Need for Speed’s Autolog: LeaderBoards & Achievements from the Future

I’ve tired of achieve­ments. For me, the nov­el­ty has worn off, and there’s sim­ply too many of them, dis­trib­uted on so many plat­forms: Xbox, PS3, Steam, Battle.net, etc. Exter­nal opt-in sys­tems like Rap­tr can’t rem­e­dy such frag­men­ta­tion. As it stands, I don’t doubt the pow­er of achieve­ments to be a psy­cho­log­i­cal moti­va­tor. They will remain an effec­tive reward mech­a­nism with­in the bound­aries of a game. I’ll con­tin­ue to need to push the lever and get the pel­let.

The prob­lem? Today’s achieve­ment sys­tems offer only the min­i­mum sup­port for the social side of gam­ing. It’s too much time and trou­ble to scan my friends list for what achieve­ments they’ve earned. That’s espe­cial­ly true on the PS3 where the sync­ing of tro­phies is a dis­as­ter. Even on Live, the minor invest­ment of effort to com­pare achieve­ments stands as suf­fi­cient dis­in­cen­tive. Both MMOs and shoot­ers do a bet­ter job with obvi­ous RPG-like lev­el­ing sys­tems, but the prac­ti­cal effect of a friend’s lev­el-up doesn’t shape, alter, or make more mean­ing­ful any of my game­play. I just keep invest­ing the hours to catch up. Maybe jeal­ousy could work to moti­vate me to acquire a giv­en weapon or piece of equip­ment…

Today I believe there’s a new tem­plate to fol­low in Need for Speed: Hot Pur­suit and its Autolog fea­ture. (Full dis­clo­sure: Need for Speed is an EA prod­uct.) In prac­ti­cal terms, NFS keeps a leader­board for each race across your friends list. Sim­ple, right? It’s a good idea. This means that if I want to com­pete with my friends, I don’t attempt it on a game-wide lev­el. I com­pete in the are­na of a sin­gle piece of con­tent, a sin­gle race. Man­age­able bits of con­tent, with near­ly imme­di­ate results. That makes com­pe­ti­tion approach­able and the achiev­able.

An even bet­ter part of the idea? NFS leader­boards are push-based. I nev­er had to ask for them, and I get them served up in real-time. Dur­ing a race, I’m informed not only of my com­pet­i­tive per­for­mance against the obvi­ous AI com­pe­ti­tion, but I’m told in clear terms how my results com­pare among my friends. This hap­pens before, dur­ing, and after each race. Where I check the time and dis­tance for my race, a few words and num­bers reveal that Pris­makaos has a race time that I have yet to beat.

Autolog has proven to be a very strong moti­va­tor. Each night of rac­ing I find myself spend­ing as much time re-rac­ing old con­tent (attempt­ing to best a  friend’s time) as I do explor­ing races that I’ve yet to attempt. And then comes the Break­ing Alert pop­up that informs me that while I have been play­ing, a friend has just beat­en my best time on “Race for the Hills.” Do I want to race it again and re-take the lead? Do I!

The bad news? This mechan­ic can engen­der frus­tra­tion and poor play expe­ri­ence. Specif­i­cal­ly for this sort of time-based com­pe­ti­tion, frus­tra­tion can rise quick­ly. Now, a cer­tain lev­el of frus­tra­tion is fine: it indi­cates that I’m invest­ed, chal­lenged, and strug­gling to get bet­ter. The bad side is that half the time I begin a race to cap­ture best time, I’m restart­ing with­in a minute or two as a result of a bad per­for­mance or a crash. Those fail­ures are often my own damn fault (and some­times the fault of AI per­for­mance get­ting me in trou­ble). Yet in the quest for near-per­fec­tion, fre­quent quit­ting and restart­ing seems a prob­lem.

P.S.: Talk­ing about this with some friends, and we opined that the best and fastest of indus­try adopters, Bliz­zard, is like­ly to adopt an Autolog-like fea­ture into World of Warcraft’s seg­mentable and repeat­able con­tent: dai­ly quests, dun­geons, raids, are­nas, and bat­tle­grounds. Soon I’d expect to com­pare my per­for­mance not just with a leader­board such as are­na rank­ing, but against every one of my Face­book-inte­grat­ed Battle.net friends.

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