While making my way through Elwynn Forest towards Goldshire, it occurred to me that I needed to do something that I hadn’t done since I last rolled an Alliance character. I took a slight detour from the path, strolled the lands north of Westbook Garrison, and there he was. One quickly loosed arrow later, he was on the ground and I was doing a little dance. But I guess the question you might be asking is what I was doing in Elwynn in the first place.
We’re in the midst of the Midsummer Festival, one of the yearly events that occurs in World of Warcraft. If you participate in the events in various ways, you earn achievements, and while the points associated with them don’t count as anything other than a general benchmark of how much stuff you’ve done in the game, you can earn other prizes such as titles and rare mounts. There’s a bit more incentive, then, to do things like toss torches, hug enemy players and fill out the unexplored portions of your map, rather than just secure bragging rights.
The fact is, however, that most gamers would do these things even if rewards weren’t offered. X-Box Live participants build their Gamerscore by racking up achievements from all sorts of games. The score doesn’t allow for free content downloads or anything else, it’s simply to show how dedicated a gamer is to this or that game. While one player might spend a weekend trying to get the perfect headshot in a shooter, another might try to find all the obscure hidden items in an open-world game.
When you’re creating any form of entertainment, it’s always good to have repeat business in mind. The beauty of achievements is in their ability to deliver exactly that without having to develop new content. I’m playing BioShock again on the hardest difficulty with the reanimation tubes switched off to earn a couple of achievements I missed the first time around, and I’ll continue working on the seasonal achievements in World of Warcraft because I want the special flying draconic mount you can earn by dedicating yourself to all the holidays for an entire year. I could simply worry about raiding to earn the best loot and then roll another character to chow down on grind sandwiches for another 80 levels, or I could pick up a new game for my X-Box instead of playing an old one, but with all of this achievement challenge, why bother?
Achievements really are advantageous for both players and developers. Developers can relax a bit and work on other projects, even if they’re upcoming patches/sequels for the current game, and players save money by not investing in new games until they’ve wrung absolutely every ounce of enjoyment they can from their favorites. It’s like buying a bag of miniature cupcakes but instead of emptying, every time you reach in for what you believe is the last cupcake your fingers tell you there are at least five more in there just begging to be popped into your waiting mouth so you can enjoy their succulent soft sweetness.
I’m not entirely sure where that analogy came from.