Thursday, 27 March 2008

Points and their relevance!

Allow me to paint a picture, Microsoft has had incredible success with their first home console and is in the process of creating the next iteration of the Xbox, along with a new console they have visions of a unified online platform featuring online gaming, voice and video chat, arcade games and an integrated marketplace where users can purchase downloadable content including games, pictures, music and even feature length movies. Buried amongst these grand plans is the proposal for a simple concept revolving around awarding players points for completing tasks within games, these points would then be manifested in the form of a Gamerscore, a simple numerical total of all the achievement points the player has acquired represented by nothing more than a digit that can now be found on a players gamercard prefixed by a perfunctorily created symbol.
On paper, although novel, the concept doesn’t seem like anything gamers would latch onto, in its simplest form it’s just a number given to the player for completing the task. Upon unlocking my first achievement I was extremely excited at the prospect of accumulating a ridiculous number of gamerpoints but this was largely due to my mistaken belief that the points could be utilised in purchasing items from the marketplace, after realising that I was wrong and in fact the gamerpoints had no relevance or application outside of being a number underneath my gamertag I lost interest in the whole idea of gamerpoints.
It makes you wonder how vested in the concept of gamerpoints Microsoft really were, did they have the foresight to predict that gamers would attach a deeper meaning to the Gamerscore and so included it as a key feature of the Xbox 360, or was it something that they flippantly included believing its only merit to be one of novelty.

To this day I cannot understand why people spend so much time unlocking achievements with the goal of increasing their Gamerscore, I can understand approaching achievements as an additional challenge, for example I know of a number of people who spent hours attempting to complete the Mile High Club achievement on Call of Duty 4 but this was because of the challenge involved, I myself spent more time than I should have unlocking the various skull achievements on Halo 3, but my motivation was acquiring the Hayabusa armour as opposed to adding to my gamerscore and inflating my ego. The fact of the matter is that in reality most people don’t do it for the challenge or the added replay value, they spend copious amounts of time and effort playing games that don’t deserve to be played for the sake of acquiring these points. The question is – Why?
Regardless of how you feel about points and scores its hard to deny the satisfaction received from unlocking an achievement and this is something that Microsoft and the Xbox team should receive credit for, the satisfaction in unlocking an achievement is in my opinion derived in large part from the on screen popup notifying you that you’ve unlocked an achievement, the audio and visual cues are what put the smile on a gamers face, imagine if the notification of the achievement was just some unanimated text appearing on screen saying you’ve unlocked an achievement, in comparison how satisfied would you be, I’m betting not a lot.
You only have to look as far as the PS3 to see how true this is, if you’ve ever unlocked an achievement on a PS3 game you know that the notification is just a line of text which appears momentarily, the satisfaction gained from this is incomparable to the animated notification along with the now iconic sound accompanying it. After a while you can become addicted to the momentary satisfaction that you get from hearing the sound and watching the animation, maybe that’s what drives some of these fixated points gatherers.
I believe the success of the gamerscore / gamerpoints / achievement concept is largely due to the deeper meaning that gamers have attached to the points.
Gaming is competitive by nature, there’s always someone claiming to be the best at a game, in the old days the only way to settle such a dispute would be to sit down and have it out (virtually of course), however in the newer generation of internet gaming settling such arguments takes far less effort, in this sense gamerscore can function as proof of stature as a gamer, many gamers use gamerscore to gauge the ability of another gamer, the higher the score the more accomplished and formidable the player, in a way It serves as a way for gamers to judge ‘a book by its cover’, a simple glance at a players score lets you know what you’re up against, this compels people to rack up gamerpoints in an attempt to assert themselves in the upper echelon of gamers. Although in practice this makes no sense since usually the points aren’t awarded based on gaming ability it is reinforced through the relevance given to gamerscore in social integration on Xbox live. Although Xbox Live is an open network available to everyone in some situations social position and stature is judged by gamerscore, it isn’t widespread but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I’ll provide some anecdotal evidence, I wasn’t an early adopter of the Xbox 360 so when I picked one up and jumped into a game of Gears of War online I had very little gamerpoints, the result was that it turned into a juvenile game of ‘harass the dude with 20 gamerpoints’, the players had used my gamerscore to decide I would be the one in the game to get harassed (unfortunately for them I’m quite apt with the shotgun and proceeded to blow chunks out of everyone), if this was a isolated case I wouldn’t bring it up but I was recently in a game of Halo 3 with someone who had a very low score and lets just say he wasn’t exactly welcomed into the online environment, as well as this I know of a number of people who have had similar experiences. Maybe the reason people spend so much time collecting points is to ensure social integration, as well as stature as a gamer, it would explain why sites such as are so popular.
Points serve as a persistent meta-game that can be played as apart of every other game available for the system and some points hounds would claim to be obsessing over points because they find enjoyment in devoting time to collecting the points but the social impact that points have online is also undeniable

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