Should you ever incentivize players to fail?

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A lot of games, especially apps, include quests that specifically instruct the player to play badly., get their character killed a certain way, miss a powerup, or whatever.

Personally I think this is horrible design, because it encourages people to be bad at the game, and punishes people who want to play well. It seems to go against the idea of gaming in the first place, and you’d never see it outside of a videogame. Would a football coach ever tell his players to intentionally miss a tackle in a big game? You’d hope not.

But the trend continues anyway. Am I missing a useful facet of design, or is it something that should be stamped out?

 
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My guess is that those achievements are an attempt to keep players from getting discouraged if they don’t play well. Rather, the game mitigates the fear of failure by providing some sort of consolation prize.

That said, I don’t believe that failure should be encouraged. Back in the 80s, it was popular for parents to praise their kids for anything they did, even failure. They did it in the hope that their kids wouldn’t lose self-esteem for not doing as well as they could have. Unfortunately, many of those kids grew up to be underachievers who felt that they were entitled to be rewarded for mediocrity. I’m not making this up. I read about it in this book by a psychologist from Stanford University.

Let’s celebrate success, not failure. If rewarding players for playing badly is a trend, let’s buck that trend.

 
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I’m not convinced it is all that different from un-penalizing failure. There were many games before now that would let you keep money/XP/whatever from failed levels to try again, but if you passed you had to play a more difficult level… It’s kind of the same thing, isn’t it?

Even if you’re not forced to play a harder level as a result of passing, putting the extra effort in to pass usually isn’t even worth it if you can just laze through and get stuff…

 
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Nah, it’s different from un-penalizing it. It’s the difference between letting the player keep their coins if they fall into a pit of spikes, and offering them 50 coins extra if they intentionally jump into the spikes.

The fact that you offer a bonus for the player to jump into the spikes, which may be more than they could earn by not falling in, means that even skilled players who’d otherwise avoid the spike pit are forced to jump in. I’d argue that the more skilled players should be advancing to the harder levels, even if others have to retry over and over until they can afford to upgrade to pass the level – but by giving them tasks which are equivalent to playing badly, they’re held back.

 
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If the player never dies, they’re missing out on a whole big part of the game – the failure :)

Giving achievements for 50 deaths (or whatever) lets the more casual players earn humourous achievements that also show they’re (somewhat) dedicated. It’s the same as a joke “last place” trophy in friendly tournaments.

 
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I think some people do it for something different and interesting in their games. In a game I have up for bidding, one of the achievements is “max out all upgrades, then die on the first wave in survival.” I don’t really see rewards for (spectacular) failure as encouraging bad play, but rather, as an encouragement to play differently.

As long as the primary focus of the game is still for the player to utilize their skills to reach the end, all those achievements do is give them a little something different to do along the way.

 
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To me, that just says that however good the player is at your game, they still have to fail at it if they want to unlock / complete everything.

The 50 deaths is worse, and not even an exaggeration in some games. It’s not so mcuh that I have a problem with encouraging the players who are behind, but that it means the most skilled players just end up chucking themselves into the spikes over and over again to get the achievement. Does it actually keep the less skilled players playing, or do they do the same thing (throw themselves into the spiks 50 times) and then still find they suck at the game?

I think it’s like saying that if you never fall off your bike, you’re missing out on part of the experience – and then going to the bike shop and being told you can’t upgrade your wheels unless you faceplanted three times in the ride to the shop.

 
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Let me say that personally I loathe failure achievements… but then I’m not terribly fond of non-penalty failure, either.

Originally posted by dragon_of_celts:

I’m not convinced it is all that different from un-penalizing failure.

Originally posted by saybox:

Nah, it’s different from un-penalizing it.

I didn’t say it’s not different. It does seem like a sister concept to me, though. Good players can easily do the failure achievements, so I don’t see how it “holds them back”; at worst, it should take them no more time and effort to do than any other player. If you’re arguing that skipping the achievement (playing well) is equivalent to penalizing them because they don’t get the goodies the bad players that do it get, please explain to me how that is all that different than them failing a level over and over but still accumulating goods (isn’t that, in effect, a reward?), because I don’t get it… Note that I agree with your sentiment (wrt failure achievements); I just don’t see how it diverges much from the much-vaunted non-penalty failure.

 
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Oh, I see what you meant.

I still think its quite a bit different, though, because in the case of the player who’s simply retrying over and over, they’re not receiving anything towards their overall progress in the game that you can’t receive by being good at the game. It’s assumed that the next level has coins to collect, so the player who progressed quicker isn’t missing out on anything he needs to progress.

On the other hand, if there’s an achievement that can only be attained by being bad at the game, the players who are good at it have to stop and play badly to get the award. They can’t progress through that aspect of the game (even if it’s just achievement hunting) without playing badly. They lose out for playing well, because there’s no other way to get the achievement. They can stop and throw themselves into spikes 50 times, but if they’re good at the game, why would they want to?

 
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If you’re going to tie an achievement to a counter-performance, at least make it so that achieving takes some effort, and preferably some creativity. For instance, I could see Aesica’s example providing an interesting challenge. If I understand, her game is a bullet hell. If it’s programmed reasonably well, the player’s avatar autofires. If she doesn’t have accuracy achievements, it is probable that there is no way to disable the autofire, since there is never a reason not to fire. Except, when you’re unleashing a torrent of destruction all over the screen and your goal is to get killed by the weakest enemies in the game. That could become an interesting technical challenge. Hence the achievement is awarded for achieving something tricky.

“Die 50 times”, on the other hand… Yeah, that’s crap.

I don’t mind achievements being tied to performing unusual actions that the player would otherwise never attempt, such as the classic: “Kill the final boss with the starting gun.” At least it beats “kill 1000 enemies” and “play for 2 hours”, boring and repetitive tasks that are either completed automatically in the normal course of playing the game and are therefore useless, or must be the subject of mindless grind, which is somehow worse. And while we’re at it, achievements awarded for completing normal game tasks (“Beat level 5”, “kill the boss”, “Complete the game”) are pointless, redundant, and hold no intrinsic value.

The only point of a badge is to have something that the player can look at proudly and think “I did that.” Who’s ever been proud of dying 50 times?

 
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Even trickier than the autofire (which you can turn off in keyboard mode) is the fact that the player also deals damage to enemies upon collision and, with maxed health, the player will usually emerge the victor. It’s actually a pretty easy achievement to get though, as I just wanted something more interesting than just “max out all upgrades.”

Truthfully, I like to do interesting things in achievements whenever possible, because “kill this boss” or “collect 500 coins” is just stupid and isn’t exactly very exciting. Instead, I like to do things like “kill this boss by doing ____”, where ____ is an extra step which should make the encounter even harder.

Dying 50 times though, the only way that’s even remotely acceptable is if it’s in a game like Achievement Unlocked. I’ll agree that such things do in fact need to be stamped out.

 
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My stick zombie game has a mystery medal the player unlocks by dying with 1 kill. I wouldn’t say it’s bad design, as it’s kind of an easter egg. I never really thought about this though, Saybox.

 
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Depending on your game, once the player has finished it, I think that profiding incentive for player to complete certain “negative objective” could open up whole new gameplay possibilities, but only if attempting failure is still challenging and fun for the player to do. Making gameplay that works just as well in reverse as to how it was originally intended is certainly a tough ask though.

 
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I came across this, from Greg, and figured it was worth adding to the topic:

No achievement is more bizarre (and, in my opinion, poorly designed) than achievements for dying a certain number of times. This is not an achievement — this is just a public record of the player’s failure (except it’s not even really that, since the player will likely go out of his way to intentionally die repeatedly on an early level just to earn it). This type of achievement reveals itself to be even more ludicrous when applied to this section’s check — the player dies and has to restart if he doesn’t die and have to restart?
 
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In many games i have seen that has had achievments like that, they weren’t actually rewarding you for playing bad, instead it was achievments meant to be funny. They didn’t award you that much, and made the game a bit more enjoyable since you could lauch about it.

In that way, failure achievments can work. An achievment for dying 1500 times? No thanks.

 
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So, I think there are more aspects concerning this that need to be mentioned.
Since the title of the thread is “Should you ever incentivize players to fail?” and not just “Are achievements for dying dumb?” I’d look at other parts of the game to, and other variations of “failing”:

a) Dying as a core gameplay element
There are a few games that use dying as a core gameplay mechanic, for example “Checkpoint” by HeroInteractive. In such games, getting a achievement for repeated dying would not be considered “incentivize to fail”, but rather “tracking progress”, just like “kill a total of x enemies” in other games. Still, such games would actually instruct the player to die, even if it is not a “failure” in this context.

b) Dying/Failing as a story element
For example a invincible boss that will kill you to set up the story (for example in Demons Souls) or one where you are rescued by a NPC.
While it would rather be considered “letting the player face a situation where he cannot win”, it is also some form of “progression through failing”.

c) Balancing issues
Already mentioned here. Rewards for repeated failure can be used to balance a game. For example, in a PvP based game where you gain advantages for winning (Experience-Points, new weapons, etc.), you might need to give similar advantages to players who lose repeatedly so they don’t lose interest in the game or cannot stop their streak of defeat because they are heavily under-equipped.

d) Easter eggs/failure as a challenge
Self-explanatory.

d1) concerning “failure as a challenge” and since you mentioned “missing powerups”. An achievement for winning the game with a certain weak weapon (the knife in Resident Evil) could also be considered to reward failure, since you actively refuse to use a different mechanic the game offers you that is meant to make it easier/that is actually a core mechanic of the game. Another example would be playing a game without upgrades or not killing anyone in a stealth-game.

(as always, please excuse my horrible grammar, I’m not a native speaker)

 
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There’s a free space team shooter on Steam, forget the title offhand, but my first match I got an achievement for “taking 2x your total health in damage and surviving.”

That is an award that is worth giving people, particularly for a game where you play against other people, as it takes skill (or in my case, being retardedly lucky, as I had no clue what I was doing other than “that giant rock is cover, go there”) to pull off. It’s not a “die 50 times” achievement, it’s “don’t die twice” achievement.

That said, games where you can be expected to die like Amorphous+ are the ones that can have a “die 50 times” achievement and make it work. Simply by playing you are going to die.

 
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In the case of Amorphous+, the death achievement would be/is merely a record of persistence; a roguelike game would be in a similar situation. In those cases, I can see such an achievement being relatively inoffensive, since if the game is worth playing most players will achieve it as a matter of course.

I don’t actually like achievements at all, to be honest. None of them. I feel they’re the same as tutorials: an artificial way of modifying player behavior when that should ideally be done through the gameplay and/or narrative. I suppose when achievements are used in tandem with more natural cues it’s not so bad, but that’s pretty much just saying ‘I like achievements when they don’t need to be there so I don’t have to pay attention to them’. If you want me to kill 100 enemies with a terrible weapon, put me in a situation where that is something I am going to want to do or have to do without you having to explicitly tell me to; think of Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3, and the remake of the first one on the GC, where there are gameplay benefits to taking out enemies non-lethally using the tranquilizer gun – it’s more stealthy and saves resources you often need more on boss or forced encounters, you get a better rating at the end, and you avoid certain snarky comments on Snake’s Codec. No ‘Achievements List’ is needed to give the player the goal, and the developer achieves the same result in player behavior with a much smaller conscious profile
.

 
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OP,

From what you have said above, it seems as if I am agreeing with you. Do you have specific examples demonstrating your situation? Perhaps that may help spark a more defined discussion.

 
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I didn’t mind purposely dying to get Game Builder’s mystery medal thingy by dying with 1 kill, but I hate games where I have to grind pointlessly to get X amount of deaths. Grinding to get X amount of kills isn’t so bad because it’s actually challenging, there’s no challenge in getting yourself killed on purpose