hy do we play games? I think it's primarily because we want to have fun and long-lasting experiences. That sense of long-lasting fun comes from learning the games' rules, competing within them, and eventually succeeding. Winning is just one way to succeed when you play a game. Any time we experience moments of discovery or accomplishment, that's success—and those moments stick with us and give us stories to tell long after the gaming session ends.
I'm going to talk today about a Beta program that we've launched for achievements in Planeswalker Points. Now, in addition to recognition of your participation and wins, you'll be able to receive acknowledgement of the "cool things" you do while playing. You can then share those fun experiences with the world as part of your Planeswalker Points Scorecard. You can see your Magic event history on the Planeswalker Points website—where you played and what you won—and that is also the best place to track all of the fun things you did at those events.
Gamers Gonna Game
Long before I started working at Wizards, I was a gamer. Working at Wizards hasn't exactly diminished that. What I have found, reflecting on the games I have liked and the ones I haven't, is that it's pretty bad when it feels like the game is beating you. You enter into a kind of agreement with a game—I will play by your rules, but in return, I'll have fun doing it. When that implicit contract is broken, it really sucks. This can happen in a number of ways, but it usually happens because you feel the game is preventing you from reaching the agreed-upon goal. Seriously, game—why you gotta be like that!?
Battletoads is an old classic on the original Nintendo, renowned for its insane difficulty. I never beat it, and I didn't really have fun with it beyond the fun of ranting at how unfair it was. (To be fair, ranting about unfairness can be fun, but it gets draining after a while.) Jetpack Joyride, a one-button arcade/survival game on iOS, is a great example of what I consider a "fixed" Battletoads—it's still very difficult (in fact, you can't win) but the game is structured such that there are a lot of small victories—the game becomes about those small victories instead of about raw winning.
Starcraft 2 is a great game of tactical combat, and there's a lot of fun to be had in just finding synergies among units and setting objectives for yourself and then beating them. However, if you are unwilling to shift to a Spike mindset, PvP multiplayer is going to be very frustrating. I know I had a lot of trouble having fun in multiplayer because of this; I like to go Johnny with my games, and that's not really what ranked play is about. Luckily, Starcraft 2 has a lot of built-in lower-level challenges you can tackle, including a really great single-player campaign and rewards for doing cool things.
I found that most digital games can maintain their challenge level and sidestep unfairness by giving you sub-goals. Maybe that main quest line is really hard... but you can spend time exploring and mastering other parts of the game, and be rewarded for them. This extends in a straightforward way to multiplayer, PvP games—fighting for the top rank in structured multiplayer play is a "high difficulty" main quest line. There's plenty of room to be awesome below being the very best.
If You Believe, You Can Achieve
Games these days reward this "awesome" factor with achievements, and there are a lot of activities achievements can track and reward –
Progress through the arc of a single-player game—Completed the game on nightmare mode!
Exploration of the bounds of activity in a game, like special game modes or alternative play patterns—Solved the hardest puzzle in puzzle mode!
Discovery of hidden aspects of a game, in a surprise-and-delight kind of way—Found the hidden world!
Mastery, especially in a multiplayer/metagame setting—Ten-win streak! Beat the puzzle in ten seconds!
...and of course, many more depending on the type of game you're playing.
The important thing to note is that only a handful of these kinds of activities are connected to winning the game itself. Winning already has a bunch of sweet rewards associated with it—both real (tournament awards and fame) and psychological (sense of accomplishment, vindication of ambition). But winning doesn't happen every time you play a game, and losing can color your memory of a fun game and make it seem less fun than it actually was. That's where achievements step in.
First, There Was Doing Stuff
Planeswalker Points is a great record of your activity from event to event. When you play, you earn points. As you earn points, you can reach certain thresholds that grant you Grand Prix byes, invites to World Magic Cup qualifiers, and more if you are eligible. Now you can also track your achievements as you play through the Achievements and Badges Beta.
Magic Prereleases use a form of proto-achievement. If you have attended a recent Prerelease, you might have seen personal achievement cards that have a few in-game scenarios you can collect and record as you play with the new set. This is half of the secret sauce—identification of "cool things" and a way to track them. It is lots of fun to let achievements guide you into cool moments—I know I have had a lot of fun high-fiving people at our employee Prereleases and trying to attack with a 20/20 exalted creature.
We blew this out a bit with Avacyn Restored's Prerelease and the Helvault. Players contributed to the activity of unlocking the Helvault by turning in filled-out achievement cards. This gave a meaningful next step once you had achieved "cool things"—it was connected to the rest of the experience, and gave a bit of closure to what is essentially a self-regulated activity.
Even this more sophisticated in-store achievements system was missing something: a way to shout from the rooftops "I DID IT." Planeswalker Points now has that built in with Facebook and Twitter sharing through the Achievements and Badges Beta.
Then There Was Sharing Stuff
When you play in your local store in events, you can get awards and qualifications to even bigger, more impressive events. Now you have a Scorecard you can share with your friends to show them the cool things you are doing.
This is the second ingredient for the secret sauce: a way to share your accomplishments. Individual events from your Planeswalker Points event history don't tell the whole story of what you've done. That's because when you get points or level up, it's not clear to your friends why you're awesome. When you win an event, you can share that, and that's sweet—but as we discussed, winning is kind of its own reward. As a game designer, I'm more concerned with players having fun when they aren't winning because winning is good in its own right. Planeswalker Points now gives us a way to show that you are awesome for doing cool things in addition to collecting points and leveling up.
Systems Are Go
So here is the full picture—we want a system that rewards players for doing cool things, not just winning, and we want them to be able to share the story of those accomplishments with their friends. Here's how we built that system:
- When you play in events, we pay attention to a lot of things other than winning—cool formats, "sub-goal" accomplishments like Top 8s, long-term participation, and much more.
- You receive achievements on the PWP site for these things.
- You can then take the achievements you like the most and arrange them on your personal Scorecard, and let everyone know how awesome you are.
We hope this system will both allow players of all levels to enjoy playing the game (as opposed to just focus on winning at the expense of game play), and we hope that it will encourage existing players to stretch a little into exploring the bounds of Magic and maybe find more fun along the way.
Unlike PWP as a whole, achievements won't be retroactive. That means that you won't get achievements for your activity in the past, but you can start earning achievements right away.
How It Works
When you visit the website and log in, you'll see there's a new Achievements Beta tab available. In addition, your home page has been augmented with a new achievements tracker.
When you earn new achievements, the badge you've earned will show up both on your home page and in the Achievements Beta tab. You'll also be able to adjust your Planeswalker Points Scorecard to personalize what achievements are displayed when you share it or another user visits your page. You can click on any badge for any achievement to see a full art treatment along with a description of how to earn it.
(One more aside before I walk through some of our initial launch achievements—I should note that one of the sweetest things about our game is the amazing art and graphical composition of our cards. Although it's not really part of my game-design sphere, I am very proud of our website designers—they have taken that amazing resource of Magic art and applied it to our achievements system on Planeswalker Points. No boring black-and-white icons here—we've got badass Angels and Dragons in full glorious color. Rawr!)
Our Beta achievements break down into three categories, organized by how they work.
Series Achievements: As Easy as Level 1-2-3
The first category of achievements we are releasing are series achievements. A series achievement is three levels of accomplishment, all centered around one kind of activity. They basically progress in easy-medium-hard, like you would expect. As you move through the levels of these achievements, your badge for it "levels up" and shows your highest level of success in this activity to date.
In addition to series achievements that show your progression through release events and FNMs, we have some that point toward exploration activities, because we think there's some fun to be had in those areas too:
Format Novice/Format Adept/Format Master
rewards mastery of our sanctioned formats. Maybe you've sampled other formats, but you're mostly a Standard player. When that desire to try out new ways to play Magic hits you, you can begin your quest toward mastering all of the variety Magic has to offer.
Store Squire/Store Knight/Store Hero
encourages you to attend your local game store on more nights of the week. Maybe you already go every Friday night for FNM, but did you know there is also a casual night that runs on [insert weeknight here]? And who could forget grab-bag drafts on [insert weekend day here]? It's (probably) true!
Cumulative Achievements: If At First You Succeed, Achieve, Achieve Again
Achievements are, at their heart, a record of the cool things you have done. The second category of achievements is cumulative achievements—you can earn more than one if you do the activity multiple times. We want you to be proud of your Magic accomplishments, and that includes being awesome in the same way over the course of many events. It takes a lot to compete in a Pro Tour, for example, and that accomplishment only gets more impressive as you do it again and again.
PTQ Top 8
is like a digital pin you collect and share as you journey on the road to the Pro Tour.
is the Magic metagame equivalent to "killing spree!" We want you to feel even more awesome when you go above and beyond a winning record into the realm of "basically unbeatable."
One-Shot Achievements: You Only Achieve Once
We don't want to lay out everything for all time in front of you from the start. Not only is that kind of brain-melting, but it also cuts out the fun of discovery: is there something you can do that very few other people have done? That's where our third category comes in—one-shot achievements can only be earned once, and remain hidden until you have done so. (You might learn about them from friends/celebrities who have earned them, or you might be surprised and delighted to earn one for a job well done!)
rewards newer players by marking their acclimation to Organized Play after their 100th sanctioned match.
is kind of a rollup achievement that marks your success in a number of areas. I'll keep the spoilers to a minimum by letting you discover on your own how to achieve it!
Of course, this Beta launch of Planeswalker Points achievements is just the beginning. We have a bunch of plans in the works, including:
- Really amazing, really all-encompassing update for Return to Ravnica.
- New achievements with every new release, with some tied to the theme of that release, and some more generically cool things.
- Eventual merging of "Prerelease achievements" and "Planeswalker Points achievements" into some sort of mega-super-hybrid achievement system (this one really excites me because it will allow us to reward in-game cool moments, again matching reward to fun).
- If you haven't already signed up for Planeswalker Points, it's easy to do. Just attend a store event (might I suggest FNM or Magic Celebration?) and ask for a DCI membership card. Then go to the Planeswalker Points website and set up your account. For more information about Planeswalker Points and Achievements see the terms and conditions located at www.wizards.com/magic/planeswalkerpoints/Information#Terms.
Thanks for reading! I'm looking forward to seeing the sweet achievements you all collect. Keep the conversation going on twitter at #pwpts!