Achievements are everywhere now — Xbox Live, iOS Game Center, many individual games, and even in social communities with gaming elements like Stack Overflow.

A common user request of Stack Overflow is to show progress toward badges.

This has been denied by SO, as seen in this uservoice request, where Jeff Atwood made the following statement:

this is modelled on the xbox live achievements model, and that does not show progress, either.. by design

Jeff defers to the design of Xbox Live when denying the request to show progress. Certainly, SO is technically nothing like Xbox Live, so it can be inferred that this is a design decision, not a technical one.

I am working on a game where we have achievements and right now the intention is to show progress. So, I have two questions:

  1. If it's known that Xbox Live achievements "by design" do not show progress, is there a source for this?
  2. Why is this "by design"? In other words, in terms of game design, what reason is there to intentionally not show achievement progress?
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Alexander - From Jeff's response, I think we can infer that it is not - otherwise (you'd think) he would answer based on SO's own technical merits/limitations, and not based on the design of another system. \$\endgroup\$ – Nicole Apr 5 '11 at 16:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Josh - the question is "Here are two achievement systems that are pretty clearly committed to not showing progress. One of them is an achievement system pioneer. Why is this a good thing?" Game design is on-topic, right? I'd like to know if/why I should consider leaving progress invisible. \$\endgroup\$ – Nicole Apr 5 '11 at 17:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Renesis: I don't think XBL is committed to not showing progress. If they were, the TCR would forbid showing it (they don't) and forbid achievements of the do 5 / do 10 / do 50 variety (they don't). \$\endgroup\$ – user744 Apr 5 '11 at 19:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. the concept of badges is an appealing reward /reputation system. what is the design idea behind not showing progress? \$\endgroup\$ – Aditya P Apr 5 '11 at 19:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Cyclops - it's not about my game, it's about learning the reasons why an achievement system might hide progress, so that I can make an informed decision on my own. You know, teach a man to fish, blah blah... \$\endgroup\$ – Nicole Apr 6 '11 at 20:52

Progress should be shown whenever possible, with achievements and with other goals. Part of the great thing about explicit achievements is that it gives the player/user something to strive for, and a feeling of, yes, progress toward that goal. Each time the player makes a step toward her goal, she can get a micro-reward of a progress update, which encourages her to continue and reminds her of the goal. These updates should be spaced out enough that they don't get annoying, but the player/user should always be able to intentionally view her progress at any time.

The only times this progress technique should be avoided is if progress is unmeasurable or if the goal is deliberately obfuscated. If progress occurs due to a single atomic event ("First bounty you manually awarded on another person's question"), has become impossible ("Actively participated in the private beta" after release), or is kept secret to avoid spoiling a surprise ("Defeat the 3 friends who betrayed you"), then you shouldn't track progress for those achievements.

Tracking progress does raise some ethical issues. Achievements, especially ones that give frequent progress update micro-rewards, can tie pretty strongly into the base impulses that gambling also touches. If your achievement system is making people play just to get that next progress update, rather than enabling people to have fun with your actual game, then you might want to readjust what achievements you're awarding and how you track them.

As for why the Xbox system doesn't do this, I suspect it's a combination of minimizing UI clutter in case a game implements their progress milestones poorly, simplifying the achievement API, and a desire for simplicity of mechanics (either you get the gamer points or you don't).

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1; I love the way you can pin achievements on the screen in Team Fortress 2. Every time you work something for an achievement - ding! Instant gratification. \$\endgroup\$ – badp Apr 14 '11 at 13:15

I haven't seen an explicit statement about this for XBL achievements, but when using Xbox Live, it's plainly clear that the system itself doesn't display achievement progress.

Some games do show progress towards achievements as you mention yours does, but it's done from within the game, not as part of the overall achievement framework.

As for why, my guess would be that it's done to simplify said framework. Control over how progress is determined and communicated is the kind of decision that's best left to individual games. Coming up with a unified interface that'd work for every possible achievement scenario just sounds like more effort than it's worth. It's a lot easier to make the framework binary (either you have an achievement or you don't) and let the game itself take care of the details -- some might choose to show a percentage completed, some would go for a "You found X of Y widgets" message, some would pick a different approach entirely or not show any progress.

As for why StackOverflow feels that achievement progress isn't worth implementing, that really belongs on Meta, but I recall reading somewhere that the idea is that badges are not a goal and achieving them isn't meant to be something you do on purpose. Some badges aren't achievable at all without a time machine and some are consolation prizes, not accomplishments.

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    \$\begingroup\$ And yet we have people rep whoring and or racing for a high rep count.This is Common in All online communities/forums where such behavior is called Trolling A similar behavior to high scores in GAMES.But in a professional setting this is of much interest due to what it implies. what reason is there in displaying privileges progress ? is it not implicitly increasing the demand for rep count. As you so put badges are not a goal and achieving them isn't meant to be something you do on purpose. How is this any different with privileges.What kind of design logic differentiates them? \$\endgroup\$ – Aditya P Apr 6 '11 at 5:03

Is there a reference for this statement about Xbox Live achievements?

The Xbox system pretty clearly does not provide a mechanism to track or display the progress of achievements (although some games may do this themselves via their own internal technology). I don't know of any official public statement anywhere that indicates that Microsoft intended this to be the design of the system, but given that it is a thing that hasn't changed since the achievement system was introduced I think it's fairly safe to assume that it is a design decision.

Why is this "by design"? In other words, what is gained by not showing achievement progress?

"By design" doesn't necessarily mean that there is any specific gain in the choice. It simply means that a choice was made, intentionally. That said, I think the system is easier for developers to handle when you don't have to implement progress tracking. It also likely simplifies any TRCs around achievements (what is or is not acceptable in terms of "tracking progress" for an achievement that is unlocked by reaching a particular point in the game's plot, for example?)

EDIT: In the general case, I think it could be argued that exposing the progress towards an achievement could expose too much of the underlying "spreadsheet" of the game. Whether or not that matters depends on the style of the game, I guess -- if you really want to encourage suspension of disbelief, maybe it's better to hide more of these mechanics that to show them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ On the other hand, LittleBigPlanet 2 is probably the least spreadsheety game I've played in recent memory, and it tracks and shows progress on every conceivable axis. \$\endgroup\$ – user744 Apr 5 '11 at 19:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's true. It's also pretty easy to ignore the spreadsheety bits unless the game really shoves them in your face. I don't particularly believe in the argument I put forth in my edit, it's just the only thing I've ever really heard. \$\endgroup\$ – Josh Apr 5 '11 at 20:06

From a UX perspective:

To me I am not decided on the value of showing progress towards a badge, however badging is defined as different from earning points. It is also said it should reward quality rather then quantity, so not playing 10 games but winning 10 games, or trying out a new feature rather then doing something often. Which would indicate showing progress is irrelevant.

It's probably worth also browsing some pattern websites like http://developer.yahoo.com/ypatterns/social/people/reputation/achievements.html UI-Patterns or Patternry. You can also check the UX version of Stackexchange https://ux.stackexchange.com/questions/1231/should-i-use-user-generated-badges-to-reward-users

  • \$\begingroup\$ "It is also said it [badge] should reward quality rather then quantity" - where is it said so? \$\endgroup\$ – Markus von Broady Nov 7 '12 at 19:02

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