Achievements in Games

Game achievements trophies

This article was originally published at UniversityXP and is re-published in Ludogogy by permission of the author.

Achievements in life are a way to commodify what we’ve accomplished. Some can say that achievements are the way that we commemorate a major life moment or event. But achievements in games are different. While we might recognize most of them occurring in video games; there are other ways to award achievements to players in games.

This article will provide an overview of achievements; why they should be used; and how achievements affect the player experience. The article will also review the different types of achievements and their applications. While we recognize achievements in game play; we can also use them for games-based learning applications.

Why use achievements?

Achievements are something of a visceral experience. They are fun and exciting because they are satisfying. Often, great game design awards players’ achievements for accomplishing a specific challenge or by reaching a milestone in a game.

In Terraforming Mars, achievements known as milestones are ways for players to score points and win the game. Whereas in other digital games; achievements are accomplished by exploring the entirety of the game or completing something you didn’t expect had an achievement attached to it.

In addition, having public achievements elicits a sense of commitment from the player. Starting progress towards an achievement means that the player becomes invested in its outcome. When the feedback in the work towards that achievements is very visceral, those players can enter a highly engaged flow state. Regardless of how they engage, the player then becomes committed towards completing an achievements they’ve started.

Achievements also guide players and provide some much needed feedback. You can also think about achievements as commodification of other ways to keep track of player progress. A player can either have 1,000 points or redeem the achievement “Master” and claim it. The latter sound a whole lot better.

Achievements in the player experience

The player experience is incredibly important for creating and engaging with students, users, and gamers as they play your game. That means catering to their expectations is paramount. Achievements are part of that player experience.

If an achievement is directly related to the core loop of the game and the completion of the game’s main story; narrative arc; or engagement arc; then players are more likely to pursue it. This is compared to other types of content such as side quests; character building; or progression.

As a big Fallout fan I knew that side quests are what gave the game much needed flavor and experience. But I always remembered to return to the main quest line when I wanted to move the game forward.

In addition, designers will want to make and integrate achievements into their tasks and activities that players will want to do. This often occurs when playing PC or console games as players continue playing and engaging. Players won’t necessarily work towards that achievements; but they unlocked and earned it through what they would have accomplished normally through the game. Such reinforcement can be a boon to player engagement.

Types of achievements

While we might have some pre-conceived notions of achievements in games, there are a few that come up regularly through design and play. Those include challenge achievements, tutorial achievements, and progress achievements.

Challenge achievements are the ones that we know, observe, and experience most frequently. These achievements are granted to players once they finish a particularly hard challenge; a side quest; or progress their character to a certain level. This type of achievement recognizes a players’ success over a challenge.

Tutorial achievements on the other hand are awards to players for finishing or completing a tutorial. That could be as simple as providing a player with a starting weapon in a first person shooter; some starting resources in Settlers of Catan based on settlement placement; or otherwise reinforcing the player’s actions for being prepared to play the game.

In academia; I’ve acknowledged and rewarded my students for completing the reading of the syllabus and submitting a short survey. This helps me because I encourage my students to read a critical document. This helps students because they are now more informed on the expectations and structure of the class.

Progress achievements reward players for the progression that they’ve made through the game or towards a goal.  Progress achievements reward and recognize the player for getting somewhere (often anywhere) through the game as it plays out. This is often one of the most under-utilized features in games-based learning as rewarding progress is more fruitful that rewarding competency at the early stages. It’s much easier for students to meet their learning goals if they continue to engage and keep trying rather than penalize them for early mistakes.

Applications of achievements

Perhaps one of the most well known places that gamers and designers recognize achievements is from Steam or XBOX Live. Here, achievements are earned in game or in system.

While this is one of the most popular places for achievements; it doesn’t always have to be the only place for achievements. These achievements can grow, expand, and occupy other mediums such as board, table, and card games. Higher education already has its own achievements system in the form of grades; deans’ lists; degrees, and diplomas. But it’ll be up to the games-based learning designers to use them to further their educational causes.


This article covered achievements from a games-based learning perspective. It included rationale for using achievements and how they affect the player experience. Types of achievements were covered as well as how achievements are applied in digital, PC, console, table top, and games-based learning applications.

To learn more about achievements in gamification, check out the free course on Gamification Explained.

If you have enjoyed this article – consider getting yourself lifetime access to his Games-Based Learning Digital Library containing all of the content from the past two Games-Based Learning Virtual Conferences; past webinars and courses he’s created; as well as his complete back catalog of articles; podcast episodes; and videos. And more content is being added all the time.

Readers of Ludogogy can get a $50 discount on this valuable resource by using this link.


References and further reading:

Achievements (Concept). (2019, September 9). Retrieved November 13, 2019, from

Eng, D. (2019, October 1). Flow State. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from

Eng, D. (2019, September 10). The Player Experience. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from

Hellen, P., Clements, B., & Cline, E. (2018, March 8). Are achievements a good thing for video games? Retrieved November 13, 2019, from

Jamieson, D. (2013, January 1). Make Them Work for It: Designing Achievements for Your Games. Retrieved November 13, 2019, from–gamedev-3371.

Madigan, J. (2016, July 4). Why Do Achievements, Trophies, and Badges Work? Retrieved November 13, 2019, from

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Educator / Designer / Researcher at Dave Eng Design
Dr. Dave Eng is an intellectual and creative educator, designer, and researcher who focuses on games, theory, and technology.

Dave studies applied games and teaches others how to use games for education and learning. Dave serves as a faculty member at New York University’s School of Professional Studies (

Dave hosts the podcast Experience Points ( and consults at University XP ( on games-based learning. He also leads the Games-Based Learning Alliance: a community of individuals who use games for teaching, training, learning, and development.

Dave is a founder of Banditos Gaming ( a registered 501(c)(3) social and educational non-profit organization that promotes play, community development, and learning through games. His interests include learning theory, technology, and games.

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