It's hard to understate the impact of Xbox Live Achievements. Launched in 2005, the system is effectively a giant, platform-spanning meta-game that binds together your endeavours into one, easily understood measure of prowess: the venerated Gamerscore.
The idea has proven staggeringly long-lived and influential, but eight years down the line there's a clear need for change - much as with Xbox One's reputation system, which has become a creature of sinister intelligence. Most Xbox games are now sinuously evolving online ecosystems, updated with new content and tweaks for as long as their players express an interest, making the concept of a finite list of Gamerscore-earning objectives a little stingy. We spoke to Chad Gibson, Xbox Live's principle group program manager, about how Microsoft has "super-charged" Achievements on Xbox One.
First, the broad strokes: developers can now add Achievements to games at weekly, monthly or quarterly intervals without releasing them via DLC add-ons, because the associated data is kept in the cloud rather than built inflexibly into the game itself. "We've found a pattern where a user will buy a game, they'll play the game, they'll max out the Achievements within three to four weeks, and they're still playing the game six months later," Gibson observed. "We really wanted to make all our Achievement systems fully embrace cloud power. Which is why in this generation it's all cloud Achievements."
"So, the general guidance we give to Achievements on how they're utilised - conceptually, that's the same, but the big decoupling we did is that on Xbox 360, your Achievement is actually a bunch of client code you write in your game, and that's still largely true on Xbox One, but the client code is instrumentation," he explains. "So you instrument your game with all these events and then you go to a web tool and say, 'oh OK, I want a new Achievement when this event crosses this threshold'. You can add an achievement without ever updating your game client."
This corresponds to a broader aim with Xbox One, which is to create a platform that grows over time in response to how people use it, calling on immense Xbox Live server resources to enhance games and services in all sorts of ways. Microsoft won't require developers to add Achievements post-release, but it sees a steady diet of additional Gamerscore as a crucial facet of the next generation Live experience - particularly, we imagine, for big-bottomed experiences like Elder Scrolls and Fallout titles.
"We want game developers to be able to offer Achievements and interesting opportunities throughout the life-cycle of a game," Gibson continued. "So, you know, 14 months after the game's shipped, you're still offering interesting Achievement opportunities, because users are still playing the game and the game is still evolving and growing."
There's no formal cap, either - players might ultimately earn "a couple of thousand Gamerscore" and up from a well-supported title. Completionists may find this troubling - what's to stop EA flooding a game with points to boost popularity ahead of a DLC release, cheating the dedicated of that coveted 100% Achievement rating? Answer: Microsoft will take action if it feels developers and publishers are abusing the system.
"We're mindful of it," Gibson commented, when we asked whether Gamerscore obsessives should worry. "We're mindful of it, and the corollary is that with a lot of games today, three updates later it's a nice evolution of that game - it's a different game that's been modified and adjusted, based on what people are enjoying and having fun with. And we think that Achievements should match that."