What makes for a great Trophy list in games?

On December 8, 2005, I discovered an entirely new way to experience video games. It was my birthday, and I had just unwrapped my first Xbox 360 console (I say first because I got hit hard by the red-ring plague throughout my adolescence). I booted up my second gift, Kameo: Elements of Power, and was immediately placed in the middle of a fantastic world filled with guardian spirits that I could control.

Later in the game, after stripping the player of all their power, Kameo sets the player on a path to retrieving your guardian spirits back. After a level or so, a pretty normal boss fight occurs that rewards you with your first spirit, a plant-like creature with boxing-glove shaped hands and a playfully evil look in his eye.

Suddenly, I heard a noise that will forever be engrained in my brain. I looked towards the bottom of my screen and at the flashing notification on my screen. It read:

“Achievement Unlocked – Found Pummel Weed                20G”

I opened the guide button just as it recommended, and to my surprise I found an entirely new set of challenges for every game I was to play game living inside my new console’s interface. I had 20 Gamerscore out of 1000 for Kameo, and I immediately browsed the rest of the list to get a feel for how to play the rest of the game while maximizing Gamerscore along the way.

My first 1000 Gamerscore game came in the form of another Rare title—Viva Piñata. I was in so in love with everything the game represented, so 1000G was almost a no-brainer. At the time, I wanted to show my love for the game through my Gamerscore.

Okay, but this blog isn’t called “What makes a good Achievement list?”, so what gives?

Well, one day, after successfully completing Halo 3’s Legendary campaign and finally (!) obtaining 1000 Gamerscore to receive my shiny Hayabusa Katana armor in Multiplayer, I realized that my 1000 Gamerscore came from more than just Halo’s base game. I had received some multiplayer achievements from a previously released DLC and the total added up to over 1000. But how was I supposed to represent that I did, in fact, 100% the base game’s original achievement list without them all getting blended together?

Enter the Platinum trophy.

Exhibit A: Resogun has a bunch of DLC (free and paid) each with its own set of trophies contributing to the overall percentage. I don’t mind anymore, because look, I unlocked the Platinum for the base game!

Exhibit A: Resogun has a bunch of DLC (free and paid) each with its own set of trophies contributing to the overall percentage. I don’t mind anymore, because look, I unlocked the Platinum for the base game!

Though they first debuted in 2009 with the first Uncharted, I didn’t unlock my first Platinum until 2013. A Black Friday sale that included 4 games was too good to pass up, so it was finally time to replace my launch PlayStation 3 that couldn’t render red or blue colors anymore. I unlocked my first Platinum trophy (for Telltale’s The Walking Dead) on July 24, 2013. I’ve been obsessing over trophy lists since then. I shiny Platinum trophy account would forever be displayed, regardless of if I played the DLC that added more trophies or not.

Based on my observations, 3 types of trophy hunters exist:

1)      The non-trophy hunter

2)      The “I guess I’ll go for that trophy since I love this game” hunter

3)      The “How can I maximize my trophy count in one play through” hunter

Of course, I fall in the latter category, but let’s break down the others in a bit more detail.

The first category could give two sh**s about trophies. They play games purely for the experience, and some even turn off the trophy notifications (those savages) because they believe the “Ding” noise ruins the immersion. These players are not the ones you’re designing your trophy list for. At best, they’ll pop some unmissable story-related trophies, but those are just participation trophies anyways.

The second category of hunter is platinum-curious. If a list entices them enough, they’ll be open to attaining more trophies. Also, if the game is truly special to this category of hunter, then they’ll be enticed to further explore the game in its entirety. This is where a list filled with things that encourage exploration, tests involving fun or intricate mechanics, and collectibles that expand on the world’s lore can convert this category to the dark side of trophy hunting…

The third category consists of people like me that check trophy lists as soon as they release on psnprofiles.com (usually a couple of weeks before release). We like to maximize a single play through for the most trophies, usually playing on the hardest difficulty available to unlock stacked difficulty trophies, and explore every nook and cranny of a level to find as many collectibles as possible to save time on the final leg of the Platinum hunt.

…seriously, I’ve done this for every game I’ve played on PlayStation 4.

It’s not as bad as it sounds though, I personally believe that we just enjoy the metagame within the PlayStation ecosystem that helps us prove to ourselves (and others) that we know a certain game like the back of our hands.

Either way, good trophy lists should be designed to entice both the second and third categories of trophy hunters. A strong list like the recent God of War essentially asks the player to see everything the game has to offer. This is the beginning of a strong list, and what follows are a few ideas on what you should (and shouldn’t) do when designing your trophy list. Good luck and happy hunting!

The Good:

Trophies that entice movement through the world

Open world games usually throw in a “See all locations” related trophy for a reason. If you consider your world a character, motivate the player to keep exploring!

Trophies that require fully upgrading a character/vehicle/etc.

If your game’s design is going for the experience of feeling powerful, then encourage your players to unlock the fullest potential of their character and their companion!

Trophies that show off your incredible attention to detail

If Breath of the Wild included a “trophy” for getting shocked by lightning while a metal object is equipped, that would be a perfect example.

Trophies that require finding an Easter egg to unlock

They tell your players, “We’re human too!”

The Bad:

Trophies that are unlocked through lots of repetitive fetch quests (I’m looking at you Insomniac)

You don’t want your player to get bored of your world, or see the same crimes over, and over, and over again. (I’m looking at you Insomniac. Please add more crime variations for Spider-Man 2, please.)

Trophies that force us platinum hunters to play out the story a certain way

The difference is clear between games like The Walking Dead and The Witcher 3. The former simply asks the player to complete the story however they see fit. A trophy pops for every chapter completed. The latter, on the other hand, asks players to save all companions, requiring perfect dialogue choices, saving characters that you may not necessarily want to save, etc. In short, try not to funnel your players into making the choices you want them to make…

The Ugly:

Multiplayer trophies that exist on a dead server…

You may say now that your game will never get shut down, but for the sake of us Type 3 Trophy hunters down the road, please include a kill switch or auto pop for trophies like this. Thanks!

I’m sure I missed some, but these are just the ones that immediately popped in my head. Maybe I’ll keep updating this post as I unlock more types of trophies in the future.

Thanks for reading!