Dear PlayStation: trophies need to change

Inspired by Microsoft’s insanely popular achievement system on Xbox, Sony introduced trophies to PlayStation fans in 2008. Launched originally on the PS3, they’ve since made the move to Vita and PS4. Not much has changed since then.

It might be time for change.

There are four levels of trophies: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Most games stick to a basic formula: bronzes are the “easiest” trophies in games, silvers and more challenging than bronzes, golds are more challenging than silvers. Platinums trophies are earned upon earning all other trophies games have to offer.

Platinum trophies brought an extra level of excitement over Xbox’s 1000 Gamerscore. They’re reserved for the most dedicated players—those willing to play and explore a game to completion, those willing to challenge themselves. To be clear, they’re still just digital awards with no bearing on the big picture of gaming. But they’re awards that provided a new way for people to play games, and they continue to do so.

For the most part.

Topher's Trophies
Topher’s PlayStation trophies as of March 8, 2017

 

One of the biggest problems plaguing PlayStation trophies is the lack of consistency between games. Given the differences between games, it’s unavoidable that some trophies will be harder to earn than others. It’s expected that not all platinum trophies will carry equal weight and credibility.

When trophies are at their best, they challenge players to attack games in different ways. The Uncharted series stands among the best in this manner. There are trophies for beating the game on every difficulty, of course, but they’re joined by others that encourage using the game’s different weapons, trying out multiplayer modes, and finding every collectable item. They’re all manageable, but it’s unlikely that anyone will earn all of them without trying.

A lot of games, including Uncharted 4, have speedrun trophies. Others have trophies for playing games in different ways, such as the different morality levels in Fallout 3 or the chaos levels in Dishonored. Dishonored took things a step farther, incorporating trophies for completing the game without using powers and without being spotted. These are all good trophy lists. Maybe even great.

Other games are content to approach things differently, though. And in some cases, terribly.

 Lichtspeer is one of the worst offenders in this regard, with a trophy for playing the game for 100 hours when the game could otherwise be completed in five. This isn’t a challenge—it’s a nuisance. It’s not limited to smaller games, though. Resistance 2 famously has a trophy for 10,000 multiplayer kills in ranked matches. It’s the developer’s prerogative to do what they want with trophies, but a time sink does not equal a challenge.

Other games occupy a very different end of the spectrum. Telltale’s games offer platinum trophies, when they have them, for simply completing every episode. Games like Up, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and Rango occupy many trophy collections due to their quick, painless platinums. They may be simple, but they’re solid, enjoyable platformers. Terminator: Salvation offers a straightforward platinum marred by subpar quality (and that’s being very, very nice).

This week’s NieR: Automata brought a new level of confusion to trophies, as they can now be “bought” with in-game currency rather than earned outright. Word is that can’t be done until players are in their third time through the game, so it’s not as egregious as it could be. It still sets an alarming precedent for the future of trophies, though.

NieR Automata
NieR: Automata, Square Enix

Downloadable games add an even deeper level of confusion and inconsistency. Back in 2008, downloadable games were typically small experiences, so their trophy lists were much smaller than their retail counterparts and they lacked platinum trophies. This distinction made sense for a while, but it didn’t take long for downloadable games to expand to bigger experiences, in some cases offering more depth and playtime than their retail counterparts.

As a result, some downloadable games started receiving platinums. Some. And there doesn’t appear to be any consistent reasoning behind which get platinums and which don’t.

Drinkbox Studios’ excellent metroidvanias Guacamelee and Severed both contain platinums, which makes sense given their depth. Insomniac’s Song of the Deep, a metroidvania of similar length and depth, does not have a platinum.

Late in 2016, My Name is Mayo made waves for being a terrible “game” with separate trophy lists for PS4 and Vita and two platinum trophies for a couple hours of nothing, basically. It’s been talked about endlessly by the likes of Greg Miller and Colin Moriarty over at Kinda Funny, so I won’t go into more detail there. Io Interactive’s episodic Hitman, released earlier in 2016, does not contain a platinum despite offering significantly more gameplay.

There’s no way around it: PlayStation trophies are broken. It’s unrealistic to think that all platinums will carry equal weight. That can’t and shouldn’t be the goal. But if games like My Name is Mayo have platinum trophies, all games should have them. If smaller games aren’t going to have platinum trophies, none should have them.

Personally, I’d give up the distinction between retail and downloadable games and let every game have a platinum trophy—but I’d also make sure cash in “games” like My Name is Mayo don’t release on PlayStation platforms at all.

How Sony plans to fix PlayStation trophies, if they plan to at all, remains to be seen. What would you do? Do you even care about trophies? Let me know in the comments.

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