Gears of War achievements designed to encourage 'ideal behavior,' helped catch console hackers

The design of achievements included in Gears of War games served multiple purposes, former series executive producer Rod Fergusson said at GDC, encouraging gameplay skill, keeping players engaged in multiplayer and even helping to identify hackers and cheaters.

Fergusson, who designed achievements for Gears of War through Gears of War 3, described himself as "somewhat of an achievement whore" during a GDC panel about the design of video game achievements. He likened the virtual rewards as like "cheese in the maze" that can help players discover new and better ways to play games.

Achievements can encourage "ideal behavior," Fergusson said. In the case of Gears of War titles, developer Epic Games used them to train players to hone their "active reload" skills, rewarding them for pulling off 30 of the actions in a row.

Achievements also helped players stick with the game's competitive multiplayer modes. Fergusson said that many players would hop into a match, get "shotgunned in the face" again and again, and ultimately quit. An achievement that rewarded players for scoring 10 kills helped players stay engaged after they saw a taste of success. Fergusson said that, through achievements, all players should experience some success, adding that Microsoft suggested players should unlock about 70 percent of a game's achievements on a single play-through of a game.

Addressing a room of developers, Fergusson also said achievements can help spur sales of add-on content. He said he included one Gears of War 3 achievement — "Kill Locust (Like A Boss)," which required players to defeat a boss wave as five Onyx Guards — in part to get players to get their friends to download the Horde Command Pack add-on.

"I was actively trying to promote people to buy the DLC."

Fergusson said that developers who don't design their achievements well are missing out on a good source of "free data gathering." About 48 percent of the games' players finish the single-player campaign, he said, with other data showing how many players exclusively play single-player, never touching the games' multiplayer modes (and vice versa).

Achievements also helped Epic identify hackers and console modders more easily, Fergusson said, leading to bans. One Gears of War 3 achievement tied to 25 social events held throughout the year might take months to unlock. Some players unlocked it within two days of the game's release.

"That was one of our leading indicators of who to ban," Fergusson said, calling the achievement-hunting hackers "lazy."

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