Trophy Theory: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Online Trophies

March 15, 2017 Written by Chandler Wood


If there is one type of trophy that tends to elicit a strong reaction from the community, it’s online trophies. Of course, by reaction, I’m talking specifically about a strong unfettered hatred towards these accomplishments that can range from the mundane “play 10 games” to the ridiculous “reach the top of the leaderboards.” There is certainly an argument to be made in favor of online trophies hidden deep beneath that loathing many PlayStation gamers feel towards them, but there is a mountainous pile of reasons why online trophies will sometimes turn players entirely away from a game, as they feel they have no chance at proper completion.

The rest of us who put up with them do so through gritted teeth, while making sure that our complaints are heard in every forum post and comment board that will listen (or not. Doesn’t really matter, we just feel the need to get these things out). What better platform to bitch a bit about every trophy hunter’s bane than Trophy Theory?

In high school debate, I was taught that to properly argue your own side, you need to fully understand the opposition, so let’s take a step back and look at the good in online trophies before getting to what I know you’re all here for.

The Good

Trophy lists are a series of accomplishments in games that often encompass the full breadth of the experience. Frequently they will require players to do nearly everything the game has to offer, or play the game in ways that they wouldn’t normally have done. By leaving online trophies out, it basically acknowledges an entire side of some games as tacked on, rather than part of the experience. This is why online trophies exist. In many cases, it may get people to play an online mode they’d never try, or teach them skills that will come in handy.

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Take Overwatch for example. Aside from being an entirely online game, the trophies help with the skillful playing of each character. By going for the trophies, players learn vital tactics for how to best play, and while it’s one of the more difficult Platinums to obtain, the trophy list feels balanced, and not overly grindy or unfairly difficult. It simply requires player skill, which trophies should be a showcase of.

Similarly, Uncharted’s online trophies often come down to playing a few online matches. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, Naughty Dog simply wants you to try it out as part of the game before rewarding you with the coveted Platinum. Of course this is before an agglomeration of DLC is released, sending your trophy percentage plummeting to a pithy 50% of its former glory, but that’s come to be expected as we see additional content, both paid and free, adding additional trophies on to many games.

The Bad

This is what you came for, right? All aboard the express train to online trophy scorn! While single player portions may have their share of luck based trophies, it seems to be even worse when you’re relying on the luck of online. I know I had Overwatch as an example for good, but it exemplifies both aspects. One trophy asks you to destroy three teleporters in a single match. This requires the enemy team to have a Symmetra, who then gets her ultimate three times during the match, and you to personally get behind enemy lines and destroy the teleporter all three times without anyone else on your team taking them out first. The opportunities to actually get this trophy are mostly up to the actions of the people you play online with and out of your control.

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Of course luck and skill based online trophies have nothing on the long grind. The reason I will never obtain Platinum in Grand Theft Auto IV, despite being two trophies away, is that the grind to reach level 10 in the online would have taken over 100 hours alone, even doing a single repetitive race over and over again to earn the most experience per minute. Playing legitimately would have taken hundreds of hours, if not more, and this seems like an artificial way to keep playing the game for a longer period of time.

My suggestion? Incentivize people to play the mode, but don’t require insane grinds or time requirements in order to get platinum. There are some ways around the that long grind now, but they lead me right into the ugly parts of online trophies.

The Ugly

Online trophies demand something that single player ones don’t. Obviously they require a connection to the internet, which almost everyone with a current gen console has, but they also often require a subscription to PlayStation Plus, which not everyone shells out money for. Imagine being a single player gamer who loves Uncharted 4, and the only thing holding you back from your Platinum is the couple of easy online trophies, just because you don’t have a Plus subscription. This extra cost puts online trophies out of reach for a number of PlayStation gamers.

The hatred for online trophies has also led to an entire aspect of the trophy community that wouldn’t exist without them, trophy boosting. Instead of legitimately going for these trophies, rolling the dice on being able to pull off skilled moves against human opponents, or grinding out experience, trophy hunters come together to boost these trophies and help each other earn them easily instead of playing the game as intended.

Boosting spawned from a combination of trophies being too difficult to obtain reliably in normal play and players not wanting to waste time, but still desiring a 100% trophy list after earning most of the other trophies the game has to offer. Sadly some trophies are even out of reach for general boosting, with one such trophy in The Elder Scrolls Online requiring players sit at the top of the PVP leaderboard as Emporer, which requires an insane time commitment (I’m talking quit your job, unplug your phone, and don’t take your eyes off your TV type of commitment) and the support of an entire clan to help get you to the throne.

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Naturally the ugliest part of online trophies is that they’ve got a shelf life. As player pools decrease and servers shut down, online trophies become increasingly difficult, if not outright impossible to obtain. Obviously there are some games that stay online much longer than others, but there are a number of trophy lists that I will never personally finish because the servers are defunct. Dead Star, an all online game, lasted only seven months before being shut down, despite being a PlayStation Plus free title upon release. Trophy hunters everywhere stare in agony at their incomplete lists as only 208 out of the 50,000+ people that own it have the elusive and now unobtainable Platinum.

Online trophies aren’t going away. We’re going to continue to see them, especially as we see the online aspects of games increase. Perhaps we can start a conversation with developers though, to help them see how online trophies can be beneficial in getting players to do certain things in their game, but shape them in such a way that they don’t promote boosting, excessive grinding, or cause players to give up on a game’s trophies altogether because of the requirements in the online component.

What do you think of online trophies? Which games do them right, and which ones fail to hit the mark? Trophies should be compelling, fun, and make you feel accomplished. It shouldn’t ever feel like a chore or arduous task, and the breath of relief when that ding sounds should be from pulling off a great feat, not finally completing something that’s been plaguing you since you first glanced at the trophy list.

A future Trophy Theory will be talking about the crazy things people have done for trophies. I’ve got a few stories to share, but I’d love to share some of yours too! Reach out in the comments or at the contact info below and you may see your crazy trophy story on the site in a few weeks!


I want Trophy Theory to be a conversation. This shouldn’t be me talking at you. It should be a discussion about trophies and everything that comes with it. I want your suggestions for what you want to talk about or see on Trophy Theory. Have a question for the Trophy community that you want to discuss? Throw your ideas into the comments below, email me, or tweet me. You may see your suggestion tailored into a future Trophy Theory.

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