GameDev Thoughts: How To Implement Better Achievements For Your Players

My personal take on achievements is that they can be classified in one of three ways. They are either unavoidable, optional, or inspiring. I’ll go ahead and explain the meaning of each of these three categories, as well as which to avoid and which to aspire to when designing games.

Unavoidable achievements are, of course, practically unavoidable. They “reward” the player for what they would have done anyway, such as completing the tutorial or killing their first enemy. These achievements are oftentimes utterly pointless and say more about the designer’s lack of interest than the player’s level of ability. They’re the gaming equivalent of a participation medal and, let’s face it, no one really enjoys getting a one of those once they realize what it is. What’s more, these achievements attempt to reward the player for something that should naturally feel rewarding, often trying to compensate for a bad game’s lack of real, meaningful content.

Getting a bit better are optional achievements, on the other hand, are not nearly so provocative, nor as pointless. They are quite similar to side- or mini-quests, in the sense that they provide additional content that doesn’t feature prominently in the main story or objective of the game. It’s hard to resent them because of their optional nature; while they aren’t particularly creative, and add almost no actual content to the game, they can be avoided entirely if the player so chooses. When done well, they can exhibit previously hidden or unique parts of the game the player might otherwise have missed, as well as introducing them to more challenging aspects too difficult for a first playthrough. Through this, they create replay value, extending, albeit somewhat artificially, the value proposition of the game.

The best form of achievement are creative achievements, and these will inspire the player to think creatively, and inspires the player to throw away the set of skills a game has taught them and examine the problems before them with a fresh pair of eyes. Rather than simply tacking on some extra “content” that, while harmless, isn’t particularly new or innovative, these achievements suggest alternate, creative ways to play that aren’t the main focus of the game. They force the player to reinterpret the rules of a game, to gain a new, more thorough understanding of the mechanics governing their actions. Rather than simply extending playtime, these achievements make the gaming experience a fuller, more rewarding one.

Not only can these inspiring achievements improve gameplay, they can strengthen a game’s narrative as well, causing players to re-evaluate the ramifications of their choices. Yet, as always, it’s tempting, not to mention easy, for bad developers to be lazy and put as little effort into their achievements as they put into their games. Many fill their sub-par games with even more mediocre achievements in the desperate belief that this will make them more palatable. This is rarely the case. Except in the niche case of achievement hunters and completionists, few gamers play games purely for the achievements. Rather, achievements should enrich the experience a game provides.

Important Takeaways: Achievements are great. There are the unavoidable ones, which have no reason to exist beyond their designer’s lack of inspiration. Next come the optional achievements, which, while not particularly innovative, can be completed or ignored at the player’s discretion. Then, finally, we have the creative achievements, which enhance and improve the gameplay, adding not only replay value but a new and exciting way to play the game. This last group of achievements, while the hardest to implement, are the ones to be strived for. They require creativity on the part of both player and developer, enriching the experience for everyone.

GameDev Thoughts: How To Properly Implement Microtransactions In Mobile Game Development

I’ve been delving into my fair share of mobile gaming as of late, and have observed a ton of design patterns that I’ve found to be most effective. Remember that if microtransactions are implemented seamlessly in games, it can act as a bridge linking game developers to consumers and making the overall industry better for both players and the developers. Microtransactions allow players to test a game before paying fully for it. It also allows them to set their own payment levels according to their budget. Players who don’t want to pay for a game don’t have to. While all this stuff sounds great on paper, as a game developer you’ll need to implement them the right way.

Many developers see microtransactions simply as a way to gouge the customer in order to generate more and more revenue. If left unchecked, this strategy can be disastrous for games, as it would lead potentially successful games to tank. They would sink under the heavy weight of atrocious pricing and the inevitable player backlash, which would lead to wasted opportunity and leave the game with zero chance of any comeback. If the players, on the other hand, show their willingness to pay high rates for games, companies will keep trying the same formula, again and again, giving them a lot of financial gain in the process. But this is a much harder problem to fix due to the large variety of consumers in the market, and hence, we should take a hard look at the gaming industry in order to get rid of this manipulative strategy. A wide variety of steps are needed to ensure that microtransactions are implemented properly in games.

The first mantra of implementing proper microtransaction logic in games is to make sure that you, the developer, stop assuming that the player is your enemy and instead consider the player as an asset to your game which makes the overall experience of your game even better. This concept of players being an asset to the overall experience of a game can be easily noticed in multiplayer games. Microtransactions shouldn’t be implemented as a paywall. Instead, treat microtransactions as a way to reward loyal players. Hook them in with the paid content, and then give them a reason to spend money. Don’t choose the lazy (and ineffective) rout of purposefully make the game too difficult to progress without paying. This will only lead to frustration from players and negative reviews.

The second mantra of implementing proper microtransaction implementation is to allow players to earn in-game resources without too many restrictions. Although these resources can be purchased by paying too, the developer should allow the players to themselves pay for it using time (a bit of grinding never hurt anyone), or optional video ads (allowing players to voluntarily watch an ad in order to gain in-game currency has been a staple. While some may argue that giving away currency disenfranchises players to pay for the game at all, in reality, this approach has a variety of advantages. For starters, it makes the players feel that the game is fair to them. Many players have this notion that free to play games are made in order to extract more money from them, and this approach can blunt that mindset and make them receptive to the free to play concept.

Another advantage of giving away currency that it allows the barrier between the player and the in-app purchase store to crumble away. Once this barrier between the store and the player falls, they’re much more likely to use the store to buy stuff to enhance their gameplay. Tease your players by giving them a bunch of currency that you can only pay for, then stop for a while. If your in-game items are priced sensibly, a significant majority will pay to access that content instead of patiently waiting to generate it themselves due to the time it would normally take to generate that content. Remember to give as much as possible — if you’re not giving away stuff, you are excluding a large demographic of younger players who may not have access to ways to purchase in-game items at the current period of time. But if they are invested in the game, at some point in the future when they do get access to purchasing stuff, they are more than likely to invest money in the game.

The most important thing to know as a developer is to never sell stuff which heavily alters the balance of power in the hands of people who pay. While it may seem tempting to suck players dry to increase the bottom line of your company, it heavily damages its reputation among the majority of players who are generally not able to pay top dollar for the game. It also makes players feel like you’re taking advantage of them. Some people will pay to gain power but it would be a tiny minority. Essentially, the goal of microtransactions should be to sell conveniences which would improve the overall gameplay experience of the player.

One last aspect while developing a game with microtransactions is to keep the monetization framework in the game from the start, instead of shoehorning it in later. Developers should make sure to make the process palatable for the players so that they’ll eventually pay without having the feeling of being forced to pay for. The game should not segregate between paying and non paying players by offering paying players special access to content while keeping non paying players away from it. As with everything, make sure testing is a priority. With microtransactions, make sure to market test the prices to have a look at what the community wants to pay for the game.

Important Takeaways: Microtransactions are a great way to build an audience around your game. Lure them in with free gameplay, and then gradually introduce up-sells via optional content that they’d benefit from. For example if you were making a roguelike game, you could give them full access to the game’s first character, but then introduce an element where they’ll have to earn enough in-game currency to unlock other classes. Or if you were making a racing game, you design the game’s core campaign to be free, but charge for cosmetics, extra campaigns. Maybe even different modes that aren’t part of the core experience, but that more dedicated players would want to have.