Is Microsoft on the verge of ruining Achievements?

Jurassic: The Hunted is a terrible game, and there were dozens of better FPS titles I could be playing during the 2009 holiday break. And yet I was spending my valuable time playing a terrible game, just as I’d done with Hannah Montana: The Movie a week earlier. It was all to get easy Achievement points in the disarmingly simple metagame that Microsoft built into its 360. After spending years of adding to it via games good and bad, I’m very attached to my Gamerscore of 66,370. It’s a number that I once was excited to bring over to the Xbox One. But I now worry that I’ll have to abandon my Gamerscore as Microsoft is on the verge of ruining the entire concept of Achievements just as its next system launches.

What turned me? The announcement of the Day One edition of the Xbox One after Microsoft's E3 2013 press conference. A special version of the system is a cute way of awarding early adopters, but on top of a specially branded controller, the console comes with an exclusive Day One Achievement. Presumably you turn on your system on launch day and up your Gamerscore in a way no future owner can. Instead of a cute addition, it felt like the start of a very unsettling trend.

First off, Achievements to date had been restricted to games. Gamers upped their scores by playing titles of varying degrees of quality. As Microsoft kept nudging its Xbox division towards being as much a media hub as a gaming machine, Achievements reminded you the 360 still played video games. The Day One award is meant as an immediate signal that Achievements have changed on Xbox One. Sadly, it feels like the beginning of a tidal wave of non-game Achievements that will ruin the value of every Gamerscore out there.

So what are we looking at if Achievements become divorced from the games themselves? Reports are already circulating that Kinect will award Achievements for watching TV. Maybe you’ll be given 15G for switching channels by saying “Xbox, TV.” Perhaps watching every NBA playoff game through the Xbox One will net you 40G. Moves like that will undoubtedly cheapen the uniqueness of Achievements, but that’ll just be the beginning.

Once Achievements spread to TV functionality, what’s to stop Microsoft from selling Achievements as part of some advertising package? Did the Kinect witness you sitting through a series of McDonald’s commercials? You just earned “Loving it!” (10G) Did you opt in for the 20-minute infomercial for deodorant? Then you definitely deserve the “Smelling Good” (15G) reward for putting up with that. The 360 dashboard is already covered in ads, but Achievements could give those corporations the ability to pretend they’re doing players a service by directly linking Gamerscore to advertisements.

Beyond the hyper-commercial aspects of Achievement proliferation is the fact that all these new avenues for Achievements will inflate the already precarious virtual economy. The scarcity of Achievements is what makes a Gamerscore special. It takes real dedication to break 100,000 Gamerscore. When you can start earning points for every possible feature the Xbox One offers, who knows how exclusive a six digit score will be? That’s up to Microsoft, and how much it wants to favor returning users over new buyers.

It’s great that your Gamerscore will transfer over to the Xbox One, but what if it’s your first Microsoft system? You hop on Live and see you’re at 0GS, surrounded by people with 50,000 points. Those new players might get scared away from collecting Achievements and Microsoft can’t have that. An all-too-easy fix would be to up the average Achievement value by the power of 10. A formerly 20G award becomes 200G. 10,000G will become the norm for a retail game and everyone will hit 100,000G that much faster. We’ve already seen MS up the standard XBLA game total to 400G. It’d be just as simple to up the Achievement output of all Xbox One games to indulge fresh players at the cost of your years of Gamerscore collection.

You’d think I’d be happy a happy little Achievement junkie now that the Xbox One is ready to start handing out Achievements left and right, upping my Gamerscore for every moment I spend on the system. But it’s turning into too much of a good thing. Developers discovered that they could use Achievements to manipulate players to do what they want, and I was okay being the lab rat that chased after the cheese. But when that manipulation extends to getting spied on by Kinect or watching dozens of commercials, I’d rather just leave my Gamerscore in the current generation.

Henry Gilbert

Henry Gilbert is a former GamesRadar+ Editor, having spent seven years at the site helping to navigate our readers through the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation. Henry is now following another passion of his besides video games, working as the producer and podcast cohost of the popular Talking Simpsons and What a Cartoon podcasts.