The 100% Gap

Contributed by DJMMT

I play a lot of video games. To date, I’ve beaten more than 1000, when defining beaten as made it to the closing credits. But I’ve obtained 100% completion in probably less than 100 of them. It seems the older I get the less I want to achieve 100% completion in games but the more I think about the fact that I’m not doing it. Many older Nintendo games, specifically in the N64 era, had a percentage completed counter showing on your save file at startup. Now Nintendo is one of the only companies that don’t have a completion percentage available as a default.

Achievements and/or trophies are now a staple part of gaming. Every PlayStation, XBOX, or Steam game comes with external challenges and some form of percentage completion measurement system. This is also true for third party game management platforms such as Ubisoft Connect and EA Origins. The Nintendo Switch is the only current platform where I have to actively try to figure out if I’ve achieved 100% completion in a game or not. I actually commend Nintendo for not having an achievement system. As much as I love the dopamine of completing an achievement or trophy challenge, especially when I wasn’t even thinking about it, I prefer the ability to just enjoy my games for what they are without thinking about maximizing my completion of them. At the same time, I find it very irritating to not be able to easily see my progress towards 100% completion when I’m actually trying to achieve it.

Rarely do I take the time to Platinum a game that has a really difficult or time-consuming set of trophy challenges, even if I really like the game. Soulslike games are probably the best example of this. I play Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Nioh, and The Surge. I love the genre. But I will never 100% complete any of them. I’ll reach the credits and never play them again, unless there’s some DLC I want to play such as in the case of Nioh 1 and 2. Too many of the trophies are just so much of an unnecessary hassle. So I simply don’t care to go after them.

While Nintendo doesn’t officially have a challenge/achievement system of some kind, I often find myself trying to achieve whatever I deem to be 100% completion in their games. Whether it’s Mario, Pokemon, Zelda or something else, I often find myself burning hours of additional time trying to do everything in AAA games on my Nintendo Switch. Recently I had been working towards a 100% completion in Paper Mario: The Origami King. I wanted all the collectibles, trophies, and challenges completed. I could have finished the game hours earlier but I put in the effort to try and get all this extra stuff done. Then I got to the trophy challenges and at first I was doing them. But ultimately I gave up. Several of them are just time consuming and not particularly fun. Why am I sinking several additional hours into a game doing activities that I don’t find fun? It makes no sense. This experience got me thinking a lot about 100% completion challenges in general.

The only games that I tend to achieve 100% completion in regularly are those from Ubisoft. Even though it took me almost 200 hours to get 100% completion in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, I stuck it through to the end. I only played Paper Mario: The Origami King for about 60 hours and I ended up giving up on the final trophies and moving on to other games. Why? What’s the difference between the two games that made me willing to sink 200 hours into one game and quit another one in less than a third of that same amount of time? I’m certainly no expert in trophy hunting, but I think it’s a noticeable difference in comparative size of the 100% gap.

The 100% gap, which is a term I made up, is the “distance” as measured in a combination of hours, effort, and difficulty between “finishing” a game and getting 100% completion in a game. Note that finishing a game means different things to different people. But in general I define it as the point at which the player has done everything in a game that they would organically choose to do regardless of an official achievement system or not. Often 100% completion in PSN and Steam games requires a lot of inorganic play. By that I mean the player is tasked with doing things they would never have done for their own enjoyment, accidentally, or by choice without an achievement system in place.

For instance, I never parry in games. It’s just not something I do. The technique is usually difficult for me to pull off, inorganic to how I play whatever the game is, and rarely delivers enough gains for the amount of effort it requires me to put in. But if I’m going for 100% completion in a game and it requires a certain number of parries then I’ll do it. This is exactly the experience I had in Ghost of Tsushima. The “Flash of Steel” trophy requires you to perform 20 perfect parry kills. I would never have done that on my own had a trophy not been involved. That’s the 100% gap in a nutshell. Whatever the player is doing that they wouldn’t be doing without the promise of an achievement is part of a game’s 100% gap.

First party Nintendo games tend to have a fairly large 100% gap while also being fairly easy to beat at face value. Think special hidden coin collecting in 2D Mario games. Ubisoft games, on the other hand, tend to have a much smaller 100% gap. At least in recent years as their achievement design philosophy has evolved. This is because their open worlds tend to contain a lot of content and tasks to complete while the list of achievements is mostly just stuff you’d do anyway if you see the game through to the end. Ubisoft’s newest IP, Immortals: Fenyx Rising, is the perfect example of this. The list of achievements, at least in Ubisoft Connect on PC, is laughably easy. You’re pretty much guaranteed to get 100% just for completing all the objective points in the game. The only achievement in the whole list I wouldn’t have done on my own is starting (not finishing) a New Game Plus run.

Ubisoft’s achievement design philosophy is also why I got the Platinum trophy in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. By just doing everything in the game and playing all the DLC, almost all the trophies were already completed. Other than that, it was just using all the weapon types and performing a few specific kill types a number of times. The bulk of my almost 200 hours spent with the game was from actually playing the game, as opposed to going out of my way to get special trophies. I just wanted to complete all the map points. Meanwhile I only have 55% completion in Kingdom Hearts II (PS4 version). I completed the game on Proud Mode, got the Ultima Weapon, and did everything I organically wanted to do and barely got past halfway to 100% completion. Even if you ignore the fact that one of the trophies requires you to complete an entire second playthrough, that’s still a fairly large 100% gap. And there are other games with 100% gaps much worse than that.

In my opinion, the best achievement design philosophy is to have the smallest 100% gap possible while also providing as much content as possible. I want to be pretty much done with a game when I reach the end of a game, assuming I’ve done everything I could find and think of up to that point. If I have to go back into a game and spend several hours trying to collect achievements for stuff I didn’t want to do on my own, or wouldn’t have wanted to do if I was made aware of it earlier, then the game has a bad achievement design philosophy.

I’m hopefully going to beat a lot of games this year. At least 30 ideally. But I’m not going to 100% most of them. And that will come down to how their achievement lists were built rather than the amount of effort I will put into the games. I want to see more games shorten that 100% gap like Ubisoft does. It’s not a matter of making games or trophies easier. It’s a matter of making achievement lists organic and relevant to the content offered by the game and how the player will naturally engage with it. If I have to go out of my way to read a game’s trophies, figure out how to solve them, and spend a bunch of extra hours to get them all, then it’s a bad trophy list and I almost certainly won’t get them all.

XPG Terrence

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