its own right that you don't mind replaying part of it repeatedly to earn one digital award. For me, they are also at their worst when they are excessively and purposefully beyond the realm of normal difficulty or expectations. I have so many games I want to get through, that trophies that are too tricky to earn aren't worth my time.

Nonetheless, these types of achievements are by and large an addicting addition to PS3 and 360 games when implemented with thought and care. But they are also easy to abuse, and developers can simply add them haphazardly because they are required to by Sony and Microsoft. But the good outweighs the bad. And it's now even easier to show off my collection than when I was a child. No more lugging around heavy binders of baseball cards. Now, all we need to do is exchange our user names.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I thought I had to comment on this. Its a perfect summing of how I feel. I have over 500 trophies and I found myself being addicted to collecting them. They are great because you get a small sense of achieving somthing that you can look back and and think about great times and moments etc.
My problem now is like you seeing that all trophies are not a created equal. Theyre kinda pointless.
Ive given up on collecting them now because of my sanity and time. I do think they add some small value to gaming because to attain some trophies you have to accomplish what you might never have wanted, thought or tried. Which is great imo...also im sure when you look at a hormonal/nurotic level they are addictive and spur extra sales/rents from people that wouldnt be there had these not been implimented, good business really.

Adding fuel to my thoughts that junk food and video games are drug indusing in their nature! Thus another form of control!

Demiath said...

I agree with a lot of the points you make in this trenchant analysis, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the fact that I've (thankfully) never felt the supposedly addictive appeal of Achievements/Trophies.

Beating a difficult boss, seeing a satisfying plot development unfold or maxing out your main character's XP level (to take just a few examples) is rewarding enough in its own right, and getting an annoying message on my screen telling me how many "points" I earned in the process doesn't add anything meaningful to the experience for me.

As you point out, there are always bound to be many interesting games out there one haven't had the time to play yet, and going out of one's way to get fiendishly difficult Achievements does feel like a waste of valuable time which could potentially be spent with other games.

Korey said...

I think trophies/achievements can be good for adding additional value to a game, for those who want it. But my main problem is that there are so many other games I want to play, so difficult achievements are a barrier rather than an incentive. And there are different kinds of trophies, some of which are more worthwhile than others.

Anonymous said...

obviously trophies are just another way to reward your achievements and make you feel better about yourself. At least now upon completing game levels you will have something to show for your efforts!

Cornagandarub said...

I am going to say i love trophies. They make you feel good when you see that little pop up and you hear that sound, as well as enhance replay value ten fold, and give you things to work for so you don't give up on a game so fast. Some say this is just put in by developers to ensure purchases of add-ons or even knowing there is trophies to earn will encourage the purchase of the game, but it is worth it in the long run as long as you've got a good game.