Future Overachievers Anonymous: How Achievements Will Rock the Social World of Wrath of the Lich King

Ever since the first articles started coming out about the Wrath Alpha, I’ve been intrigued by the achievements interface. Most writers in the blogosphere are excited about the change–at the level of the individual player, the achievement system will enhance the fun factor of playing the game. Check out this article from Matticus to see what I mean. The achievement panel as it currently exists in the Beta is a detailed look at your character’s past, and it serves as a scrapbook or photo album of that character’s virtual life.

sydera best achievements

On a personal level, I could not be more excited about the achievements. Many of the cleverly-described feats on Sydera’s achievement screen took very real blood, sweat, and sleep deprivation from my entire guild to accomplish, and seeing them spelled out makes me feel quite proud. As for the personal achievements, I feel nostalgic when I see how many quests I did in certain areas or how many horde fires I extinguished during the Fire Festival.

While the achievement system may be new to the World of Warcraft, it’s not exactly an innovation in the gaming universe. The WoW achievement system is a descendant of the character progress-tracking systems in console games and single-player PC games. High score tables such as those found on old-school arcade machines like Ms. Pacman or Donkey Kong are among the earliest achievement systems. When video games first invaded the living room, Atari pioneered a system of clothing patches you could earn by mailing them a photograph of your TV screen. In more recent years, achievement systems have become a fully articulated means to track one’s virtual progress and experience. For example, in Neverwinter Nights, my heroine’s feats were described at length in a journal, to which I could add my own notes if I wished. I really enjoyed reading through that journal at the end of the game–while I’m not a roleplayer per se, I do delight in story and character.

The direct ancestor of achievements in Wrath, however, is the system developed by Microsoft for the Xbox 360. The Xbox 360 achievement system is unique in two ways: the console stores achievements independent of specific games, and all Xbox 360 games are designed to have achievements. The company also intends for players to view and react to others’ achievements through Xbox LIVE gamer profiles. As their website cheerily declares, “Half the fun comes in comparing your own achievements to those of your friends and competitors.”

In Wrath, players will similarly be able to “compare achievements” when they inspect each other, opening up a whole new avenue of uses for the system.

isidora compares achievements

The crucial difference between Wrath and Xbox LIVE is that Warcraft is a fully-fledged social universe with millions of citizens who constantly interact in profound and diverse ways. The revolutionary aspects of the new WoW achievement system will thus be in the realm of player interaction. And now, I will break out my fuzzy pink [Future-Predicting Dice of the Monkey] and prophesy for you what will happen when the WoW community meets the achievement panel. Based on my observations of the current social customs of WoW players, sweeping changes will occur in the following four areas.

1. Guild recruiting

This is the potential change that interests me the most, as I really enjoy interviewing new players for my guild. With the achievement system in place, my interview criteria are going to change. In addition to a chat over vent, I will start requiring a character-to-character interview. The recruit and I will have a seat in the Pig-n-Whistle, and we will mutually check each other out. One of my main goals will be to read the character’s achievement panel and ask interview questions based on what I learn. Even if the achievement panel ends up as part of the armory, it will still be useful to go through the achievements in “person,” if you will.

At the most basic level, the achievement system will allow a guild recruiter to verify the information that a potential new member shares about himself. Up until now, I have had to rely on very limited tools–mostly my own intuition–to decide whether someone could be trusted. The following questions always go through my mind: “Is this player who she says she is? Did she really clear Naxx back in Vanilla WoW?” The achievement system will effectively give me a way to do a background check. In addition, it will also let me get to know the recruit a little better than I might otherwise. Like a series of Twitter updates, individual achievements don’t say much on their own, but considered together, they reveal a lot about a player’s personality and how she chooses to spend her time. If I see that the recruit has many holiday-based achievements in addition to her string of boss kills, I might guess that she would enjoy the silly social aspects of my guild as well as the raids.

2. Bragging rights

As if trade chat weren’t bad enough now, just wait till hundreds of achievement points become available. Any time a new standard of comparison is created, the trolls come out from under their bridges to celebrate. Who’s got the most achievement points on your server? You’ll know soon enough. As an example of the chicanery that might result from the new system, consider the case of a certain infamous druid on Vek’nilash, who I’ll call Stinkleaf. This person was a highly ranked arena player, and he made sure everyone knew it! When Stinkleaf got Season 3 shoulders, he spammed Trade Channel for days calling himself “The Best in the World.” Every time I would run into him in Ironforge, he would harass me for my obvious adherence to PvE: “OMG wut is dat PvE crap, durids R for arena!” Let’s just say I was really, really happy when this person left the server for an easier battle group. We may see similar things arise in Wrath with achievement point griefing.

3. Alt discrimination

isidora and syd worry about discrimination

I have three characters at 70, all of whom took quite different paths to get there. Marfisa, a paladin, was my main all throughout Vanilla WoW. Sydera has been my main and my only raiding character in BC. Isidora, my delightfully evil affliction warlock, is my farming character. When I look through the achievement panels for all three, it’s really clear which characters have been alts and mains at different times. Any character who has been an alt during any phase of the game will look inexperienced. Sydera was only level 40 when BC hit, and of all the achievements in Classic WoW, she’s really only done the Deadmines. Marfi, however, has credit for most of the 5 man dungeons, all the world exploration, and many of the quest-based feats. Isidora, however, has practically nothing. Since the process of awarding credit for old instances is uneven, she doesn’t even have points for the few dungeons I did take her to. What would happen if I wanted to do what I did when BC came out and switch mains? Isidora has no titles–she hasn’t even been to Karazhan. She would look like a colossal n00b, even though the player behind her has a great deal of raiding experience. The achievement system might, for the upper tier of raiders, lock players into sticking with their longtime mains instead of branching out to try something new. That would sadden me, because alternating among my characters is one of the things that keeps the game new and fresh for me.

4. Roleplaying

I’m no RP expert, but I’m fairly confident that the achievement system will offer RP-ers new conversation-starting tools. In order to start a roleplaying style conversation with a stranger, you have to have something to talk about. Players will learn to inspect the folks they encounter and quickly compare achievements. Anything might spark a conversation; for example, you could say: “Hail, slayer of Van Cleef! What news from Westfall?” As you can see, I’d be a terrible roleplayer, but the potential is there. Any time new information is available about a character, the possibilities for story creation increase.

These are only four possible consequences of the new achievement system, and only time will tell if the changes have long-term good or ill effects. Personally, I can’t wait to see them implemented–for me, the good outweighs the bad. However, if I ever want to raid with a new guild as Isidora, I think I’ll have to bring Syd along for the interview too.

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  1. […] note: See Sydera’s post over at World of Matticus on How Achievements may rock WoW’s social world.) Went out to play around – Replenishment proc'd fairly often New Mindflay Graphic! Dispersion […]

  2. […] I predicted in an earlier post, the newly-fledged Achievement System turned out to be more than just a cosmetic change to World of […]

  3. […] note: See Sydera’s post over at World of Matticus on How Achievements may rock WoW’s social world.) Went out to play around – Replenishment proc'd fairly often New Mindflay Graphic! Dispersion […]