The Steam Review

Comment and discussion on Valve Software’s digital communications platform.

Matchmaking to feature Achievements

Gold stars and black marks :: April 13th, 2007 :: Steam Community :: 16 Responses (Feed)

Previews of Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead reveal that Steam’s in-development matchmaking service will include persistent “achievements” in the vein of Xbox Live and Games For Windows Live, along with the new concepts of lower-order “awards” and troll-shaming “demerits”. Valve don’t have a collective name yet, so I’m calling them badges.

Left 4 Dead zombies
Left 4 Dead will punish disruptive players.

Left 4 Dead 411‘s excellent preview dedicates an entire page to the new system, explaining how it works to provide both real-time feedback and scoreboard summaries. As can be expected, the game’s badges encourage co-operation between Survivor players:

There are three kinds of awards: Achievements, which include difficult goals like surviving a map without dying; Awards, which are good things you do, such as reviving a teammate, giving away a health kit to someone in need, and saving someone from a zombie about to attack them from behind; and Demerits/Faults, which are bad things which include blowing up a Boomer near teammates, friendly fire, angering the Witch, and jumping in front of someone else’s bullets (reckless). There are a ton of these achievements, ranging from being an Expert Headhunter to completing an entire campaign without using the flashlight at all.

From what we hear in IGN’s Team Fortress 2 interview however, its badges are more personal. This may be because we haven’t heard about the teamplay ones, or perhaps because it’s harder for a computer to accurately detect its particular brand of teamwork. Either way, personal bests will pay a prominent part:

We do a huge amount of stat gathering, like the thing [IGN] saw with the persistent stats stuff, where the game is identifying how well you’re doing and rewarding you for it saying “hey check it out! On that run where you thought you did well, guess what? You did well, you broke this record!” So we gather all that data and use it for game tuning. Steam does that for us for free.

The Achievement game

Badges clearly owe much to Xbox Live’s Achievements, Games For Windows Live will be a competitor to Steam’s online gaming service mechanisms, and (if you read the previews in full) Valve are making a concerted push to build more accessible online games. These are not unrelated facts.

Xbox Live Achievement comparison
Microsoft’s web services are very well established and easy to use.

Live is a success for many reasons, and Achievements are a large one. It’s fun to play games on the Xbox 360, but each purchase, at retail or from Live Arcade, is a macro-transaction (to mangle a phrase) in the social, gotta-earn-them-all Achievement meta-game. It’s Microsoft brand social glue, working in a similar way to MySpace and other such sites: you do something, then talk about it among your friends, by way if you so desire of your summarised Gamercard. The easter egg nature of many Achievements makes finding your trophies all the more fun, and the expansion of gold farmers into Gamerscore padding should give some indication of how much store people place in their record.

I’ve had a hunch that Valve would be gearing Steam up to better compete with GFWL for some time now. Badges aren’t conclusive evidence that Steam is being repositioned, but it’s fair to say that it would be a waste for them to be used strictly for ranking players and votekicking. The biggest challenge is redistributing the data widely and in a way understandable to the average user; and to compound things, Microsoft have set the bar very high.

No matter how much talent is thrown at them however (Valve have been and are still hiring web application developers and user experience designers), badges are facing the fact that the potential for their social use is limited by Steam’s paucity of the core games that would be needed to keep them fresh and relevant.


16 Responses to this post:

7 Comments

  1. ATimson Says:

    While Achievements sounds like a great idea, and I’m glad that Valve isn’t going to make us pay for it, with Microsoft poised to enter this same arena on PC I’m wary that the two competing feature sets will result in neither seeing widespread usage (with developers being unwilling to tie their games to Steam when Microsoft’s solution is available, and users unwilling to adopt Microsoft’s solution because it costs money).

    What I think would be interesting would be if Steam evolved into a more Live-like approach. It could be used to download games and such as it currently is. Or developers can license the Achievement or Matchmaking or server browser API. Standalone games would then be able to use these, without requiring users to go through the Steam client for everything.

    Recently Steam has been less about its initial feature set and more about being just a simple download service; it hasn’t done anything to differentiate itself from Direct2Drive or GameTap in the public’s eye. And I think that Valve needs to change that if they’re going to be successful.

  2. Andy Simpson Says:

    I totally agree.

    I think the problem is that currently all Steam’s other great features are inextricably tied to the download client. This is an issue because it means if other developers want to use them without tethering their game inextricably to (the rather heavy) Steam client, well, they can’t.

    This means that games targeted at retail are never going to even consider using them, even if they’re also going to be distributed on Steam as well. So Steam is always going to get used by everything but Valve games (and a few rare others, like RO:O) for just distribution.

    If Steam’s added features are ever going to get widely used, they’re going to have to become accessible as part of a thin API from which features can be picked á la carte, with the “thick” Steam client being slightly more peripheral.

    Preferably as well the new thin API would be publically released without any licensing restrictions so potential third parties could try it out without making any commitments. But that could be just to satisfy my desire to tinker with it…

  3. ATimson Says:

    Preferably as well the new thin API would be publically released without any licensing restrictions so potential third parties could try it out without making any commitments. But that could be just to satisfy my desire to tinker with it…

    I would certainly hope that at least a subset (like Achievements) would be included in the Source SDK. Anything beyond that would depend upon the components—it wouldn’t make sense for Valve to act as a master server for some podunk company’s game for free, after all.

  4. Andy Simpson Says:

    I would certainly hope that at least a subset (like Achievements) would be included in the Source SDK. Anything beyond that would depend upon the components—it wouldn’t make sense for Valve to act as a master server for some podunk company’s game for free, after all.

    Obviously. But it’d be good if they provided some way for 3rd parties to test integrating Steam functionality into their game before they signed on the dotted line. That’d certainly encourage more indie developers to give it a shot, and maybe some bigger names too. I think a problem with Steam is that it’s too much of a closed castle. It’s a bit daunting to even consider scaling the walls.

    Like, we still don’t know exactly what the royalty breakdown is for Steam. On that topic, Tom, did you pull a post? It appeared on the feed, and now it’s gone…

    Also I’d love it if they opened up Friends more – they’re missing a trick by not hooking up with something like Xfire. I mean, they’re not directly competing, Friends is at best a (very) secondary feature of Steam. Hooking the two up would be mutually beneficial.

  5. Tom Edwards Says:

    Like, we still don’t know exactly what the royalty breakdown is for Steam. On that topic, Tom, did you pull a post? It appeared on the feed, and now it’s gone…

    It was nothing new. The figures haven’t changed: 60/40 in an licensed dev’s favour, 50/50 if it’s a Source mod.

    My Google Reader subscribers have (according to them) dropped from fifty-odd to three since I deleted the post yesterday (from an overall total of two hundred and thirty over both feeds). I’m going to assume that’s a technical glitch!

  6. dominique Says:

    dude that game look like it rocks i have to get it

  7. Quency Says:

    where is the acualual rating. please send to this Email adress: lquency@yahoo.com

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