Live-Blogging Lesson #6: The Achievement System

20 April 2015 | 16 Comments

A few weeks ago (coincidentally as I was preparing for the launch of my new treasure chest Kickstarter project), I wrote KS lesson about an intriguing achievement system I had seen on some recent projects. The system seemed like a good fit to test out on my new project, so I gave it a try.

The basic idea is that you still have stretch goals, but you have to reach several achievements in a variety of categories before unlocking a new stretch goal. Thus you’re able to reward various types of support and interaction, and you can maintain the feeling of forward progress instead of waiting to close big gaps in traditional stretch goal funding.

I’ll talk about how this system has worked out so far in the section below the graphic below. This is the current state of our achievement chart:

stretch goals with achievements condensed

Overall, my impressions of this system have been very positive. Here’s the good and the bad:

The Good

  • I was worried that the new system would be confusing (as is the case when introducing a new concept), but that hasn’t been a problem at all.
  • The theory of forward progress has worked out in practice. We had a very strong Day 1, but unlike previous strong Day 1s, we didn’t blow through a ton of stretch goals that end up getting overlooked. Instead we reached several achievements and unlocked 1 stretch goal, and we’ve continued unlocking a new stretch goal every few days since then (we’ve been live for about a week).
  • I like the way the social media/participatory aspects have worked out. We decided not to have achievements tied directly to number of followers or Likes for reasons I discussed on the original blog post, and that was a good call.
  • Several of the achievements are still tied to total funds, like stretch goals, which is important because of the economies of scale involved in adding more tokens (each stretch goal adds a total of 18 tokens to all three chests). But the split between total funds and percentage of funding has proven to be a visually appealing way to show forward progress.
  • The achievement system has encouraged backer participation and interaction, particularly with the polls and #treasureup photos.

The Bad

  • Reaching a new achievement feels good–like I said, it feels like forward progress–but it is a little weird that there’s no new stuff to celebrate when the achievement is reached. In a more varied project, I think I might have a very small item tied to each achievement (like, add 1 card to the game) and have bigger additions linked to sets of achievements.
  • I wish I had added a set of achievements that were based on time (I’m always looking for alternatives to early birds to get people to back now instead of later). For example, there could be a row on the chart that lists different funding amounts for the first 5 days of the project: $40k on Day 1, $60k by Day 2, $70k by Day 3, and so on. Thus the achievements would encourage people on the fence to pledge their support right away, because once those days pass, those achievements become unattainable.
  • The feeling of acceleration is important, so in the future I would decrease the increments within each achievement category. For example, the first achievement might be 1000 backers, then then next 1500 backers, then the next 1900 backers, then 2200, and so on.
  • Just like with any stretch goal system you announce in full up front, you might greatly over- or under-estimate the numbers associated with the achievements. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing–like, for my project, the funding levels listed in the chart are necessary for us to financially justify putting 30 of each token type in each chest. But some projects might have more flexibility, and setting achievements too high or too low might hurt them.
  • Just because an achievement is “easy” doesn’t mean it will be accomplished. For example, there is no reason we shouldn’t already have reached all #treasureup photo achievement and one more poll achievement. As a result–at least with the photos–only a small number of passionate backers have posted all of the photos so far. Perhaps there’s a better way to incorporate those “fun” achievements?
  • In the future, I’d like to have many more achievements. Why have an achievement every 500 backers when you could have one every 200 backers, for example? Stretch goals might take more achievements to unlock–I think the key might be around 5 achievements per stretch goal.
  • This is more for the future, but an astute advisory board member pointed out that the novelty of these achievement systems might wear off. Like, I used it here, but if I try to use it for Scythe, would people prefer for us to just go back to the regular stretch goal system?

Overall, though, I’m very pleased with the system, and I’m looking forward to other creators putting their own spin on it.

What do you think? What are some ways this system could be improved in the future? If you want to experience the system in action, you can check out our treasure chest Kickstarter project (ends on April 29).

16 Comments on “Live-Blogging Lesson #6: The Achievement System

  1. Hi Jamey.
    Sweet read that again got me thinking :)
    Actually the 2nd bad point “… different funding amounts for the first 5 days…”.

    I would envisage a more ‘positive’ approach to it. One that avoids elimination of achievements which I am sure nobody likes. Not even the creator, I would expect.

    Why not just making the achievement changing its value after the initial days?
    For example, all achievements have their unlock requirement reduced during the initial days.

    This way you still have the option on the table for those who came later. Yet it might be far ahead though still within the grasp of those who really want it or do not see the product existing without it.

    Per the other points I agree that it might feel that achievements might fit better or be more useful in a game where you have a greater field of options, e.g. adding 1 card, which is so much less than adding 1 token. Though I think you are using it well and by the looks of it it has a positive traction with the backers.

    All the Best & please never stop writing :)

    1. Konrad: Thanks for your comment! I agree that eliminating achievements based on time could be frustrating (though you could just delete them completely–backers that discover the project after the first few days wouldn’t see them if they weren’t met).

      I like the solutions you present, though I think they would need to be presented in a really clear, concise way. I see some potential confusions arising from them.

  2. I reckon that you’d get some more mileage out of having some different levels of reward. There’s a danger of an achievements system feeling flat because in the opening days you get the most it’s got to offer and there’s only going to be more of the same. Contrast that to something like:

    3 achievements: extra token
    6 achievements: extra token
    9 achievements: new type of token
    12 achievements: extra token
    15 achievements: extra token
    18 achievements: box upgrade

    Something that makes achievement #30 feel meaningfully different to achievement #3. In a way the uptake on “easy” achievements that require 10mins of work is a way to measure how many people are excited and motivated by the achievements compared to how many aren’t so bothered and are happy to coast along.

    I’d also second Konrad’s comments about negativity. Even if you deleted the achievement afterwards there’d be backers who remembered that there was something that they missed forever, I can imagine the third or fourth time “This one has been missed and is gone forever” occurred you could see backers pulling out over it (even though there’s been no reduction in the objective value of what they’re getting).

    The general case problem of how to inspire backers to jump in early rather than sitting around is a tough one. It’s hard to think of a solution that doesn’t have the “early bird” problem of warding people off if they didn’t jump in early in the fashion that you’d hoped.

    1. Greg: Thanks for your input! I do agree that more varied stretch goals work better for the vast majority of projects. As you know from your projects, adding a new type of token in something like the treasure chest isn’t financially viable, but adding components in other projects works fine.

      I think what I could do with timed achievements (this is essentially what Konrad said) would be to move them to the back of the line if they weren’t achieved within the given timeframe. So if I had funding % achievements for 100%, 500%, and 1000%, I could have one for 200% if it’s reached in the first day, but if it’s not, I move it to 1500%. So the number of achievements stay the same–they just move around a big if they’re not unlocked during the timed period.

      1. Interesting comments Greg & Jamey.
        I would lean towards Jamey’s opinion that it would be difficult to mix into it other components. Particularly without loosing the focus on the product.

        On the other hand looking a bit from a marketing angle maybe something like a poster advertising a previous game (Euphoria) or announcing a coming game (Scythe) would fit there. Thus adding variety to the unlocked ‘prizes’ as Greg suggests. What do you think?

        I am just throwing ideas but maybe actually something like I say a bit different not completely related to the campaign is right for achievements. Though with it I would say you still need stretch goals which are game focused.

        I like your solution Jamey with the ‘moving achievement’. Though it could leave a bad taste if the ‘prize’ that was on the 2nd position becomes the last. Then again if the ‘prize’ and achievements are unrelated we have no problem.

        All the Best.

          1. Good to hear that you find the idea of a poster as an achievement interesting.

            Yea I would see it as part of the content of the box, i.e. a nice present that you find when you open it :)
            I have checked the size of the Chest No. 1 and it fits paper of A5 format perfectly. This is assuming that the size of the other chests is the same as why would one change something that works, i.e. it fits perfectly all tokens.
            Thus if a poster was A4 you need to bend it once if A3 then twice and so one. I think that A4 is already a great size for a poster and A3 would just make it perfect… and most of all anything bigger than that will not fit in my office :)

            All the Best.

  3. Oh aye, I just meant that by way of example, a new sculpt would be a massive pain and have the trouble of being unpredictable because its effect is multiplied by tokens-per-type. Though this could be an example of how varied achievements can be sensibly supported by the achievements structure – a new token type would make no sense at “9 achievements” but might be doable as the thing for hitting “30 achievements”, since at that point it’s a mathematical certainty you’ve got at least 5000 backers which probably gives you the scale you needed to do it.

    I saw that suggestion but didn’t comment because I wasn’t sure about it. Would it have the desired effect of persuading backers to pledge now rather than later if it’s going to continue to exist in some achievable form? I honestly don’t know, I could imagine reasons that it might go either way.

    1. Greg: That’s true, at a really high level, if there were room in the box/insert, a new token could be added (not in these treasure chests, but hypothetically). Sometimes those types of stretch goals–like adding a 5th player to a game as a stretch goal–can have the opposite effect, as some people won’t back it until that goal has been reached.

      1. Aye, that’s a frustrating one. I had questions along the lines of “Is this game complete without stretch goals”. I think the practice of taking central game components and removing them to be reintroduced later as stretch goals has created a mindset where some backers don’t recognise the funding goal as the real goal and consider the game unfinished without some stretch goal or another :/ I’d seriously consider getting to the point of having a note next to the reviews next time around saying something like “All of these reviewers recommend the game based on their experiences with no stretch goal or add on components.”

  4. I mentioned I wasn’t particularly a fan of achievements in the comments on the treasure chest kickstarter, but to try and explain:
    Pro’s:
    – Something to talk about in comments.
    – Steadier goal progression through “the mid-campaign slump”
    – Greater response to polls/social media.
    Con’s:
    – Tracking what’s going on becomes more complex. I can’t just glance at the $Raised/#Backers at the top of the KS page to know where we’re at.
    – Feels artificial – If you can give us stretch goal ‘X’ for 100 likes on facebook or 200 responses to a poll…Why can’t you just give it us anyway.
    – Ruins the feeling of contribution for many things I’d do anyway. When I ‘choose’ to do a poll, its’ because I like showing my support and makes me feel good. When I do it because I feel I have to, in order to receive my pledge…Meh.

    But hey, lots of other people seemed to enjoy it, so I guess this is a bit of an aimless comment =P

    1. Chris: Thanks for sharing your feedback! Yeah, tracking is tricky. I tried to make it easy through some visual cues on the chart, but it’s still not quite as easy as a typical stretch goal structure.

  5. I agree that my biggest issue with non-funds related stretch goals is that they feel arbitrary, if you can give me something after I post fifty pictures online, you could give me it now. You could argue that you’re spending what would be an advertising budget on it, but frankly I don’t like the idea of working for you to get something that’s meant to be fun.

    Also, I’ve always felt that its a very close call between seeing a project running and wanting to join all the hip people posting fun images, and being alienated by not being part of the in crowd. When a community is running well on a comments board I don’t see it until I get to the Kickstarter page, so I’m sort of already part of the team before I see how active the team is. If I see the team first I sometimes feel like I’m not part of it and not going to be part of it.

    One thing I wanted to ask about the Treasure Chest goals above, were you not worried that they could be read as “take a photo of someone else’s game I could make better” and so quite negative? I’d feel bad posting pictures of a game I liked to essentially complain about the components. Also, if people posted non-stonemaier games with Stonemaier tags etc. for this campaign did that not confuse some people about whether you had something to do with them?

    1. Glenn: I hadn’t thought about that! My thinking was that it was resulting in free promotion for games people love, which is a win-win for everyone. And it reinforced the idea that the tokens were made for a variety of games, not just our games.

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