Why Achievements are like playing the pokies ( or slots)

Lots of little victories take on the pain
It takes so long to earn
You can double up or you can burn, you can burn

– Whitlams “Blow up the Pokies”

One of the things we looked at when I was doing Psychology at Uni  ( Never finished..    full time work to pay rent called and the idea of doing 2 years unpaid placement hurt my pocket) was the importance of positive reinforcement that gamblers got while playing the Poker machines/pokies/slots. 

You win 5 cents – it goes ding and text along the lines of  “Your fabulous”  appear on your screen.  ” Great work!”  ” Awesome”  You now feel really good about winning 5 cents.  You want to win another 5 cents.  The colours and sounds  all played their part in reinforcing that good feeling  you had about your small win. Makes you want more.

Like Pokies when you get an achievement  your screen Dings! an achievement plate appears – and unless you have turned off the settings it gets announced to those close enough to you to see it  and then announced  in guild chat. In addition, like the pokies, the sounds,  your visualisations and messages are positively reinforcing your sense of accomplishment, announcing the smallest victory and treating as it were a large one.  Appealing to your ego.

You have done something special.  You have spent how many hours wandering around the pixelated plains of  Azeroth exploring every nook and cranny  – and you get an achievement.


The guild reads your accomplishments and ” Well done, grats,  wow,  ect ect..  ” fill the channel” Furthermore reinforcing that you have done something great!

We have been brainwashed into thinking that the tinyist  in game achievements are special and we are reinforcing this belief and  each others addictions  by the nature in which we are approaching the importance of achievements by the positive reinforcement messages we get, from Blizzard and from our own guildys.

Dinging 80 is special.  Killing 100 players in a courtyard  carrying seaforium charges is not. ( Its not like I even knew that they were carrying them.. )

I agree with the 1st to 80 achievements, or even clearing a instance, and even the undying achievements are pretty cool.  Others are fun to do  – hugging squirrels, and killing rodents, but really they are just time wasters, things to distract , and keep us occupied. 

Furthermore particular achievements or series of achievements have titles.  We can display to the world our title.   Even I have a Jenkins title.  “Wow..  did you see such and such a guild has the Undying title.. ”  ( I want that one )

However,  do we need an achievement for each quarter of naxx, on normal and heroic? – Do we need an achievement for 1 Coin of Ancestry, for 5 coins,  for 10, for 25?

Weekends are now spent with achievement after achievement  being announced to the guild.  We have people writing congratulatory macros that randomise the response.

Each achievement done is one more step closer to having a bigger epeen.  You can now rank your guildys in the Armory by achievement points.  Who has the most time to waste?

Are achievements distractions to keep us from wanting new content?   They have me doing things I’ve already done before, and have to redo because the achievement didn’t register.  ( Blizzard conspiracy to get us back into old dungeons) – I am spending more time on and gold on  repair bills because people have to kill a boss a particular way for a 10 point achievement.

How do we stop this madness?

Next time your guildy gets a unimportant achievement  because they caught 25 fish ( 25! wow )  Ignore them.  Do not congratulate them. Do not encourage them to get the 50 fish one, or the 1oo fish one.. or the 250 fish one.. ect ect ect.

Save your congrats for the ones that do require effort, or the whole system becomes meaningless.

Because I play wow to play wow, not to have my time wasted, measured in achievement points.



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8 Responses to “Why Achievements are like playing the pokies ( or slots)”

  1. 1 Klepsacovic February 2, 2009 at 6:05 am

    Yay, flashing lights!

    Really I think the achievements are just two things: extending content (you said that) and sense of virtual achievement (I wonder how many people get through the day on their WoW egos, honestly, mine helps).

    A gambling-like system is the old one: random loot. Each kill is another pull of the lever. The person who outrolled you, he’s the jerk that ‘stole’ your luck. The other class that got a tier token, that’s the person next to you, proving that you can win, if you just keep pulling that lever.

    I think we should be very grateful that achievements are, mostly, not random. That makes them something that can be obsessed over, but at least achievable, so they can be done and over with. As much as it’s demonstrated that people tend to be happier with the process of accomplishing something, we also get frustrated, and then we get it done and suddenly have nothing. We’re like Maiev killing Illidan and realizing we have nothing left.

  2. 2 thcgirl77 February 2, 2009 at 10:43 am

    the achievement system really got me. when it was introduced i said to myself “crap, my way in hell i`ll do old world quests r raise fishing or care if i killed stuff in AQ20/40 with my druid”. well…now i`m loremaster with 3700+ quests done and stupid fishing at 260 already 🙂 it`s an addictive system but come to think of it, i don`t have anything better to do than do achievements. it`s either that or my hobby, flying around and farming for herbs and since i have a guild bank full of them..why not.
    yesterday in a PUG we went to 3 instances and did 4 achievements, it was a pleasant surprise because i never do pugs but i was in an experimental mood.
    achievements give you some hints on what to do when you have nothing to do, as i like to call it.
    regarding the spam of “grats” at every meaningless achievement, we had that at first, when they were implemented. “guidie falls down 65 yards without dying” all of us “yee grats” 🙂 then we realised it`s silly to spam grats on this and we keep the grats for hard dungeon achievements, chef/salty/loremaster title and so on.
    good article, i enjoyed reading it.

  3. 3 Esdras February 2, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Thats my problem with achievments, where i have now embraced them i think there are far too many pointless ones.

    Who cares if i fall 65 yards without dying?

  4. 4 Tessy February 2, 2009 at 1:22 pm


    It’s a cunning plot from Blizzard to spread the players all over their pixel-world to the extent that “normal” playing suffers. A night without a 10-15 minute wait or more just to get into an instance is a rarity nowadays, because all instance servers are occupied by single players going for one achievement or another.

    Also its a sneaky way to lure us in and keep us occupied, 25 fish ain’t that bad, but imagine how distantly unreachable it would had seemed had that first fishing achievement been for 1000 fish.

    Me, I love the achievements but I prefer to go for the more odd ones, like the book-reading ones and the old 40-man raid boss kills 🙂

  5. 5 Alii February 2, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    I rather disagree. If it’s annoying, don’t gratz it, but otherwise… whyever not?

    I think achievements are fun, albeit pointless, and another way to play the game. After all, some players are _naturally_ explorers and collectors and trivium gatherers… why not put in a system of accomplishments? There’s already systems for people who like to level, for pvpers, for cooperative players, for profession junkies, etc.

    What’s nice about the achievements is that they are in small, feasible chunks – addictive chunks? Sure~ – but provide another incentive side-quest-like structure for casual players and completionists.

    I don’t consider it time wasted unless I consider all my WoW time wasted. I would have done stuff like this anyways regardless of whether or not achievements were there. Like soloing a dungeon at the lowest level I can or gathering an outfit so I can look like an Org grunt.


  6. 6 Telmagus February 2, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Arg, achievements drive me nuts. Moreso than the achievements themselves are the congrats that get thrown out, as you mention, for every little thing. Is there really an option to block your achievements from being broadcast to your guild and people around you? The only option I found was to omit the messages from my chat panel (under the chat panel settings), but that only gets rid of those from people around you, I still get the ones from guild.

  7. 7 pugnaciouspriest February 2, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    @everyone.. there seems to be a consensus that achievements are something to give you something to do, and that no one is picking to do them in lieu of doing something else.. and mainly because there is not much more to do.

  8. 8 GirlyGirl February 5, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    I’m so glad to read this blog post. It makes me realize I’m not alone in my skepticism about achievements.

    I can’t help but ask, “Really?” when my guildmates congratulate me for the minor achievements. Really? Do you really think I deserve congratulations for catching a 500th fish? I’m doing it to get food buffs for our next raid…and I’m even watching TV with my husband while doing so. No congrats needed…please don’t give them.

    Save the congrats for the achievements that take skill and effort. Otherwise, the sentiment loses its value.

    As for why Blizzard put so many achievements in, I agree that it’s probably to keep people occupied while they’re waiting for new content. And those world event achievements that take a whole year to accomplish succeed in keeping people coming back.

    I have one guildmate who is spending all his time trying to finish the low level dungeon achievements. But then he turns around and complains about not having good gear to be effective in heroics or raids. For him, achievements are a distraction.

    I like the idea of achievements, but I think the minor ones make the whole system lose its umph

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