Chasing Platinums: Why Are Trophies So Compelling?

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Chasing Platinums: Why Are Trophies So Compelling?

At a guess, how many games have you finished this year? Five? Fifteen? Fifty? How about 302? That’s how many roughdawg4, the #1 trophy hunter on the PlayStation Network, has conquered in the last 12 months. We’re talking full, 100% completion here, not just breezing through the campaign and calling it a day. Of course, 302 is nothing compared to the 1600 he’s steamrolled through since he started tracking his progress on PSNProfiles back in 2008. That averages out to 200 games a year, a figure most of us will never even come close to. In fact, you might be wondering what on earth could possess someone to put so much time and effort into not just playing, but besting everything from Job Simulator to Grand Theft Auto V to Doodle God. Well, the answer’s quite simple: it all comes down to the thrill of the trophy hunt.

For those unfamiliar, trophies are a game’s way of acknowledging when a player accomplishes something impressive, whether it be scooping up every collectible on the map or beating the final boss in under thirty seconds. Equivalent to Xbox’s achievements, PlayStation’s trophies inspire the same competitive drive to collect them all, to best your friends and climb the ranks of the global leaderboard. But why? What is it about trophies that drives players like roughdawg4 to devote so much time to hunting them down? To find out, I spoke with roughdawg4 and a number of other prominent trophy hunters. Their answers reveal there’s a lot more to trophies than mere bragging rights.

“The best thing about trophies,” roughdawg4 tells me, “is most of the time it forces you to play games a way you might not have done [otherwise].”

Take, for instance, an RPG with multiple character classes. Normally, you’d only ever play the formidable warrior, but because there are different trophies attached to each class, you decide to step outside your comfort zone in order to get the 100% Platinum trophy. In doing so, maybe you discover that being a rogue is actually pretty cool, or that casting spells as a mage isn’t as boring as you thought it would be. Thanks to the Platinum incentive, you discover a whole new range of skills, and maybe even find a new favorite character class.

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The allure of trophies can prove similarly effective in compelling you to play games you might otherwise have overlooked. A lot of narrative-focused games like Oxenfree, Life is Strange, and Telltale’s various episodic adventures offer trophies for simply experiencing their stories, and getting the coveted Platinum trophy for 100% completion is often much easier than in big open-world games or 60-hour RPGs. At the same time, the stories in these games touch on topics few mainstream titles broach, encouraging you to challenge your assumptions and make tough decisions that teach you more about who you are as a person. By incentivizing you to play these games, trophies open your eyes to a broader perspective on life, and that’s more important than ever these days. As roughdawg4 puts it, “You experience those hidden gems that make it all worth it.”

Of course, one of the biggest draws of trophy hunting is the challenge it provides. For crisding89, trophies serve as a measure of a player’s skill, demanding a level of dedication beyond that of the average player. With 26,000 trophies and 860 fully-completed games under his belt since he started trophy hunting in May 2013, crisding89 relishes the chance to prove his ability on a global scale.

“I like [that] trophies provide you certain challenges so you can prove you are better than average players,” he says. “When you see someone get some UR (Ultra Rare, <5% on PSNProfiles) trophies by beating some extremely difficult/grinding games, you probably want to try it out as well just in order to prove you are skillful too."

It’s not all about competition, though. Trophies encourage you to push yourself to the limit, and that can be satisfying in its own right. “Challenges always give you frustration,” says crisding89.”But once you conquer them, you feel so good.”

MrUnknown625 agrees. Sitting just a few slots down from roughdawg4 on the global PSN leaderboard, MrUnknown625 has spent the last 5 years conquering a whopping 1327 games, accumulating nearly 38,000 trophies in the process. In his opinion, even though hunting for trophies can get tiresome, the payoff is worth it.

“Sometimes they make the game a headache,” he says, ”[but] giving a goal does make some games more fun because of it and helps you feel a sense of accomplishment and mastery over games.”

The thing is, not all trophies are created equal. Sometimes hunting them down causes you to have less fun with a game instead of more, forcing you to pore over collectibles maps, constantly double-check walkthroughs to ensure you don’t mess up any missable trophies, or simply grind for hours and hours on end. Even easy trophies can waste your time, convincing you to play bad games for the sake of a quick Platinum.

“When you want the trophies,” says crisding89, “even though you know some of those games are absolutely garbage, you still gonna get them.”

Since their inception, the biggest problem with trophies has always been their utter lack of regulation. Trophy challenges follow no standard guidelines, meaning one game’s Platinum might be as simple as sitting through its campaign, while another might involve pouring hundreds or even thousands of hours into online multiplayer. Roughdawg4 has had some especially bad experiences with the latter.

“Sometimes games drive you crazy,” he explains. “White Knight Chronicles pushed me to my limits where you have to play for about 1,000 hours for the Platinum. And sometimes games like Capcom Arcade Cabinet frustrate me to the point I just cannot finish.”

Crisding89 shares that frustration for trophies that do not respect the player’s time. “I just simply hate grinding trophies. Those really have stopped me from playing some good games, for example Red Dead Redemption.”

That’s where trophies can really hinder your exposure to games. Every game you start but don’t complete is a blemish on your record, a mark of shame for any dedicated trophy hunter. For a game like Red Dead Redemption, the 50+ hours that lie between you and the Platinum is a big commitment. As critically-acclaimed as the game might be, that’s a tough sell.

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Worse than the most laborious of trophies, though, are the ones that can’t be completed at all. Glitched challenges or those that require playing online when the game’s servers are dead or completely shut down are a trophy hunter’s greatest enemy. Roughdawg4 had to deal with this recently in Rack N Ruin, where one of the game’s patches rendered a particular trophy unobtainable. Going in, he had no idea of the fatal flaw, and now Rack N Ruin will forever drag down his completion percentage.

“It frustrates me when they are glitched and unachievable,” he says. “I really wish Sony would step-up and force these publishers to do something about these issues.”

This lack of regulation, coupled with a general weariness for endless grinding, has started to change the way all three of the trophy hunters I spoke with approach their hobby. Roughdawg4 used to spend a lot of time playing games he didn’t enjoy just because they had easy trophies, passing up the games he actually wanted to play in favor of boosting his trophy count. Recently, though, he’s come to lament the games he’s missed out on, and now he makes sure to take a break from trophy hunting to play games purely for fun. “It is important to have the right mix of easy games as well as playing the games you really love.”

Crisding89 has come to a similar conclusion. Trophy hunting is more of a habit than anything else, the excitement it used to inspire rapidly dwindling. In fact, once he hits trophy level 100, he plans on adopting a more ‘casual’ playstyle, perhaps even retiring from trophy hunting altogether. With over 200 games in his backlog, he simply doesn’t have the time to 100% each and every game anymore.

For MrUnknown625, even though he still enjoys the thrill of the hunt, this past year has seen him less concerned with his rankings among his fellow gamers. “I used to check my spot on the leaderboards multiple times a day,” he says. “Now it’s more like once a month.” Rather than worrying about the number of trophies he or anyone else has, his focus is now on completion percentages, as he believes they’re a better reflection of player skill than simply buying a bunch of games and churning through them.

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Even as priorities change, there’s one aspect of trophy hunting that remains constant: the sense of community. Friendships forged in the pursuit of Platinums carry special meaning, joint hardships fostering a camaraderie that makes the eventual trophy pop that much more satisfying. The best trophies encourage teamwork, bringing players together instead of pitting them against each other. That is what makes trophies so important.

“When you get a very high rank on PSN trophy level,” says MrUnknown625, “you get more respect and compliments from other players, and this makes me feel good.”

Trophy hunting might not be for everyone, but for those chasing Platinums, it’s so much more than a simple number. Bragging rights are just one part of the equation; as MrUnknown625 puts it, “Most important are the awesome friends I have made because of it.”


Matt Sayer is an analyst programmer from Melbourne, Australia with a passion for psychology and the cognitive biases that subconsciously influence our daily life. If you spot any typos or inexplicable references to birds, it’s probably one of his cats ‘helping out.’ You can find him on Twitter @sezonguitar.

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