Achievements as Signals

I have previously mentioned that games with achievements have better sales and ratings, which is to say that you can both make more money and increase the average user’s enjoyment of your game by incorporating achievements. That’s a significant win-win for tossing in some decorative trophies.

If your game does not have achievements in it, you are probably leaving money on the table. While business acumen and game design are not entirely overlapping areas, and some people take a principled stance against achievements, I worry about the quality of the product you are selling if you are overlooking proven methods of improving both your sales and the perception of your product. Bad decisions are correlated with other bad decisions.

This has become a signal I use when shopping on Steam. It is not an overwhelming factor, but it has helped avoid some marginal purchases. It is a signalling game: whether or not you like achievements, their presence or absence potentially says something. Unless you are explicitly counter-signalling by pointing out the lack of achievements (the way Magicka points out its lack of side quests), I’ll tend to assume the worst. Not caring in one area can be correlated with not caring about others. Maybe adding achievements is harder than I think, but how many copies of indie games sell when Steam has its semi-annual raffles and awards tickets based on achievements?

Basically, I am asking the game to say, “shibboleth.” Know that this will be used elsewhere in your life. If your cover letter or resume has the keywords that indicate that you are “one of us,” you are more likely to get an interview. If you fail to observe the server’s conventions in your LFG message, you are less likely to be invited to group. Fly the colors if you want to connect to your tribe.

: Zubon

There are lots of fun examples of meaningful failures to say, “shibboleth”; if you use an eggcorn of a key technical term, you are signalling that you do not know what you are talking about.

8 thoughts on “Achievements as Signals”

  1. I worry about the quality of the product you are selling if you are overlooking proven methods of improving both your sales and the perception of your product. Bad decisions are correlated with other bad decisions.
    Wholly disagree. Letting something stand on its own merits, rather than employing a ‘cheap’ attention-getter to boost sales shows integrity. In this market that is drowning with short term gains for both the gameplay and business aspects, I’d motion that the good decision is precisely forgoing achievements.

    1. Personally I like the balance – games which have achievements, including some obscure ones for players who experiment or go the extra mile, but not games which give you achievements every few minutes. They stop being fun when they stop meaning that you’ve achieved something.

  2. Achievements are the ultimate metric tool. You not only know how many people played your game – but also what they did when they played it. How far they got – when they gave up – how much they bothered with exploring…. etc.

    Frankly they give the developer (if the dev planned worth any crap at all) – data that they otherwise would have paid 6 figures or more for previously – and with a certainty that any focus group or polling can’t even dream of producing.

    Any dev that is using achievements should know exactly what failed on the last game – and if they are making a sequel should be able to deliver one that gives 100% what people want.

    Frankly the fact that it hasn’t just shows that the devs think of these as throwaway items or jokes. The only people I’ve (personally) met that care about these are the ones that obsess and try for 100% completion.

    Those are the data points you want to toss – anyone that is willing to get 100% out of your game will buy the next one if it offers to cut you for paying money to play it. All the other data points should show what parts of the game people liked.

  3. I’m not sure if there’s really, really, really ™ a proper link between achievements and sales. Correlation is not causation, etc.

    I never really heard anyone saying “Oh, yeah I’m looking forward to play that one. I bet the achievements are great”. It’s usually something else. Just because it -also- has achievements doesn’t mean much.

  4. If I had my money back for every lousy Steam game that clearly tacked on achievements as a lure for the cheevo hounds I’d probably have a few hundred extra bucks. Unfortunately, even though I like the ability to look at Steam achievement metrics and see how I stacked up to other players on games, the sad truth is that a game with achievements is far too likely to be leaning on them for an extra sales boost on an otherwise subpar game. Games without achievements do seem odd, though…the option exists, it boosts sales, and it seems like it wouldn’t take too much extra manpower to add them in (but what do I know) so who on earth wouldn’t include them?

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