How Microsoft Can Unlock The Full Potential Of Xbox One Achievements

by Andrew Reiner on Dec 18, 2013 at 06:16 AM

One quick glance at Xbox One’s achievement format may not reveal much of a change over what was offered on Xbox 360. Most people see that they look nicer, and track the progress of reaching an achievement goal with a small bar at the bottom of each achievement. These are nice improvements over what came before, but the true potential of achievements becoming something new and exciting again rests with the challenges.

I’m sure you’ve unlocked a few of these while playing games. When you open up the achievement menu, you’ll see two featured challenge achievements for various games listed for the day or week. These achievements won’t reward you with gamerscore points, but are equipped with the potential to give you something even better.

Take a look at the image above. If you spill over 10,000 gallons of zombie blood before Christmas day, you’ll earn a challenge achievement. Do you see that tiny, white present icon in the top right corner of the image? When you unlock this achievement, that present rewards you with a reindeer mask that can be worn in-game.

(Image courtesy Xbox achievement junkie Stallion83)

It’s a small reward, but one that points to a potential future in which achievements carry content that enhances the game experience. The infrastructure is in place for developers to add challenges (and unlockable content) to their games at any time. If the development community truly embraces it, consumers might find the Xbox One version of multi-system releases more desirable.

As of right now, however, only first-party developers are gifting players with challenge presents. Electronic Arts appears to have no interest in adding any challenges to its stable of games, and I haven’t come across one third-party game that offers a present for a challenge achievement.

For this new achievement system to truly take root, Microsoft needs to make them a mandatory system, pushing all developers to attach challenges and rewards to their games. Will this happen? I hope so, but the fact that most people don’t even know they exist and Microsoft hasn’t talked much about them makes me think they won’t gain much traction.

At one point in our industry’s lifespan, Sony wouldn’t let publishers release ports on PSP unless they came packaged with exclusive content. Take Activision’s X-Men Legends II, for example: The PSP version offers four new playable characters and nine new missions not found in the Xbox or PlayStation 2 versions. Those are huge additions.

Given the current state of the industry, publishers will likely eye content of this caliber as DLC players have to pay for rather than achievement presents, but history shows that they are willing to meet the demands of console and handheld manufacturers.

If fully realized, Microsoft’s new format for achievements could give players reason to go back to their games to unlock new in-game content. Dead Rising’s masks and Crimson Dragon’s dragon presents plant this seed. I could see a developer like Gearbox using challenges to great effect with players earning rare weapons for each challenge met.

Time will tell if this new achievement format takes off. Right now, it doesn’t look good. Third parties are barely recognizing them, and the first-party offerings at this point are miniscule at best. I would much rather see Microsoft make these new achievements a push than trying to get developers to implement Kinect functionality into their ports.