Congratulations, by completing a 50 page short story using only paper and pencil, you have received the Papyrus Achievement. Be sure to claim your reward from the Archivist in the Scribe Sanctuary.
Huh. What am I on about now?
Well, let’s take a few steps back and start at the beginning. I play a lot of computer games, always have, probably always will. I don’t play those high octane, keyboard bashing, mouse destroying FPS games – they just give me a headache and to be honest I was never any good at them. Probably something to do with reaction times deteriorating in geriatrics… I prefer a more sedate, intellectual game… Over the years I must have spent thousands of hours on role-playing games like Skyrim, Witcher or Fallout. I have played many hundreds more hours on sim strategy games like Civilisation, SimCity and Starcraft/Warcraft … and yes, I am a geek and proud of it. So what is the point of me telling you this?
Well, achievements. When you start playing games, especially role-playing games, you initially immerse yourself in the storyline, your characters development and the quests and tasks you need to complete the game. As time progresses (and the depth of the game world unfolds), you begin to spend more time on side-quests, things that have no bearing on the completion of the game, but which provide you with more rewards and storyline you would otherwise miss. Games have all of this to keep you playing, help you achieve goals and progress your character and more importantly extending the game so that you feel that you are getting your monies worth…. Game developers have also added specific achievements where you need to kill a million goblins or sell a hundred carts of wood, defeat a game level without a enemy seeing you or defeating a level boss wearing a loin cloth. I know many people who spend hours re-running parts of a game just to get a perfect score or ‘clear’ every possible monster or win a specific achievement.
What the online games like WoW, Diablo3 and services like Steam have done, is put these achievements up on the worlds biggest scoreboards and people who were just trying to “complete” their game are now are competing for top scores or special achievements with the rest of the world. I do not play WoW so I cannot comment on it’s achievements, but lets take the recently released Diablo 3. I completed it in just over a hundred hours using only my demon hunter character and by the time I stopped from boredom (and server problems), I probably only had 40% of the possible achievements and none of the special ‘god-like’ rewards. In contrast, there are people who have played over 300 hours on each of the 5 different character classes you can choose from… That’s over 1500 hours on a single game with the same storyline and same levels!…. and from reading the forums and watching the chats, it’s all about getting the achievements for bragging rights and finding the elusive god-like rewards that drop once in a millennium of game time.
1500 hours – that’s about 10 months of 8 hours a day (assuming weekday play only). Almost a YEAR playing a game? I may like to play games but I do not think I have ever played a single game for longer than 300 hours and that probably would have included letting it get dusty on the shelf after completing the first time and then replaying it again a year later. And these people play for achievements and rewards that have little to do with the original game end-goal!
Games are not the only things with achievements. Health, fitness and sports sites have them. Grief, Weighless has been doing this kind of thing for decades….so what about writing achievements?
Now I know that writers are a particularly solitary and mostly non-competitive group of weirdos but we are human, we play games, we like achieving something once in a while. Surely this concept would work for us too?
Lets face it, most of us writers will go years without any recognition, publication or external encouragement related to our writing. Are we not deserving of something to help keep us motivated? Even something entirely virtual and without any real reward other than our own improved motivation? Or are we all expected to stoically persevere in solitary confinement until we are ready to send our masterpieces into the big wide world?
What about things like Nanowrimo or those blog a day challenges? At times I found the pressure to get to my daily word count both motivating and very demotivating but whatever the result, the fact that there was a target to achieve did get me writing and concentrating my time and efforts on writing – successfully or not, it forced me to ignore distractions and write. Interacting with other Nanos and comparing word counts and challenges helped me and kept me thinking that “if they can do it, then so can I!” It was not that I was competing, it just helped motivate me to write – in the same way that playing a multi-player game requires you to keep building your score with your peers and when things get tough, the other players assist in defeating that butcher boss. The Nano reward is the feeling of accomplishment when you finally have 50 000 words in front of you. Hundreds of thousands of people doing it each November seems to say that this kind of thing does work and collecting over a million dollars means it can continue.
Critters.org requires you to crit writing at least once a week to remain an active member and you have to maintain a minimum crit to time ratio if you want to be eligible to submit your own work for crits. There are even achievements that include “most valid crits”, the reward is to jump your own work to the top of the pile of works waiting to be critted. I have been a member (active on and off) for almost since its inception 18 years ago and there are usually a few thousand active members at any given time and most writing gets 10 to 20 crits. Each week a handful of the users let everyone know that their crittered stories have been published somewhere – the ultimate reward for a critted story. Something that has been running for almost 2 decades must have figured out how to make it work.
I have only been able to find two related services that address the idea directly, but I am not sure if the few hundred people using these two services (Magic Spreadsheet and 750words) are enough of an indication of the success of this concept or the specific implementation chosen. Magic Spreadsheets idea is that you get more points the more consecutive days you write a minimum number of words, what these points are used for I have no idea – maybe just a leaderboard? I definitely like the compounding reward system vs just reaching a daily word count…
750words is an online ‘typewriter’ that you use to write in the cloud and it tracks your achievements and gives you points for words per day and consecutive days written (along with a multitude of statistics on your writing habits). The 750words site also seems to have badges for achieving various goals but I do not want to sign up just for a test and somehow I do not feel comfortable putting my writing online in this way. Although both services address motivation through competitiveness the rewards seem irrelevant and disconnected… Maybe that’s just my view on it.
I was pleased to find these two services – mainly because they help confirm that other people thought this idea/concept was worth something. Unfortunately I do not know if they have hit on the ideal implementation yet and this is where my product development background kicks in. How do we get the same single minded dedication portrayed by the gamer across to the budding writer? Would this be something people would actually want and use? How would it work? Would this be but a small part of a larger writing community or could it stand-alone? Would achievements be tangible real world things like fast tracking a manuscript to an editor or agent? Or would they just be virtual pats on the back? What are the hidden pitfalls of this kind of service? What are the critical success factors? – LOL maybe I have not forgotten the business jargon… Is this actually something worth doing? Would it appeal to budding writers?
Ignoring the obvious product design side of things, my entrepreneurial mind also can’t quite figure out how to sustain this kind of service with an economically viable business model – sure there are the usual marketing tie-ins and even reselling reputable author services to members but would this be enough? Would this service actually need to make any money or could it just tick over like some sort of self-sustaining perpetual motion machine?
The writer and gamer in me thinks it’s an idea worth thinking about and writers need to write and write often so why would something like this not work – especially for those who, like myself, are new to the game and stumble every so often until they get the occasional kick in the butt to put themselves on back track.
Have you or are you using something like this?
ps. I need a kick in the butt… anyone?