Updated Sun, Feb 05, 2012 by Saia
There’s something about the presence of Achievements in World of Warcraft. Perhaps it’s the audio cue, maybe it’s that tell-tale sparkle or the announcement that appears when you’ve done something notable. Put the three together and you have one of the most addictive occurrences in the game and we’re going to explore why.
It’s worth remembering, of course, that Achievements haven’t always been in-game, they were added just prior to the release of Wrath of the Lich King. It’s actually a neat little reward, an audio and visual cue which says “You did it!”. Achievements began as skill points in games like Ratchet and Clank, giving players rewards for achieving certain tasks which unlocked new character skins, cheats and other extra content. By the time of the Xbox 360 and PS3, they became an integral part of most games and are now found in portable gaming systems as well as on Steam.
Achievements in WoW reward gamers with points, mounts, pets and titles. The points themselves can’t be redeemed for anything other than kudos and bragging rights. Gaining Achievements starts early in the game by getting a haircut at a barber, obtaining a companion pet or wearing a tabard. There are all simple things designed to reward you for learning the basic mechanics of the game.
As you level up, the rewards continue, culminating in the endgame where you might get a title for killing Nefarian on heroic or a special - but ugly - tabard for exploring Northrend. There are - as of writing - 1401 Achievements in game at present, these include everything from those relating to quests, PvP, raiding, professions to world events and reputations.
As players, we naturally seek out Achievements, from the simple to get ones like Going Down to ones like School of Hard Knocks which should have an amazing drake as a reward of its own (yes, it’s THAT hard). It’s amazing the psychological effect that seeing that sparkle and hearing the chime can have on you.
Some players will do a lot just to see this pop up on their screen.
Achievement hunting is an obsession of its very own. It seems, sometimes, that it’s the Achievements which are more important than getting a boss down or killing a certain number of players in Arathi Basin. We’ll do some pretty insane things just to get them; just look at Insane in the Membrane, an Achievement which can take months of obsessive, hard, mind-numbing toil. Oh and a couple of screws loose … sorry, dedication. If medals were given for dedication in WoW, anyone who got The Insane would instantly get the gold.
The weird thing is, it’s not like we actually get anything. Yes, sometimes there are rewards like cute fawns, interesting titles and rare dragons. But the points themselves can’t be spent and this is something of a shame.
But Blizzard could, of course, change this anytime they choose. They could add a vendor in Stormwind and Orgrimmar who would sell interesting soulbound items for Achievement Points. We’re talking pets, mounts or just fun cosmetic items like those found by leveling Archeology.
A similar vendor could also be introduced to spend points gained by guilds by offering items which could benefit the entire collective rather than just individual players; more guild pets, for example, items which would complement the rewards already gained as you level your guild.
Things like this it would also give players a bigger incentive to get more Achievements as well as rewarding the die-hard players who do it just for the love of that audio cue and magical sparkle.
So why do we do it? Well like mice going through mazes for the cheese, it’s all about the reward. We’re ultimately creatures of habit and that basic need of do A to get B is something we share with animals as well as other humans. The principle is the same whether it’s a digital reward in a fantasy game or wages for a week’s hard work.
These days it seems everyone has a touch of OCD and we WoW players are no exception. We play the game long-term, after all, and Achievements just sweeten the deal. It doesn’t even just apply to this one facet of the game, just look at guilds like Ensidia and Vodka who put in countless hours of hard work to get those world firsts.
It’s this need to finish quests, kill bosses and level that keeps us playing and paying our subscriptions. By keeping our interest with regular new content or, more often, by playing on our desires to complete things and be rewarded for that fact. Well, it keeps the money rolling in. As we exit Cataclysm and head into Mists of Pandaria, this could be the perfect time for Blizzard to revamp an already successful system and take it to the next level.
Are Achievements important to you? Do you think the actual points balance should mean something? Let us know what you think in the comments below.