Trophy Theory: Trophies, What Are They Good For?

March 29, 2017Written by Chandler Wood

It has recently come to my attention that not everyone understands PlayStation trophies. I wish I could say that I’m surprised, but there are those out there that simply hate fun and that’s all there is to it. All kidding aside, this is a legitimate question that I quite often get when people find out that I am a trophy hunter. Why do we do it? In other words: trophies, what are they good for? Absolutely…something.

Trophies serve some very particular roles for developers and gamers alike, but it is first important to understand some of the reasons that people may look at you when you tell them how many trophies you have, and ask that looming question “What are they good for?”

Absolutely Nothing

Who can say why they don’t like trophies better than those that don’t like them? These are some actual comments received since I started the Trophy Theory column a month ago.

“I don’t like trophy hunting its pointless you get nothing for it”

“Trophies…SUCK.”

“All trophies are pointless online or offline. Just a marketing tool to make you think a game is better value than it is. If you like a game play it for the enjoyment not to hunt down some elusive or easy trophy.”

“I don’t see the point in [trophies]”

Many people find trophies to be an immaterial victory, an extraneous reward that adds literally nothing to the game and instead has such a psychological effect on gamers as to eliminate the fun factor and create a compulsive need to earn trophies instead. Where is this disdain coming from? Are trophies just an added layer that can be easily ignored, or do they fundamentally change games at their very core? Are they really just a psychological marketing tool? While some of the dissenters may be on to something with their views, I don’t think they’re seeing the whole picture.

For the Love of the Game

I’ve made the argument before that the trophy mentality has been around for a long time, since the first time we put our initials on a leaderboard in a game. Trophies are a resume of our accomplishments in games, highlighting not only the feats we’ve accomplished, but also showcasing defeats and things we have yet to complete. If I really love a game, I want to show my support for every little bit of it and earn the Platinum trophy. I am driven to get good enough at parts of the game that require skill and to see all that it has to offer, attempting to play it in ways that I may never have done otherwise.

In fact, that’s what a lot of developers use trophies for too. Studios spend years on a game, only to see some players pick it up briefly and never explore it further. Even those that complete the game aren’t necessarily stopping to smell the roses, as can be evidenced by the trophy percentages that expose the shockingly small number of people that actually do much of anything in games. I’m always amazed when I see a trophy that’s mere minutes into a game have a less than 90% earn rate, and you’ll often see games’ completion trophies sitting at less than 50%. Trophies give that little extra kick to see a game through to its credits and beyond.

diablo-3-ps4

In a game like Diablo III, I don’t know that I would normally play as each of the different classes without the trophies to drive me. I’m normally the sword bearing knight type character, and in many games, trophies have been just the push I need to play outside of my comfort zone. Sure, some of you may be able to do that of your own volition. Congratulations on your mountains of self-will. For the rest of us, trophies will have to do the trick.

Get More From Your Game

Time and money are commodities, and there are literally millions of things in the world that are fighting for yours. Gaming isn’t particularly cheap, so we often try to find ways to maximize the value we get. Trophies allow us to take what could have been an eight hour experience and expand it to double or triple that as we replay, perform certain feats, and explore the game to its fullest. It’s much the same reason that home releases of movies get loaded up with bonus features, expanding the value that we get from the purchase.

By now some of you are asking, “What about good old fashioned fun Chandler?” to which I reply “Trophies are fun, dammit!” and though they sometimes prove to be frustrating, most often they provide a road map to what fun can be had from a game. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Trophies plot a course for how to spend your time with a game, whether it’s deciding which difficulty level to play at, or selecting a particular play style, like the oft imitated challenge of doing all stealth in missions.

Challenge and Competition

Of course, for many trophies are a challenge and an end goal, with competitiveness compelling us onward to achieve tasks that have been completed by few before. The more rare and elusive the Platinum trophy, the more trophy hunters desire it for their collection. Even the sheer numbers of trophies can offer some level of pride for a trophy hunter, allowing them to show off their gaming prowess. I know that my trophy collection is a point of pride for myself, and completion of trophy lists tends to be a challenge that I place on myself to get the most from my gaming experiences.

ps4 Trophies

The value placed on trophies is attributed to the primal nature of the human mind, the same way some may place value in rooting for a sports team, or enjoy things that others don’t. As immaterial as some may claim trophies are, there’s a clear release of dopamine and endorphins involved in the earning of these digital tick marks.

What it really comes down to is psychology, for both those that love to collect every trophy on the list, and the people that find nothing but problems with the trifling trinkets. Sure, they may not be for you, but for those that love to collect them, they are that gold star of recognition, a task list, a set of challenges, and a competition all rolled into one. They drive and validate our love of video games, creating a sort of history book of the accomplishments along the way.

So, trophies, what are they good for? Good god y’all! I’ll sing it again! Or not. Karaoke night isn’t until next week.

We’re still accepting submissions for a future Trophy Theory the 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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