The Joy and Misery of Hunting for Video Game Trophies

Easter eggs like this can be a lot of fun, but many are so obscure you’ll never find them in a normal playthrough. I played Hitman 2 to death and never realized you can summon a Kraken on the Sapienza map.

Gamification and Rivalries

Leaderboards and the pursuit of high scores have always been a part of gaming, but trophies and achievements as we know them today began with Microsoft’s Gamerscore system for the Xbox 360 in 2005. That was extended to Games for Windows in 2007, the same year Valve added achievements into Steam. The following year, Sony hopped on board with PlayStation Trophies, and a few years later Apple and Google added achievements to their respective mobile gaming services. Nintendo is the only major gaming platform that doesn’t have an achievement system.

Trophies often extend the life of a game, encouraging players to look beyond the main story, but they are ultimately arbitrary challenges for bragging rights. And trophy hunters can get lost in the pursuit. Better known by his PlayStation Network handle, Hakoom, Hakam Karim has been the world leader in collecting PlayStation trophies on and off for a few years now. He has 105,828 trophies at last count, according to PSN Profiles, the most popular unofficial leaderboard.

“I spend around 10 to 15 hours per day playing and unlocking trophies,” Karim says. “Say around 90 hours a week or so.”

While there are gamers with higher overall trophy counts, Karim’s lead has largely been based on Platinum trophies (he has 3,188 at the time of writing). To score a Platinum trophy, you must unlock all the other trophies in the game. Trophies are assigned different scores based on their level of difficulty: It’s 15 points for a Bronze, 30 for Silver, 90 for Gold, and 300 for Platinum (upgraded from 180 by Sony last year).

Sony doesn’t maintain an official leaderboard, and there’s some debate in the trophy hunting community about who should be top. PSN Trophy Leaders, for example, lists Roughdawg4 (who prefers not to share his real name) as the current leader with 110,631 trophies, and 3,360 Platinum trophies. He hunts for trophies for around 20 to 40 hours a week.

“I got hooked very early on in the PS3 days,” Roughdawg4 says. “I’ve always been a completionist gamer so earning trophies and doing all you can in a game just came naturally for me.” He removed himself from PSN Profiles after a disagreement with the owner. “I personally think he has made some unethical decisions on how the site is run,” he says, before making some claims about Karim hacking certain trophies.

Reading through the forums on trophy hunting sites, these kinds of complaints are common. People are accused of hacking trophies or working as a part of a team under a single account, but these claims are difficult to prove.

The Endless Grind

Just like how there are many highly sought-after trophies, a vast majority don’t have much thought put into them. 

“It’s all about unrealistic aims, at both ends of the scale,” Webb says. “Any achievement or trophy that just pops when you start up a game is a waste of oxygen. Then there’s the achievements you get for dying a certain number of times—how is that even fun or an accomplishment?”

There are virtually impossible achievements too, such as completing a game multiple times, hitting number one in the world rank, or reaching some unattainable in-game level.

“We want players to feel accomplishment when completing hard trophies, so we try to avoid repetitive or tedious tasks, as the only thing players feel after completing those is a sense of relief,” Timmins says. “Creating a difficult yet engaging trophy is not simple.”

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