For those that don’t know me, one of my constantly played games would be the Left 4 Dead series. Between the two, I have at least 1000 hours of combined play time. A few years ago when L4D2 came out, one of my friends set up his own server so that my group could have our own stomping ground. To makes things interesting, he set up unique server achievements for us to go for, with one being who can kill me first in a map (and the people who got that still talk about it.) While we were joking around coming up with new achievement names, one of my friends had an interesting thought: what about implementing “anti-achievements,” used to tell someone that they are playing the game wrong?
The server was eventually shut down, but the thought has stayed with me and I’ve been thinking about the pros and cons of having such a concept. First, let’s change the name to “denouncement” to keep it completely separate from achievements. As many of you know, when playing team based games you are only as strong as your weakest player. In a game like L4D where it’s just the four of you, having a bad enough player makes it feel like your team is only three people strong.
Because L4D doesn’t feature a manual or tutorial, players will spend a lot of time learning by playing or watching better players. The problem is that there are a lot of little details that expert players know that they don’t have the time to explain in the middle of the game. One of the worse learning experiences I see in game is when a novice player does the wrong thing with a special infected (such as spawn the boomer 30 feet away from the survivors,) and still manages to hit the survivors by a stroke of luck. The reason is that the player did something wrong, but was rewarded for it in game sending out mixed signals, so they’ll keep doing the wrong thing because that one time it worked.
That’s where the idea of denouncements come into play, with the advantages based on my thinking is that they can be used as a learning tool. As mentioned above, many times players will do the wrong action and being hit with a small slap on the wrist can help them learn. Another use is as a form of anti griefing, as many of us know, some players just want to ruin the fun of everyone else; most of the time, doing the same things that would show up on a list of denouncements. Seeing that someone has the entire list of denouncements on their profile would be a strong indicator that this person doesn’t like to play the game right.
However, I can’t help but think of the problems with this kind of system as well. First is just how much of a learning tool do we have? The beauty of a well designed achievement is that they should give two things to the player, first, recognition for doing something good and second, knowledge and skill with an advanced mechanic. Several of Left 4 Dead’s achievements were for pulling off tricky maneuvers, such as shoving a hunter in mid pounce, stopping its attack. The problem I can see with denouncements is that the player will only learn that the action is wrong, but not get the correct mechanic.
Second, is just how long should they stay active? I can just see someone who is new to the game and before learning the game, get numerous denouncements and feel like they should quit before they get any more marks on their record. Maybe have them on for a week and then any denouncements are cleared from the profile, allowing them to remain on but not be permanent.
Before anyone says it, I do know of some games that have “dummy achievements” for not being good at the game such as with the Dead or Alive games, for losing so many rounds. The difference is that these are things that you should strive not to get and that message has to be made perfectly clear. This is actually why as I think about it, that they shouldn’t be permanent as you just know that the completest out there will play the game intentionally bad to get them all.
The idea of implementing anti griefing tools directly into the game design is interesting to me. With Dark Souls, while the designers want to promote a cooperative experience, many gamers do play it to track and kill other players. One of the items you can pick up allows you to view a list of all griefers online and another item allows you to invade their game to take revenge on them. Another title that has a similar result is World of Tanks, normally there is a penalty on your stats for killing a team mate , but if someone keeps team killing enough, they’ll be marked with a different color on their name, making it ok to kill them every time.
This is one of those entries where I’m interested in opinions, as achievements sometimes have a polarizing affect on gamers, can the “tough love” approach be applied to something that is normally a reward?