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The Psychology of Achievements

| 11 Sep 2008 16:19
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From humble beginnings as high-score lists in arcades, videogame achievements have grown to become a vital aspect of the modern gaming experience - but have you ever stopped to wonder why?

"Unlocking the Psychology of Achievements," a new report on GameCyte, examines the importance of achievements, asking questions about what merits achievement rewards, how games can be designed to take advantage of them and what their true worth really is. GameCyte spoke with Rene Weber and Patrick Shaw of Michigan State University as part of its investigation, both of whom have significant experience with the videogame industry and recently co-authored a paper entitled "Player types and Game Qualities: A Model to Predict Video Game Playing".

"For players driven by social motivations, achievements are a public display of fame or infamy," Shaw wrote, describing the "most traditional" motivation for seeking game achievements. But there are many other reasons for the pursuit of achievements, including measuring personal skill or desire for a sense of closure. He also touched on "completionists," gamers who instinctively attempt to complete every task in a game. The pair claim that completionists need to accomplish specific goals in order to fully enjoy a game, and that as such, the addition of achievements to open-ended games and MMOGs makes perfect sense.

But Shaw also said that completionism is variable and depends on numerous external factors. "The frequency of the completionist gamer is unknown, especially given the diversity of potential motivations," he said. "When working with archetypes, however, it's important to remember that no one is exclusively one archetype or another. Rather, as individuals, we all fall into multiple archetypes to differing degrees."

Asked about his own completionist leanings, Shaw said, "Depends on the game and my mood. I tend towards amassing goals and achievements when my life is more relaxed. I do so for a personal sense of accomplishment and a feeling that I've completely explored the game's design space. However, when I am more busy, I tend to focus on only finishing the game and ignore my 'completionist' tendencies."

Shaw said that achievements represent "an extra layer of interest and value to the player," but added that "achievements themselves cannot make up for a poor game or service." Achievements at their core are nothing new, but neither is the need for quality gameplay to make them worthwhile. GameCyte's complete analysis of the significance of achievements can be read here.

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