When I first started hearing about achievement systems I honestly thought they were a total waste of time. I usually play games just for the sake of playing them, not because I want to have some kind of meta-performance tracker that I can show off to my friends. I did start to warm to them when the encouraged novel or interesting kinds of game play like many of the achievements in Team Fortress 2 did. It wasn’t long after achievements caught on that the whole gamification movement took hold and all new start ups started adding game features to their products.
Now I wasn’t immune to this either. When I was working on Lobaco I thought it would be a great idea to add in some achievements in order to encourage people to participate in local discussions. Indeed I was going to take it a couple steps further and have things like local leader boards and titles based on your overall score in a particular area. All of these things were done in the name of increasing user engagement as many studies and successful start ups have shown that game like elements keep people coming back. Of course everyone then saw it as the panacea to their ills and game elements started appearing in places that they really shouldn’t.
I came across one such example this morning in my usual troll for blog fodder. Microsoft, for some strange reason, decided to code up an achievement system for Visual Studio, their flagship development environment. It looks to be an extension to Visual Studio itself and currently only works if you’re coding with Visual Basic or C# (arguably the most common languages though). There’s dozens of achievements already in there and even a leaderboard of the top 15 people who’ve gained the most achievements. Taken at face value I can see this being a good thing by encouraging good programming habits through achievements.
Microsoft’s implementation is anything but that.
Many of the achievements are either pointless, inane or actively encourage bad coding habits. 50 projects in a solution? A class that has every kind of scope in it? I can foresee situations where these things might happen (but they still shouldn’t) and it begs the question as to why these were added in. The flip side of this is people creating one shot projects in order to get these achievements (which everyone on the leaderboard has done) which makes the achievements even more meaningless. Indeed the whole idea just seems like a poorly thought out attempt at getting into the gamification scene, one that will be rightly ignored by most proper developers.
Just like in Lobaco where adding in game elements didn’t make complete sense (at least not at the great expense of other features, which it did) there are many times where the gamification of something just plain won’t work. If the core of your idea is based around a game idea then it probably makes sense to include achievements. If it does not then realistically you shouldn’t be adding them in until you’ve done everything else possible to deliver a good product/service to your end users. Attempting to keep people interested with cheap tricks like gamification won’t work if the underlying product has no redeeming value, nor if the core use of the product isn’t a game mechanic itself. The sooner people realise this the better as the spread of crappy, tacked on game mechanics is really not doing anyone any favours.