MGS5 leak suggests its time to rethink Trophies and Achievements

A complete list of Achievements for Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes has appeared online. According to CVG, these virtual rewards give away some significant plot points--click through to the story at your own discretion, but there are spoilers within. And that’s something of a problem for a story-lead game like Metal Gear Solid. The last thing you want, as a developer, is to give away key plot details in something as publicly available as an Achievement or Trophy list.

This type of leak is nothing new, and--as the more sensible among you will point out--you don’t have to read these stories online. If you want to dodge spoilers, it’s possible. However, with many sites distributing the information via social media and RSS feeds, it’s easier than ever to have the story of a game you’ve been waiting to play for years spoiled months before release.

Even if the leak only gives away character names or vague scenarios, the more dedicated fans (and these are the people who are hurt most by spoilers) will usually work out the wider plot implications. It’s like having a major plot-point printed on the back-of-book blurb, or included in a teaser trailer for a film--it’s insanely irritating.

As such, Achievements and Trophies need to evolve to reflect the way gamers absorb information. There’s already an option to set them as ‘Hidden’ or ‘Secret’, but developers often shy away from including too many of these because one major reason virtual rewards exist is to guide players through the game. Trophies can often point towards techniques and in-game challenges that players may not have otherwise considered: and it’s here where they’re best used.

Achievements and Trophies that unlock purely based on completing story beats should always be hidden. There’s no reason to sign-post narrative moments if they happen regardless of player actions. However, what I’d advocate for the future is a half-way solution for all other Trophies, which allows the player to toggle the visibility of their descriptions. So, all you’d see when you start the game is a long list of hidden Trophies, and you’d have the option to ‘view description’ for individual awards, or to ‘reveal all descriptions’ if you want an overview.

The critical point here is that--when you actually have the game in your possession--you’d have control over how much information the Achievements or Trophies are giving away. It’d need to work when you’re comparing virtual rewards with your friends, and perhaps runs contrary to the philosophy behind PS4’s ‘What’s New’ stream (and the current obsession with over-sharing on social media), where you’re told about friends’ achievements in games. But surely if it’s all optional, it’s something for MS and Sony to consider.

And what about gaming news stories giving away plot-points months in advance? It’s insanely difficult to stop leaks, but surely setting all virtual rewards to ‘secret’ (or disabling them entirely) until the game actually ships would be a step in the right direction. The very least that should happen is that console makers should insist that story-based Trophies / Achievements are all set to secret. How tough would this be from a technical perspective? Honestly, I don’t know. All I do know is that I don’t want my games spoiled weeks before I’ve even had the chance to buy them…

Andy Hartup