On Achievement Quality and the Inevitable Nerfs


What makes an achievement good? What makes it worthy of praise?

I’ve been thinking a lot about achievements as part of my disassociation from my main, and this topic comes up every so often as I reconcile myself to having put Cynwise aside for a while; perhaps for the rest of the expansion, perhaps longer. I don’t even have a lot of achievement points on her, compared to many, but I do have a lot of time invested in her, a lot of expertise, and yes, a lot of points there.

Running Stormwind Stockades awards 10 achievement points. It doesn’t matter if you do it at level 20, or level 60, or level 85 – it’s the same 10 points. Bad group? No group? Doesn’t matter. 10 points.

But what if it’s your first dungeon? That’s a pretty big achievement, right there. What if you’re soloing it, at level? That’s pretty cool! (I’ve never done that.)

What if you’re running it on your 85 in full T12?



I hope you got some nice Wool Cloth?

The quality of achievements is separate from their point value, or even from their existence as “coded fun,” as the man behind El called them. They very often are worth pursuing, of having a goal and reaching it.

But the quality varies. Player’s situations differ – perhaps they’re in a group with skilled raiders, who have helped teach them how to become a great raider. Heroic Rag down? Awesome! Perhaps they’re in a leveling guild, and no one they know has ever done a heroic dungeon before. Heroic Stonecore down? Awesome! Both of these things are praiseworthy for the player, and should be recognized as such.

Here’s something I hadn’t considered: by having so many achievements coded in the system, WoW actually enables in-game recognition of a wide variety of actual achievements by sheer coverage. Running your first heroic is a big thing. It’s easy to forget that when you’re running Zulroics all the time for points. It’s easy to lose perspective on how big your first PvP battle is, and how cool it is to not only get your first Honorable Kill, but That Takes Class! Wahoo! Stepping into PvP is scary.

So by having so many of the damn things, WoW is pretty sure to be able to give you a ding and a grats when you do something cool in game. That’s a good thing.

But it’s also interesting how psychology works. By celebrating a real achievement with a certain ritual (up comes the badge, lights flash, sounds go off, you get points in your bucket), that ritual becomes desirable in and of itself. So I (and others) chase it, even if the achievements themselves aren’t quite so cool, aren’t quite as awesome as the really neat ones.

I envy folks who don’t fall into this trap. I really do. It’s taken me a while to come out of it, to go… wait a minute.

I have Ambassador on Cynderblock, and I got it in a really fun and interesting way. I got to quest with some good friends of mine, see the entire Horde starting experience on a single toon before it all changed, and I grew to love a class and character through it. I had a blast chasing it.

When the city tabards came out in the Sundering, suddenly, the title became easier to get. A lot easier to get. My rare thing wasn’t so rare any more.

Except, of course, that the actual achievement – not the title, not the in-game achievement, but the thing that I did – didn’t get nerfed. So what if the title was easier to get now? I did this thing, it was hard, it was cool, I had fun.

Killing the Whale Shark at level 19 is a very different achievement, one which makes for a great story but really wasn’t that hard. Seriously! I lucked into a group that was doing it, I dodged level 80-81 mobs, and tried not to drown! It was fun, but I value it for vastly different reasons than chasing Ambassador. Killing the whale shark at 19 is the most in-your-face example of challenging notions of acceptable gameplay in WoW I can come up with. I took a lowbie into Vashj’ir. That’s crazy. Then I “killed” the Whale Shark (some random warlock actually kited it, not me).

It was all about having the guts to do it. That’s all that achievement is really about.

Context matters. Perspective matters.

So this isn’t really about ‘block, but about the inevitable nerfs. The Inevitable Nerfs are coming!

(That sounds like a band, doesn’t it? Ghostcrawler and the Inevitable Nerfs are playing the Astrodome on Sunday!)

Heroic Ragnaros got nerfed, there was some uproar, I dunno, I was in meetings most of today. The details don’t really matter, though, this is a story that gets repeated over and over again.

PvE content gets progressively easier as time goes on. Sometimes it’s obvious – the ICC buff getting stronger, bosses getting actively nerfed – but usually it’s through the acquisition of gear and experience. Your team gears up, people learn good strategies, everything clicks, boom, boss goes down.

It’s important to keep this in mind when hearing about content nerfs; timing matters. The best guilds in the world are going to kill a harder boss, with worse gear, than those who come after. Two guilds got the Lich King down at 5%, though only one of those counted in the end. Two. Maybe one, depends how you feel about Saronite Bombs as part of a Rogue’s DPS rotation.

I think only 37 guilds have downed H-Rag 25? Not a lot, really, and those who have done it struggle to consistently repeat it. It’s not like you get it and suddenly he’s on farm – no, this is a hard boss, dependent upon raid comp and RNG to beat. And now he’s a little less so.

I get that it can be frustrating, hugely frustrating, to have just run out of time to do something. The ICC buff drove that home – a lot of guilds were like, we need to get him at 10%, or 20%, dear god DIE Arthas! And some succeeded, and they made their achievement, and that’s pretty cool. Others didn’t, and that’s frustrating, but they got him in the end, which actually is still pretty cool.

I got him at 30%, with my rag tag guild, with friends. It was one of the best nights of my WoW life, that first kill. It doesn’t matter that it was “nerfed” content, it was big for me. Really big.

I got the same ritual ding and grats that everyone else gets with that kill. Doesn’t matter if it’s old hat, doesn’t matter if it’s a bunch of level 100s going back and soloing Wrath content, doesn’t matter if it’s your first time there, doesn’t matter if you’re carried or exhausted from weeks of wiping – you get the badge, you get the title, you get the points.

Heroic Rag got easier to kill this week. The inevitable nerfs hit the Firelord.

I wager that killing him is still really fucking hard, so while it might affect some people’s perception that their accomplishment is somehow … lessened?

But really, it just means it’s gone from really fucking hard to fucking hard, and the accomplishment should still be celebrated. So it’s not quite as potent as it was last week? Each week encounters get a little easier as raids accumulate gear; this just sped it up. Heroic Rag 25 hasn’t suddenly become Stormwind Stockades, after all.

The quality of an achievement, and an accomplishment, depends upon its context.

Changes to that context matter – but so do changes to your perspective.



Filed under Cynwise's Field Notes

6 responses to “On Achievement Quality and the Inevitable Nerfs

  1. Poneria

    I farm Stocks for Wool all the time. ALL THE TIME. Friggin’ First Aid.(Scarlet Monastery = Silk. ❤ SM Cathedral. Or did, anyway.)

  2. Lara

    You’ve really put your finger on something important here: What matters isn’t just the accomplishment in itself, but its role in your own experience of the game.Thank you for a very thoughtful article. 🙂

  3. Bravetank

    Really interesting article. I completely agree. Particularly:-“Except, of course, that the actual achievement – not the title, not the in-game achievement, but the thing that I did – didn’t get nerfed.”You always know what you did & what it took to do it, and that can never be nerfed. That’s your experience, that’s the real achievement, and that’s what stays with you.

  4. Cynwise of Stormwind

    @pon: One advantage of a DK banker in SW? You can always take 10 minutes and get more wool cloth. :-)@lara: Thank you! I’ll probably be revisiting this idea a lot; it’s been weighing on my mind of late. (Like, why do I need Classic Dungeonmaster on Cyn? Easy points? I didn’t level her through dungeons, there’s nothing there (except maybe mogging gear…)@bravetank Thanks! The Ambassador nerf was what really opened my eyes. I had fun doing it. I’m proud of having done it. No one can that experience of quietly questing through new areas, of beating Drak’than solo, of going through zones way beyond my level away from me. 🙂

  5. Restoisepic

    I agree that much of the achievement is in the doing, rather than the having. Also, regardless of how many people now have XXXX title or whatever, you know when you got it and relatively how difficult t was.So the KS title for me was quite special despite getting it the week 4.0 hit. ICC was our first proper raid outing as a guild and it was a culmination of blood, sweat and (lots) of tears (especially against Sindragosa ><), we were so close pre 4.0 that is was almost a anti-climax that he was suddenly so easy after 4.0. But, ultimately we still did it together, we had cleared and completed our first raid as a guild. Some of us ahd started as raw raiding n00bs, some were more experienced by we did it.There are many of my achievements I am proud of, and others than were simply farmed for the points and I will never try and claim anything special of them, because when I did them they were not special – fun maybe, but not hard or anything.Achievements are not the be all and end all, sometimes they are the way to try something different or diverting from the norm and the points are simply recognition at the end that you have done something. As you say, no matter what, the experience you had doing it cannot be nerfed.Kat

  6. Raffles

    That part ab out doing the LK with the 30% buff was exactly the same as us. We got to Sin before that and just hit a brick wall, which lasted to the final ‘nerf’ – I still don’t like calling it a nerf, it was a buff to us, not a nerf to them (unless I missed something…) – We, a group of friends and misfits, killed the LK when it was still relavent, end-game content. That was a deserved 10 points, as was yours. Still feels good, and remains the only time I expect to be able to do so. Best moment in WoW that was.