Why Can’t I Just Turn Off Achievements?

Over in a corner of the blogesphere this week achievements have been the discussion point.

Syl at MMO Gypsy started venting on Twitter about achievements and went on the write about about her hate of them and other like things at her blog.

In the way of the world, that lead to Liore at Herding Cats to express her love of achievements.  Cuppy joined in on that front as well, while Klepsacovic just wonders if they are the right tool for the job.

The lines were drawn, let the battle commence!

Both sides make impassioned, emotional pleas for their point of view.  The ill-defined concept of “immersion,” which I think means something different to everybody, has been flung about.  Comments have popped up trying to explain one point of view to those whole held the other, myself included.  All just the blogesphere functioning as designed.

I fall on the achievement lovers side of the argument.  They went into World of Warcraft five years ago and I have enjoyed Blizzard’s implementation ever since.

Vikund's Achievements

Vikund’s Achievements – Oct. 15, 2008

I don’t think they necessarily belong in every MMO… and some retro-fits, like the EverQuest implementation, make me groan… but for WoW, already a bright and shiny game with a cultural reference around every corner, it seems like a good match.  I especially like the statistics tab which tracks all sorts of little details, but I am that sort of person.

That isn’t to say that I don’t “get” the dislike of achievements.  And while I think trying to describe what immersion is to each other is like trying to describe what blue is to each other, I can understand how some might find that a shiny pop-up in the middle of their experience might break that for them.

And while I was absorbing all of this, a thought popped into my head.

What if you could just turn them off?

I am not even suggesting that they be expunged from the game, but that the game have a check box somewhere in the settings to not pop up achievements, yours mine or ours.  They would still accrue somewhere in the background in case the person in question changed their mind, but while the correct box was checked somewhere in the settings, they just wouldn’t be a thing on that particular game client.  No pop-ups allowed.

And in imagining that, it sounded so simple that I had to believe that such a setting was already there.  I mean, you can turn off all sorts of things in the UI in most games.  How could that not already be a thing?

So I launched World of Warcraft and went to the setting to check.

You can turn on and off lots of UI elements in WoW.  You can toggle the on screen quest list, quest tracking, floating names over players and NPCs, quests markers on the map and so on and so forth.  There are even conditional settings, so you can have NPC names hidden unless they are part of a quest you are on.

But as far as I can tell, there is no setting to turn off achievement pops.

Well, WoW is a big game, with 7.6 million subscribers at last count.  Maybe somebody has filled this niche with an addon!  So I went to Curse to look at achievement related addons.  There are dozens of addons devoted to helping you find, track, and achieve your achievements, but not one to suppress them.  There may be one out there (let me know if there is) but I couldn’t find it in my admittedly limited search.

I decided to check other games.  The next up was Rift.  I downloaded the latest update, which was sizable, and got into the game.  Ignoring the fact that somebody clearly left the realm administration console unlocked during a bathroom break (Or was that server-wide broadcast about Ceiling Cat watching you part of the current event?) and the blinky telling me I earned a reward just for logging in (that I could do without) I started leafing through the settings.


Like WoW, Rift has a pretty comprehensive set of things you can turn on and off.  There is even a social media tab where you can annoy your soon-to-be-ex-friends by spamming Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr with all of your achievements.  But I could not find a way to keep achievements from popping on your screen.

I can automatically decline marriage proposals (which I have set) but achievements are sacred.  I even tried editing the UI to see if I could move achievements off screen, but that particular UI element isn’t part of the editor.

No luck on that front.  So I moved on to Middle-earth.

Lord of the Rings Online doesn’t have achievements… at least not in the WoW sense of them.  But there are traits and pop ups and all sorts of little nags that do get on my nerves.  And they also have a pretty comprehensive list of things in the settings.  But on the achievement-like traits front there was no joy there.  Like other games, there are plenty of potentially immersion breaking things you can turn off, but trait notifications… and the accompanying “Visit the LOTRO Store!” message… are stuck on.  So I moved on.

Next I patched up and tried EverQuest II.  EQII has such a half-hearted “I’m just like WoW! Love me too please!” attempt at achievements that even I am not really interested in them.

Which is odd when I think about it, because EverQuest II had a sort of proto-achievements implementation back at launch in 2004.  In addition to server first and world first discoveries, which were kind of neat until they inevitable ran out, there were the slaughter titles you got for killing so many undead or gnolls or what not.  But they felt they needed to tack on the WoW model as well, making EQII even more of a mish-mash of conflicting visions.


Anyway, in digging through the “monumentally huge since day one” options window of the game, I figured out that achievements are part of the updates and notifications in the game.  You can set how quickly they are displayed and where the UI element shows up, but it doesn’t appear that you can actually turn them off.  I suppose you could move that off-screen, but since it shows information for things besides just achievements, I am not sure if that is a viable solution.  Call that a “maybe” at best.

I thought about checking Guild Wars 2, but was brought up short by two things.  First, their super duper, point of interest, laundry list, be the completionist mechanism seemed so much a part of the game when I tried it that I seriously doubted you could turn it off.  And it seems to have progressed since then.

Hah, finished!

Hah, finished!

And, second, I’ve forgotten my password and I cannot get Anet to cough it back up again because I’ve changed internet services since I last logged in so they think I am trying to hack the account.  Saved me from patching in any case.

I also considered checking EverQuest, which has had achievements grafted onto it as well, but I was starting to get bored with the whole idea.  Plus the pattern seemed to be pretty clear and I hated to ruin it by finding a contrary example.  Once you have two points, draw the line, calculate the slope, and move on I say!

But this does leave me with a few questions.

First, does any MMORPG with achievements let you turn off the pop ups?  Did I miss an example or a setting or an addon that would do that for any of the above or some other example?  And why isn’t the option to turn off achievement pop ups available?  Do companies believe them to be so important that the game cannot be separated from the achievements?

Then, would turning off the achievements as I have describe be enough for you explorers and those of you who just do not like achievements in general?  Or does the fact that achievements simply exist bother you?

21 thoughts on “Why Can’t I Just Turn Off Achievements?

  1. HarbingerZero

    I’m an explorer and I’m okay with achievements. To be fair, that means I ignore them unless they have some beneficial prize attached to them. If killing 10 rats gets me a cool title, I’ll be happy to chase that goal whilst I explore. Otherwise, if it happens it happens, if it doesn’t it doesn’t.

    Immersion wise…well, I just don’t buy it. As long as there is a toolbar with 30 abilities on it sitting at the bottom of the screen and a map in one corner and a chatbox in the other, immersion is a laudable but laughable goal.


  2. Telwyn

    Achievements do not bother me that much as a bolt-on activity for the ‘achievers’ among us. They can be abused though by both players and developers. Achievements was quickly seized-upon, wrongly IMHO, in WoW by some PUGers as a socially-enforced barrier-to-entry for heroic dungeons and raiding. I suspect dungeon/raid-finder made this behaviour redundant but for a while ‘link achievement’ was a common enough demand before group invites were issued.

    I also think developers can abuse them, e.g. questing by ticklist – Guild Wars 2 style. That is gating event related rewards behind the system, which I think is a step too far.


  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @HZ – You illustrate my point about immersion. Your telling me that hot bars… or Brian Green telling me that cultural references… automatically break immersion and, thus, invalidates any argument I have about something else breaking immersion seems pretty presumptive. How could you possibly know what I find immersive and what breaks that for me?

    I doubt any of us could come up with a definition of immersion that we could all agree upon without getting to such a point of vagueness that it would be meaningless.

    And while I have my own mental list of “how does X not break immersion for you when you are complaining about Y?” questions, I am trying to take the high road, since arguing about it seems fruitless. It isn’t easy. I am as presumptive in my own thoughts.


  4. BlueFletch

    There is at least one addon in WoW that lets you move/resize/hide all the UI elements, though the name escapes me (been gone from the game a while). It worked on the achievement popup as well, but I think you still got chat box notification of achievements whether or not you saw the popup.


  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @BlueFletch – It was hard for me to believe that there wasn’t such an addon. But I only went through Curse, which is a subset of addons, because I was getting the creeping sense of “it is time for bed” and figured somebody would have checked this out already. So thanks, there is hope for one out there.

    And I think you can even edit the chat settings to not show achievements. So you could potentially block them.


  6. Electrolux

    Being able to turn them off would be welcome. Let’s do that.

    Infinitely preferable to a angst-ridden row over immersion. Not even going to go there.

    On further reflection, that no dev anywhere ever thought that anyone would want to turn these off says it all about modern MMO development. Thoughtless. Inconsiderate. I daren’t go as far as ignorant. It’s sad because these are human failings and not technical ones.


  7. Kevin Brill (@kevinbrill)

    It is completely weird to play on Emerald Dream from an achievement point of view. I don’t feel like I need to stress myself anymore about not exploring every last nook and cranny for fear of missing an achievement. I just…move on… and I’m okay with it.

    It is kind of freeing in a way.


  8. rimecat

    My only problem with achievements in WoW is how many of them are awarded for doing things wrong. Sort of like the way you are supposed to PvP with your orphan out during children’s week or dungeon/raid achievements for ignoring mechanics. Not much of a problem when things are on farm and you are bored but damn is it annoying when people keep insisting that we try it on content that requires some attention.


  9. NetherLands

    While turning them completely off has to my knowledge only be asked about during Wrath, making Achievements Accountwide with MoP did spark the discussion about making that sharing optional.

    People felt (correctly, imo) that making this sharing mandatory meant a severe reduction in replayabillity of the game, especially for those players who played alts like in PnP games ie individual characters with their own history (and hence Explore and Faction achieves) , and of course it was (and is) rather odd a character that has never left the Starting Zone can run about as ‘The Explorer’ etc.

    Till this date however you can’t turn off this sharing nor Achievements as a whole – though tbh if someone likes the later, wouldn’t simply ignoring it help (as it isn’t an inherent game mechanic like the sharing) :?


  10. NetherLands


    While I share your sentiment 100%, the Children’s Week example is in so far incorrect that if one just plays the BG maps involved correctly, you’ll be (trying to do) the acts required already, just with right timing (most notably the ‘capping a Flag’ in Eye of the Storm, first cap bases, thenflags, generally speaking).


  11. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @rimecat – Indeed. The reason I won’t ever get the “Long Strange Trip” achievement is that I refuse to do the Children’s Week achievements that amount to “go mess up somebody’s enjoyment for an shiny.” Do not want. Best summarized here.


  12. bhagpuss

    For me it turns out that achievements are like olives or Stilton: an acquired taste that, once acquired, becomes a firm favorite.

    Not all that long ago I felt about them much as Syl does. Now my view is probably much closer to yours.

    I have long been of the view, however, that there are few elements of any MMO that wouldn’t be improved with an On/Off toggle in Options and Achievements are a honking great painfully obvious example of why that’s the case. It’s astounding they aren’t blockable in most games.


  13. Matt

    I remember back in Wrath looking for an option to turn off the achievement spam in guild chat, due to not wanting to call attention to myself every time WoW thought I did something halfway notable. But alas, there was and is no way to do it.

    As long as there is a toolbar with 30 abilities on it sitting at the bottom of the screen and a map in one corner and a chatbox in the other, immersion is a laudable but laughable goal.

    Well I think the idea is more that seeing a big popup and a noise with some bit of metainfo like an achievement breaks concentration and takes you right out of what you were doing. Level ups do it too, I’m sure most of us have been focused and didn’t even realize we were about to level up until we did. You can forget the UI is there, but then BAM “Achievement Unlocked: Walked 100 feet”


  14. BlueFletch

    The WoW addon is MoveAnything. I don’t know if it is up to date with the current version of the game or if it even still works at all, but I used to use it to hide outdated things like the zone PVP indicators from Burning Crusade zones while levelling during Wrath and Cataclysm. I don’t remember if I hid the achievement popups, but I know I resized and moved them to somewhere less disruptive than the middle of the screen.

    I believe SWTOR lets you remove the achievement popups with their custom UI tools, as well, but I played before the big achievement patch, so maybe not anymore.


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  16. C. T. Murphy

    I really enjoyed EQ2’s ‘proto-achievements’ as you called them. Item discovery (server and global) was a pretty ingenious approach too, as well as their proto-Armory feature (despite the additional paywall).


  17. wokyr

    I hate these things that pop up anytime.
    I don’t care about the UI, which is fix, but something that appear in the middle on the screen, blinking to make sure we saw it clearly break my immersion.

    This made me think about something else ; flying.
    I often heard people saying that flying mounts on MMOs break the game (mostly talking about PvP).
    But I’ll never forget when TBC launched : when I finally was able to fly, I was way more into it.
    I’m really terrible with orientation and all this shit, be it RL or in any game. But flying helped me a lot feeling I was INSIDE this big world, as I could go anywhere, without any wall between them.
    I’m disappointed that so few games offer flying mounts, because that’s a big immersion factor for me.


  18. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @wokyr – Indeed, getting to level 70 at the end of BC and getting to fly… especially if you got the druid flight form… that was sheer awesome.

    But it would be tough to deny that not only did it change the game, but it changed people’s outlook on the game. When WotLK came out and we had to walk again until level 77… that was frustrating.

    And then they changed it so you get flying at 60, so BC content became pretty easy, you can just fly over any mobs you want to avoid. And in the 80-85 Cata content, they had to put you under water or in a cave or some such to get you off the flying mount and make you go through stuff.

    It represents a serious design issue, and once you let people fly they don’t want to stop.


  19. wokyr

    That’s true. But it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea :)

    Are people who rush mobs without reading the quest, looking at mobs position on the internet different than those flying?
    I don’t even talk about all these MMOs where you can use teleportation every 2mn if you want.
    If you want to avoid trashs / hostile players, there’s always an easy way to do it.
    At least flying is an easy way that is cool as fuck.


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  21. Syl (@Gypsy_Syl)

    Somewhat belated: I guess it would take a developer to tell us why not, but this exactly has been one of my own questions for a while. why can’t we just turn the achievement feature off / why isn’t this opt-in? for something that relies so heavily on UI and overlays, it should lie in the realm of the feasible? I’ve no issue with playstyle variety, only with the opposite. :)

    That’s one of the nice things about the ES series too, customizability. the console commands essentially allow players to have whatever experience they prefer – which isn’t only brilliant for the audience but profitable surely.


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