Monday, February 2, 2009

Gamerscore Inflation: How More Points May Be Bad For Us All

Before writing this post, I did a Google search on "Gamerscore Inflation" to see what turned up. I wasn't too surprised to see that there wasn't much, and existing sources use the term differently than I'm about to.

"Gamerscore Inflation" has been discussed in two different ways that I found. The first usage refers to people who hack/gamesave/profile glitch their way to more points, thus artificially inflating their scores without really playing. People offering to boost other people's score for them, sometimes for money (and possibly using one of the methods earlier mentioned) fall into the second usage of the term. Both involve a single player's account, and what happens to that score.

My definition of Gamerscore Inflation has ramifications on the entire gaming industry, and every Xbox owner. I'm talking about Microsoft-sponsored Gamerscore Inflation, in the form of raising point caps on games, and rising uncertainty on where they'll draw the line on how many points a game can or should have. As gamers and consumers, we need to keep a critical eye on this trend, as its development over 2009 will define the future of the achievements system. More points isn't always a good thing.

Microsoft has changed is policy on achievements more than once. I believe the initial rules were that a game must have a minimum of 5 achievements, a maximum of 50, and could have up to 1000 points. Most games took all 1000 they could, but there were a few weird exceptions. To polish things up, and make for easier comparison, Microsoft changed the rules so every game must have 1000 points available on the disc. The Shivering Isles expansion of Oblivion marked the first time DLC was given achievements, and a new cap of 1250 was given to games, where developers could add up to 250 points through DLC, and could make that content free or for purchase, as they wished.

Now comparisons start to get sloppy again, though it isn't Microsoft's fault. Developers don't have to add all 250, so now that nice line of 1000s on your card has been replaced with 1050 for Mass Effect, 1100 in Bioshock and Lost Odyssey, 1220 in The Force Unleashed, and 1250 in Oblivion, as an example. At this point, perhaps you're thinking I'm a neat-freak of sorts who wants all games to look the same in points, that's not the issue here. I love getting points in DLC like most other achievement junkies (though I'm not part of the "No points = No purchase" crowd). While it's nice that every game now has 1000 original points, this DLC policy has undone the "ease of comparison" idea that was part of the original intent of the first policy revision.

So far, the system has worked well enough, as most of the DLC content that comes with new achievements is substantial content that deserves to have points attached to it. At this point, developers don't seem to be abusing achievements as a way to get people to purchase DLC, though I know some whine about Gears of War 2 or Fallout's 800msp cost for 100 points in Operation Anchorage. If you're only playing Fallout 3 for the points though, you really have issues. Certainly, some developers aren't as good as others about providing good DLC, but if asked the question, "Are developers ripping us off on DLC or exploiting achievement whores?" my answer for now would be, not YET, for the most part. 2009 will be a telling year for DLC though, and things could shift in that direction.

The change in the system that truly has me concerned is the rise of new "super games," or games that are allowed to ascend beyond the 1250 cap. First, Halo 3 got the obscene raise to 1750 points. Obscene is the only word to describe Halo being worth almost any 2 other games, especially since its DLC is only a series of map packs, but since Halo is one of Microsoft's biggest cash ponies, it's not too surprising. Next up is Fallout 3, which is reported to have 100 points in The Pitt, and 150 in Broken Steel, making for a total of 1350, with the possibility of more points if they make more content. Fallout raises an important question; how should episodic content be treated? Should all such releases of content get points? What will the standard be? Right now, there doesn't seem to be one, but Bethesda doesn't appear to be abusing their exception status.
You're not worth 1750 points, sorry.

Halo and Fallout will not be the last games cracking the 1250 cap. With Microsoft shelling out millions for the exclusive rights to GTA4 DLC, I promise you they'll push that title by offering up more points, so count on GTA4 getting to at least 1500 total. I'm also expecting Gears of War 2 to push beyond 1250 before Epic releases Gears 3. So far, it looks like things are being handled on a case-by-case basis, which is good, but this trend is only beginning. How far will it go? What happens if more and more developers want to break the 1250 cap?
GTA4: The next achievement super-game

If the number of games granted exceptions remains rather small, it's not too big a problem, but there are several possible outcomes to the system as a whole if more and more games were to be allowed to go beyond 1250. Enter the dark potential futures:

1. Gamerscore Inflation:
As games continue to have more and more points, the games released before the cap raise would mean less and less, compared to new games offering up hundreds of points in DLC. Suddenly, everyone has higher scores, and hitting milestones like 100k aren't nearly as hard or impressive as they once were.

2. Developer exploitation:
Some could argue we're already being over-charged for DLC, but further point allowances could make things worse. What's stopping developers from making "Get X kills with Y DLC-only weapon" achievements? We already have "On X map, do Y" achievements in Halo and Gears, among others. If you think developers are using achievements to push some people into purchasing content now, imagine how much more they could do it if they're given more points to work with. Remember Microsoft gets a cut on DLC sales, so if it helps their bottom line, they could be more generous in allowing games to have more points. And of course, the more points attached to a piece of DLC, the likely you are to buy it, if you care about points.

3. Stringing along gamers:
While Bethesda's releases for Fallout should all be quality, odds are not everyone will be so good. Episodic content doesn't really exist on the 360 yet, but the idea of monthly content packs, each with a fee and a few more points, is certainly possible, if Fallout 3 turns out to be an example of the future. Could developers keep using points to sell strings of mediocre DLC? Add an achievement or two to a bunch of DLC pieces, so people have to purchase all of them if they want all the points? What about games like Rock Band or Guitar Hero? Would they take advantage of higher point allowances, and the 99 achievement limit introduced by the Orange Box, to keep attaching an achievement to whatever track pack they want? I'm a little surprised they haven't tried that already...

Ultimately, who has control over how points for DLC are utilized going into the future? Microsoft, for starters. They'll be the ones to decide just how many points a game is allowed to have, and whether games with more than 1250 become common or not remains their decision. However, it's up to us, who buy that DLC, to decide how far we'll let developers go. If we live up to the moniker of 'whores' and buy anything for points, could you blame developers for wanting to exploit that? If we're smart, and don't succumb to the temptation to buy any crap for a few more points, perhaps developers will be responsible in their usage. We can only hope.

In the February issue of OXM, Achievement Whores are listed as #35 in a "Top 100 for 2009" article. They write, "They're Microsoft's most valuable resource: The gamers who will do, buy, or play anything for another 1000 points of Gamerscore. Mediocre budget software of 2009, you have found your new target audience. Please milk it with care." We'll have to decide on our own how badly we let them milk us...


Achievement Generator:


  1. pointless whining to be honest.

  2. ^^^Who is "be honest" and why are you pointlessly whining to him/her?
    Scathing sarcasm to anonymous user.

    In the grand scheme of things, is it going to change our lives? Of course not.

    But I would be inclined to agree that "inflation" of gamerscore through developer DLC and lack of standards would diminish what it is to be an "achievement."
    Nevertheless, I'd still feel accomplished for unlocking certain difficult achievements, such as Way of The Master Ninja.
    If anything the "score" would have less significance due to inflation...but couldn't you also say this would place an increased value on individual achievements of merit? It would be easy to see, "Oh, he got 5k in My Horse and Me Extreme Beach Lawn Darts, that's easy." But achievements like Mile High Club, to me, won't lose their value. Considering scores are relative as it is, really, what you unlock is more important than how much it is worth.

    I suppose if Microsoft wants to milk the achievement whore demographic, that is their prerogative. Regardless of the outcome, I'll play the games I find fun, and chase the achievements that challenge my skills as a gamer, not the achievements that challenge my wallet as a consumer.

  3. "Anonymous said...

    pointless whining to be honest."

    ...Pointless feedback, to be honest.

  4. Great post/article. you should throw that up on an X360a board.

  5. did the Condemned finaly gain the last 30 points it was missing?

  6. No, Condemned still has a max of 970 points.

  7. ah, it may be interesting to note that the orange box is getting more acivements with the TF2 updates, if it matches the PC full it will gain in excess of 100 new ones


  8. In response to Daywalker's comment - The incoming updates for The Orange Box seem like the type of content that deserves new Achievements and while the game/s already have enough with the 99, I'd be happy to accept more for the game/s because the updates are significant. Or seem to be anyway, I wouldn't know since I am still yet to get my hands on The Orange Box. :(

    In response to the post - I agree with what is being said and I am hesitating more and more as new DLC based Achievements get announced. I appreciate the idea of having new content and look forward to what Fallout 3, GTA IV and even Mirror's Edge can provide via DLC but at the same time I really think Microsoft need to evaluate and then announce their new guidelines for the system.

    Luckily though, the games that are going beyond the cap of 1250 seem to be the big ones that you would almost expect to. I wasn't surprised when I found out Halo 3 was going higher than 1250/1250 (although I was surprised that it ended up being 1750, why not 1500 or 2000?) and I'm not surprised that GTA IV will hit at least 1500 (if not more) due to those two exclusive expansions. Just because the game is getting expansions, doesn't mean that it won't get future DLC later down the track too so there's a good chance even more Achievements could come. I'm fine with that idea providing that the content is worth it. Actually that's a good thing to close with so instead of talking about the other games I will say this; If the content is worth the price of admission then I don't particularly care about how many Achievements are released alongside it. We should be paying for the content, not the Achievements and if Microsoft and the various developers can stick to that idea then I will be happy. That said, Microsoft do need to announce new guidelines. Otherwise it's not just the consumers confused but the developers too and how to approach it.

  9. That was a great and interesting read and I believe all of it.

    Keep making more blogs like this. :)

  10. Was a long read, wasn't expecting to bother to read it all but I did.

    I want LOTR Battle for Middle Earth II to get updated, having just 705 gamerscore sucks.

  11. Great post. Another touchy subject is how companies like EA are holding back content on release to sell it back to us later. DLC feels like it is turning for the worst at the moment (from an exploitation perspective), there really needs to be some solid rules in place that Micro$oft wont bend for more cash. If they do, they will eventually kill one of the main things that makes the Xbox 360 so special and popular.

  12. As far as I remember, the whole point of gamerscore was to show how good a person was at the games they've played. The 1000/1000 was supposed to be indicative of them having maxed out everything they can do in the game. Once they reach 10,000 points, its an indicator that they've sunk a hell of a lot of time and skill into getting that far, adding cheap achievements will only make it harder to differentiate the skill of legitimately getting Seriously 2.0 from the cheap manipulation of playing avatar the last airbender for 5-10 minutes.

    Adding points for the DLC, even to exceed the 1250 mark, isn't really a problem for me as long as its clear what the new total is and as long as the new content truly deserves the achievements. Personally I agree that Halo 3 doesn't, its not a bad game really but its nothing special and if the DLC is only map packs then it should have achievements more like the Gears 2 DLC where it encourages players to try new features rather than engage in endless wow-grinding repetition. GTA4's expansion on the other hand is WELL worth the extra points, shitloads of new content and new challenges, I think that should be the standard by which DLC should be judged.

    On a personal level, the thing I think they do need to do is make the points achieved/total display in your local list based on whether you HAVE the DLC or not. I have what should be 1000/1000 in Tomb Raider Legend but its 1000/1250 because of the Anniversary addon, I don't have that because I BOUGHT Anniversary.

    Maybe a percentage system would be an interesting addition, disply the points as raw numbers but an overall percentage of achievements after it. I've got a bit over 20000 points and I've got about 60-70% unlocked. It'd be interesting to see how many others have a similar raw score but have gotten it with 95% showing they're really good at a limited number of games or with 20% indicating they play anything that with movement and pretty colours for as long as it takes to see something else shiny and be distracted.

  13. Excellent points. I'm also OK with more points as long as the system is clear on how games get more points, and developers aren't blatantly using points to sell inferior DLC. The whole "over 1250" thing is pretty new, so it'll probably take the better part of a year to really see the effect it'll have.

    I'd also like to see completion %age based on if you have that DLC or not, so your completion percentage doesn't go down for not buying DLC. However, I'm not sure if that's possible with the way console updates and work. I could be wrong. On this point, that's perfectly OK with me =P