In preparation for the PlayStation 5 launch, Sony has overhauled the trophy system for its gaming ecosystem. While the change is intended to make earning trophies a more rewarding process, it's only a cosmetic overhaul that fails to address deeper issues within the system. Trophies and achievements are currently so divorced from the player experience that they're meaningless. They need to be more rewarding and meaty than just a high-pitched ding or bragging rights.
Trophies and achievements are the names PlayStation and Xbox give their respective reward systems. After you complete a specific in-game task, you'll be notified that you've unlocked one. Each trophy or achievement you snag goes towards your cumulative score on your platform. Rare or more difficult feats add even more points to that score.
Why should developers and hardware makers care? Trophies provide longevity to a game. If there's an extra set of tasks to perform, a significant chunk of players will stick around longer. For players, these things are a certification of skill and dedication, as well an important benchmark of accomplishment. Ideally, this mechanic encourages players to persevere and do better. Those are valuable skills to have in life, as well as games.
Over the years, Microsoft and PlayStation have made various attempts to bring more heft to these systems. During the Xbox 360 era, players could earn exclusive profile pictures or clothing for your avatar. This was discontinued. In 2017, Sony launched Trophy Pass, a system to earn nominal amounts of money for in-game accomplishments. That was shelved a year later. Currently, the only reward for earning PlayStation trophies is an exclusive theme for your home screen. But only nine games out of a library of hundreds offer this. Xbox achievements don't even go that far.
Trophies and achievements need to mean more in order to survive the jump to next-gen. Here are three possible solutions that have already been successfully employed by Ubisoft, Nintendo, and Steam.
3. Create a points system for exclusive DLC or discounts — Ubisoft and Nintendo use a point system for players where completing in-game objectives earns players exclusive downloadable content, like new skins or weapons. Both companies have standardized, tangible rewards across the board for every game they develop. It's not much, but it makes the player feel valued.
While this might sound like a considerable undertaking, Sony previously made trophies mandatory for PS3 developers. What's stopping Sony or Microsoft from taking a similar approach with PS5 and Series X?
2. Add trading cards to PS4 and Xbox — Steam's trading cards are doled out to players within the first few hours of playing a game. Even if you don't mesh with a particular title, each trading card has a small monetary value on the secondary market. Most are worth less than a dollar. Despite this meager sum, these individualized rewards are highly specific to a particular game, and the system itself has loads of potential for other kinds of rewards and engagement. Enabling players to swap and share their collections could make for a more gratifying reward than yet another bronze or silver trophy.
1. Introduce a coin system — After every purchase on Nintendo Switch, you're rewarded with a sum of Gold Points proportional to your purchase. Each Gold Point is worth the equivalent of a penny, and can be instantly applied to your next digital purchase.
This could be a natural transition from the current systems in place on PlayStation and Xbox. Every trophy could be worth a small monetary value redeemable on the platform's digital storefront. In the old PS4 Trophy Pass system, silver trophies were worth a cent, gold trophies were worth 10, and platinum trophies were worth a dollar. Bringing that back could go a long way toward keeping money that might otherwise be spent at Best Buy or Amazon within the platform's digital shop.
With its past and current systems, Sony and Microsoft made consumers jump through hoops to obtain negligible rebates or incentives. That needs to change — rewards should instantly deliverable and objectively helpful, even if they have little or no cash value. It's an essential step toward making rewards rewarding again.