So before I get into my thoughts on achievements driving up game quality, I want to make a few definitions. Not that long ago, there were definitions given to different types of gamers. Gamers were basically split into two groups. You were either a hardcore gamer, or you were casual.
These are terms that I've used in the past, but never been completely comfortable with to be honest. In the past I would have considered myself to be a hardcore gamer. There was a time when an MMORPG on the PC could take up five to six hours of every day during the week, and then eight to ten hours on a Saturday and Sunday.
At the time I thought it was great and thoroughly enjoyed playing the games that I was. The flipside of this are the people who would maybe pick up a new game every couple of months and play that for a bit. These were the casual gamers.
I think that the time has come now for these terms to be changed, and whilst I'm not advocating that these become the "new terms", I'm going to use three new definitions of gamers in this article. The people who still spend all of their free time playing games I will refer to as Frequent Gamers.
At the other end of the scale, there are still the people who will only pick up a game every now and then, and I'm going to call these Occasional Gamers. However, I think there is a third category of the gamers right in the middle. This is the category that I now find myself in. These are the Regular Gamers.
Regular Gamers still have a passion for games, but they are older than they used to be, and now have other commitments that take up their time (such as a family as in my case). They still play games as and when they can but they don't play them "all day, every day".
It's these regular gamers that I think now make up the majority of the gaming community. Gaming has become a far more acceptable pastime in recent years, and you're no longer branded as a geek or a nerd just because you play games.
Sony have gone a long way to making gaming more acceptable with the success of the Playstation 2, and you only need to look at the amount of people who now have handheld consoles or play games on their phones to see that gaming is everywhere.
The "Gaming Generation" is now no longer rife with just teenagers with nothing better to do. This generation now goes to work, have active social lives, have (like me) families, and have some money to spend on their passion for games. And this is where things have changed.
Let me give you an example. As I've said I have made the step from hardcore to regular gamer. I no longer have the time to play lots, but I do have the money to be able to afford games. However with far less time, I won't now just rush out and buy every game that is released. A game needs to appeal to me. And this is where my concept of Achievement Points on the Xbox 360 actually making games better comes from.
When it came out, I bought Lego Star Wars II for the 360. I loved it almost immediately. I played it quite a bit to begin with (and there was stiff competition at the time from Dead Rising and Test Drive Unlimited). I've always been a fan of Star Wars, and can remember many a happy day as a child playing with Lego.
I played through the story mode in the game and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, where the game really comes into its own for me is the free play mode. For those not familiar with it, the story mode follows the story of Episodes four, five and six of the Star Wars story, and you play through each episode with the relevant characters for that chapter in the story.
However, when you get to the free play mode, you can choose any of the characters that you have already unlocked, bringing a new dimension to the game. Areas that were previously out of reach because you needed the force to unlock a particular door are now available for exploration. It's a stroke of genius.
It's while I was playing through the free play mode that I decided I would take a look at the achievement list to see what I might be able to do with the game to earn some Gamerscore points. I noticed a few things that I thought might be fun and so I merrily went off in search of various things.
A few of the achievements relate to how much of the game you have completed (e.g. number of collectible items contributes to this). It was the "Completed 80% of the game" achievement that kept me playing this game (and also the fact that I was really enjoying it). I know that without this, I would only have put in about half of the 25 hours that I actually spent on it. However, those extra 12 hours (which equate to between two and three weeks of time for me) are hours which I now haven't spent on another game. And this is my point.
Without the drive and desire to get this Achievement I would have gone out and bought another game. But I didn't. I stuck with Lego Star Wars II and got more out of the game than I would have done in the past. If this continues with the other games that I currently own (and I can already sense it starting) then I'll be buying less games per year and "replaying" the ones that I own a lot more.
This means less of my money will go to the game developers and the publishers. Now I'm only one person (I'm not predicting that I will spell doom for game studios single-handedly) however I'm sure I'm not alone in this. I can imagine that a whole generation of previously hardcore gamers now does the same thing.
With less money going into the industry, only the studios producing the best games will survive, and only the best games will sell in large quantities. As this starts to ripple through the industry the quality of games will start to rise to fight for the reduced money in the market.
Achievements are also starting to show themselves as the differentiator when it comes to multi-platform games. On many a podcast (The Hotspot being one), it is mentioned that, given the choice of multiple platforms on which to play games, the Xbox 360 will be chosen as the Achievements give that extra something to the game and extend the longevity of it. I completely agree, and with extra longevity for these titles comes extra value for money, but only for 360 owners.
The choice of what to buy has never been so great. I've never known so many great games available at one time, and long may it continue. Now all I have to do is find the time to play them all!