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Published January 17, 2013

I don’t really think it [achievements] should be a priority at all. EVE’s sandbox nature is its most unique and valuable aspect. And what would the achievements be? Achievement unlocked, can-flipped somebody[...]? I mean... there’s a lot you can do in EVE, and I think it’s quite intentional that it’s open-ended. And you’re free to go out there and make your own experience and set your own goals. And yes, it’s different from other MMOs in that way, but I think it’s supposed to be. I think that’s one of the best parts about it, and I wouldn’t want to see that change.

- CSM Alekseyev Karrde1, regarding adding an achievement system to EVE Online.

The above is taken from a December 2012 Town Hall that was jointly organized by EVE Radio and EVE University prior to the December CSM 7 summit in Iceland, and I would not be bold in saying that those thoughts are representative of a large portion of the EVE Online playerbase.

My purpose today is to make an initial case for achievements in EVE Online. As such, this is a decidedly pro-achievement piece. Since I imagine there is a sizable amount of opposition to the idea, and because I am only a modest rabble-rouser, this piece is also meant to be a small volley in a larger dialog that ought to take place about how EVE should evolve as new styles of gameplay emerge in the broader market. Achievements have become remarkably ubiquitous, and there is merit in looking at other games to see if anything may somehow make EVE Online better. I am going to explore a few major objections to implementing achievements in EVE, and then briefly outline a couple of crack-pot ideas that might differentiate an EVE-style achievement system over what is already on the market.

A NOT-SO-MODEST DEFINITION

Before I begin and look at some of the objections to achievements, I am going to write down a very brief and completely non-exhaustive list of characteristics that I would personally like to see implemented in any achievement system.

  • The system tracks player statistics on a large number of gameplay mechanisms.
  • The system rewards players for various actions within the game with points, badges, or some other arbitrary tracking dongle. Repetition of those actions is often rewarded similarly.
  • The system has a clear UI that displays overall achievement total and progress, which includes an actual score or some easy-to-read measure of overall progress towards completing all the achievements made available. The system also allows for easy comparison of achievement unlocks and achievement progress with other players.

Those three criteria seem broad enough as a starting point for my purposes here today. The ability to easily compare achievements is pretty crucial for a few of my crack-pot ideas, and since EVE has a particular emphasis on subterfuge and deception, I would like to acknowledge that the particulars of how achievements are shared with other players is an interesting topic in its own right that I'm not going to give proper justice in this article.

OBJECTION ONE: ACHIEVEMENTS DILUTE THE SANDBOX

CSM member Alekseyev Karrde made it clear that he values EVE because of its open and sandbox nature compared to other MMOs. To put words in his mouth, the implication behind what he said is that adding achievements to EVE would dilute the open nature of its gameplay.

I disagree with this objection. Far from diluting player choice, achievements offer additional albeit modest rewards to a player who choses to go out of their way and do something out of the ordinary. Structure within a sandbox need not be stifling and in fact, lack of structure can be detrimental. The PvP environment offered by Red versus Blue would be virtually impossible without highsec and wardecs, for example. The increasingly more valuable rewards of increasingly dangerous space likewise gives players a reason to choose to move into low or nullsec; the fact that this has fallen flat in practice is interesting, but irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Corp, alliance, and sovereignty frameworks give them the tools to cooperate or wage war with other players. Achievements, then, would be another structure to offer players additional choice and content... even if they eschewed using the system entirely. I, for one, would love to hear about corporations founded with the expressed purpose of making life miserable for achievement-seekers.

OBJECTION TWO: ACHIEVEMENTS ARE TOTALLY MEANINGLESS

Another class of objections I would like to look at can be roughly summarized as this: “Achievements are dumb.”

I have no direct refutation to this objection, none whatsoever. To be fair, a more sophisticated take on this position asserts that achievement systems don’t add value to gameplay, or that they don’t add anything meaningful to a gaming experience. Nevertheless, I agree even the less sophisticated version of the complaint. I personally have always thought that doing things in a video game to get a bigger number or filling up a fun-o-meter seems like a shallow and crudely pavlovian form of reinforcement and those sorts of games have never held any appeal to me. While some players may climb that mountain because there's an achievement at the top, I climb it because it's there, for the gameplay experience.  So, argument settled, EVE doesn't need achievements to be a better game and achievements won't lend anything of value... right?

On the other hand, I would like to observe that if you want to get extremely reductive about EVE or video games as a whole, the entire act of exerting hours of effort into a cause that doesn’t produce a tangible good might feel meaningless and dumb to a completely reasonable human being. I would hope that most of the audience of this here website places some sort of value in video games, or at the very least they find gaming to be simply and unironically fun.

In light of that fact, the crux of my response is simple: “No fun is bad fun.” No amount of convincing and arguing and hollering will convince me personally that achievement-accruing is fun, but I can be plainly see that high scores have been used in the past to great and repeated success. Achievements are nothing more than a modern equivalent to that scoring formula of old. People play fantasy sports for the same reason, because using a system of made up rules to maximize a bunch of fake fantasy points is maddeningly fun (or perhaps just maddening) for a heck of a lot of people. EVE probably shouldn't deprive itself of a system nerds might enjoy, especially if it could be implemented in a way that doesn't terribly impact the things that make EVE great.

OBJECTION THREE: ACHIEVEMENTS MAKE LIFE DIFFICULT FOR NEWBIES

This final objection is near and dear to my heart, and I wanted to mention it as a valid complaint that has no easy solution. Any sort of stat-tracking system is liable to create new hurdles for new players to jump through when applying to corporations. Already, many corporations are obsessed with killmails and various logs, and an achievement system would make the process of evaluating whom to accept into a corporation much easier. Achievements and statistic cultivation are yet another thing players need to worry about when applying to a corporation.

I suspect there is really no easy solution to that sort of problem, particularly since corporations already participate in that sort of winnowing process without the aid of an achievement score. My advice for players who, like myself, have terrible killmails and would likely have a lackluster achievement record is simply to not play EVE with people who don't match your interests. Easier said than done, I am well aware, and thus we need to acknowledge the objection and tailor any specific addition of achievements with that in mind.

IMPLEMENTATION PROPOSAL

I have written thus far about some objections to the implementation of any sort of generic achievement system in EVE, but I have very deliberately avoided mentioning specifics of how achievements might work in EVE.

I would, as a matter of fairness, like to unveil some potentially terrible ideas about what an achievement system in EVE should look like. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had a way to track how many times a pilot can-flipped another pilot in EVE without getting blown up? Or wouldn’t it be great to see the total number of PvP kills a pilot has in various parts of space? We could see how many Level 4 missions Captain Funpants has run during the life of his or her account, and we could even see how how much ISK she or he has generated from those missions.

A specific set of achievements I have in mind for EVE are some combination of stat-tracking on steroids. PvP objectives would involve killing pilots and types of ships using specific ships, ala a "Rifter Hero" or "Rifter Squasher" achievement. After meeting certain thresholds, say, 10, 100, 1000 kills, a pilot could get a badge, a title, and points or something along those lines. PvE achievements could include anything from mining set quantities of ore to completing epic story arcs to running wormhole anomalies a certain number of times. Certificates, the already existing system that is supremely informative, easy-to-use, and extremely motivational, could be replaced with something that is actually fun.

Crazier still, I would love to see a system that has merit and demerit badges or titles used and assigned by the community. Corporations can already award decorations, but perhaps a sort of public decorations system might be in order. CCP could create a series of badges or “reputation titles” that other players can vote on or award to other pilots. Earning the title “Scammer,” “Reliable,” or "Self-Defeating" from the other players for a certain period of time could dramatically alter player behavior and add a new element to our beloved metagame. Leaving the decision to award certain badges and achievements to the mob has a wonderful appeal, given the large emphasis EVE has on player-generated content. Again, this idea is pulled directly from the “completely off my rocker pile,” but I really do see it as a sort of extension of the new bounty system introduced in Retribution.

FINAL POINTS

I would like also like mention another reason implementing some form of achievements in EVE. Achievements represent a form of motivation that is completely disconnected from the ISK-grind. Presently a large motivation (if not the primary one) for running PvE content in EVE is ISK-generation, and I think a world where CCP could manipulate motivate the player base to do things that are not tied to the production of ISK would be an interesting wrinkle in our game.

I am willing to conceed that EVE be too old and entrenched of a game to make the implementation of achievements a feasible top-priority. In many regards, EVE is pretty long-in-the-tooth and has a host of issues that many fans would like to see addressed long before adding any sort of newfangled achievement system. I am also not saying that adding achivements to EVE will suddenly make it a land of wonderful and amazing play experience. However, adding achievements to EVE should not be a non-priority. There are a few too many potential benefits to ignore the idea altogether, and it would be a true shame to write off those benefits based on some philosophical opposition to the very idea.

[1] CSM Alekseyev Karrde is a fine contributer to this website, and in truth he's probably much smarter than I am.

Hoots
Drewson Houten, known by friends and corpmates alike as "Hoots," is a member of TEST alliance through a little corporation called Alea Iacta Est Universal (AIEU).