Talking Point: The Trouble with Trophies
Posted by Sammy Barker
Love them or loathe them, Trophies have become an important part of the PlayStation experience. Introduced in mid-2008 to muted fanfare, the digital trinkets have bloated in popularity over the past four years, promoting dedicated online communities and even minor gaming celebrities. But while the rewards look certain to play a pivotal role in the future of Sony’s gaming plans, we’re not entirely convinced that developers have found a way to fully leverage the potential of the system. Trophies, in their current guise, are flawed.
We approach every game expecting to earn a Platinum Trophy. “This is the one,” we declare beneath bated breath, only to be dissuaded by another treasure hunt or crushing difficulty run. The problem with the system is not necessarily in its implementation, moreover the lack of thought that goes into each individual Trophy set.
When applied properly, Trophies can be used as a tool to encourage us to explore different modes and mechanics; in their current form, however, developers seem more committed to punishing us than promoting different parts of their games. Romps through unbalanced difficulty tiers may technically extend the longevity of an experience, but the feeling of vulnerability is unlikely to keep many players engaged.
Of course, it’s easy to imagine that the system doesn’t exist, but that defeatist mentality only further highlights the issues intrinsic to the discussion at hand. Developers should be encouraging us to go out of our way to collect the digital rewards, rather than forcing us to forget about their inclusion.
A fleeting glance at the Trophy system’s largest online community highlights the most prominent issues. Multiplayer boosting threads and walkthroughs – both of which are designed to make the pursuit for Trophies more manageable – are rife, and while it’s refreshing to see an enormous gaming family formed over a common interest, we’re not convinced that the system should be so dependent on other players and external materials.
The simple truth is that it’s not fun gaming while referring to an iPad or printed piece of paper on your lap. The Uncharted series may be the one of the most convincing cinematic experiences in the industry, but its illusion is shattered by ambiguous Trophies which reward you for tracking down inane artefacts. If you want to earn the Platinum Trophy, you’ll need to do so while pixel hunting behind trees, looking for meaningless vases and statues of exotic animals. It’s an issue that can be attributed to both the Trophies, and the core game design.
It strikes us that developers never stop to question whether their Trophies are fun to achieve. If we’re expected to complete a game on its highest difficulty tier, then perhaps more time and resources should be invested into making those modes enjoyable. Simply allowing an enemy to soak up a clip’s worth of ammo does not make the game more challenging, it makes it more frustrating. Likewise, stuffing a world full of unwanted guff only adds to the tedium.
Of course, there’s nothing offensively wrong with either of the game design staples, as long as they’re handled in the appropriate manner. Titles such as Prototype 2, for example, enhance the treasure hunt by implementing in-game hints, while Borderlands empowers you on its harder difficulty settings. In both cases, simple compromises are employed to not only increase the attainability of the Trophies, but also make the games significantly more replayable.
Put simply, developers need to spend more time discussing what's actually reasonable for their games. Did Insomniac ever expect Resistance 2 players to get 10,000 kills online? Probably not: it just decided to include the trinket as a means to cynically inject life into its multiplayer component. The same is true for every game that expects players to hit an outrageous level cap in yet another unnecessary multiplayer component.
And yet, while we’re campaigning in favour of more attainable Trophies, we can acknowledge the argument against. The Platinum Trophy in Demon’s Souls is looked upon as a status symbol; an icon that says something about its pursuer’s temperament and personality. Subtract the difficulty from that Trophy and it becomes little more than another achievement in a pool of thousands.
At the end of the day, regardless of your stance on the matter, games are designed to be fun; Trophies should enhance that, not take it away. It's a problem that desperately needs to be rectified. Let's hope the industry is listening.
Do you grind your teeth through soul-sapping tasks to obtain Trophies, or have you given up on the system entirely? Let us know in the comments section below.