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Microsoft, It’s Time to Kill Off Gamerscore

Microsoft’s introduction of the Xbox 360’s Achievement system was something of significance to the console’s generation. While many games before 2006 possessed a list of challenges and objectives to complete (most notable are the Trophies from Super Smash Brothers Melee), Microsoft made Achievements into something bigger than the sum of their parts. That familiar sound when you completed an Achievement, it still resonates in 360 owners’ minds, signaling that something happened in their game. But with these challenges came a selection of numbers. These numbers awarded a value called “Gamerscore” where the combined total of values was displayed on Xbox Live users’ Gamercards for the world to see. Every retail game was eventually required to award up to 1000 Gamerscore points through Achievements and gamers feverous played to get every last one they could. But with ambition came disapproval. Yes, Gamerscore eventually got labeled as meaningless, one where that one number became fuel for online gamers’ egos. It was controversial as well as progressive and became a staple in the Xbox Live experience.

But ignore the “gamer penis” labels for a moment. Beyond that rather crude name, Gamerscore is something riddled with inconsistencies, but they all come down to one significant flaw in the concept’s structure: it’s never clear what Gamerscore is supposed to measure.

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Is it really worth it?

Gamerscore amasses numerical values from completing Achievements in Xbox 360 games. Different Achievements offer different valued numbers; a supposedly easy-to-complete Achievement will net a player a smaller number of Gamerscore points, while a supposedly difficult-to-complete Achievement will net a larger number. It seems simple enough, but it all comes to a head with this ambiguous notion of what is considered “easy” or “hard” in terms of completion. What is “easy” or “hard” on Xbox Live? What pulls those strings? Play time? Skill? Forward thinking? Or all of the above?

A high Gamerscore can imply many things. For example, an Xbox Live user with a Gamerscore of 10,000 points could’ve earned those points by completing some very difficult Achievements (one whose Gamerscore rewards are very high) or the user could’ve simply completed a very large number of easy Achievements (ones whose Gamerscore reward were very low).

This becomes hard to interpret when the user’s quality as a gamer comes into play. The specific Achievement that comes to mind for me personally is the infamous “Seriously…” Achievement from the 360 hit Gears of War. After killing 10,000 total people in the game’s ranked match mode, players are awarded 50 Gamerscore points. It’s an admirable feat indeed, one that will surely demand a significant amount of playtime to complete, right? Well…not necessarily. A very skilled gamer could potentially earn this supposedly difficult Achievement over the course of a week, while the more novice players could earn it over years of playtime. In the argument that Gamerscore measures playtime and not skill, this particular moment denies that supposition.

But the playtime argument also trips when comparing an Achievement like “Seriously…” to other Achievements that are awarded upon completion of a story mission. Take Tomb Raider’s “A Survivor Is Born” Achievement, where the player is awarded 75 Gamerscore points upon completing the game. Considering that Tomb Raider is a particularly short game compared to others, earning this rather high Gamerscore count isn’t something steeped in challenge or longevity. When compared to the lower 50 Gamerscore award in Gears of War’s “Seriously…”, there is an inconsistency between them. If a gamer is after more points, would they play weeks’ worth of online Gears of War matches against seasoned shooter veterans for 50 or could they simply rent Tomb Raider and get 75 in a weekend?

But then there’s the side that say that Gamerscore measures inventiveness, exploration and skill. The biggest problem with that is the idea that a user can obtain a very high Gamerscore by completing many small, extremely simple and obvious challenges. A player can earn the aforementioned “Seriously…” Achievement in Gears of War through extensive skill with the weaponry, but if they’re after the 50 points, why not just play the opening sequences of ten other games (where the games generally award small Gamerscore rewards after the first mission alone)?

To make the debate even more complex is that some Achievements involves completing specific objectives, many of which might be difficult to find and complete without incentive, but when given the challenge, are very easy to complete. In Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, if the player throws change into a well, the “Your Wish Is Granted” Achievement is completed, netting a player 10 points. This challenge can literally be completed in seconds, yet it offers the same amount of Gamerscore points as the Tomb Raider Achievement “Equalizer”, where the player must kill 75 enemies with the rifle weapon (a challenge that takes much, MUCH longer to finish).


But what does it all mean?!

Now, I understand that the developers behind each individual game have different preferences and influences on how they design their Achievements, but the numerical values make what would otherwise be minor inconsistencies into one big, glaring problem. This overarching system of numerical valued challenge rewards varies so much from game to game that the significance of the system is muddled. You never know what you’re doing to get that score; there’s never any concrete meaning justifying how or how much you’re playing. Even when you can compare Achievements to friends and rivals online through their Gamercard, you still have to do so much to get a concrete explanation. Why go through so many extra steps when there’s that lone number to guide your judgment?

One potential solution is keeping certain Achievements separate, where the “hidden” skill-based are awarded in one number, while a time-based value is awarded in another. This could measure the player’s status in two distinct fields, allowing for better analysis of not only the gamer’s skill and playtime, but their specialty and social standing on Xbox Live. This idea, however, could never come into fruition, since having two separate numbers is actually rather confusing compared to one overarching one. The classification of the Achievements into skill or playtime is also extremely ambiguous, as it’s not easy to separate one class from the other. It’s too foggy to implement, regardless of the appeal.

Gamerscore Obsession

But the easiest way to fix this numerical nightmare is to axe it. Eliminate Gamerscore entirely. This confusing number that has mislabeled so much in the 360’s game library and community isn’t just unneeded, it’s problematic. While the Achievements can remain (the varied challenge design has been proven to appeal to gamers who are looking for value behind the single-player or even multiplayer modes), the numerical value is a burden, one where the justification of the play style and play frequency is never explicitly shown. This yearning for a bottom-line answer to describing a gamer has done more to hurt a gamer’s value than detail it.

If there was a statistical method to quantify a gamer’s habits and preferences in better detail, the entire Achievement experience could be a pioneering expedition to bringing gamers and rivals together in new ways. Sadly, that will never happen with the Gamerscore domineering the Gamercard so viciously. You simply can’t make any serious conclusions from that lone number, but so many people try to. Next time you’re on Xbox Live, find a friend or rival’s Gamercard and look at their Gamerscore. Regardless of what that number is, you will already start making assumptions about their experience as a gamer. This sense of profiling all stems from Gamerscore. We’ve heard from many that it’s meaningless, but it’s beyond that. It’s hurting the Xbox Live experience.

So, Microsoft? Get rid of the mess that is Gamerscore with your next Xbox console and let us play our way without having a numerical value judge us.

It began with a hand-me-down Sega Genesis from his cousin and since then, he's been fascinated with video games. He enjoys the blissful platforming of the 16-bit era and the rich adventures of the 64-bit era. Favorite games include Metroid Prime, Banjo-Tooie, and practically every 16-bit Sonic the Hedgehog title.

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