Trophy Theory: The Importance of a Good Trophy List

July 5, 2017Written by Chandler Wood

PlayStation Trophy Theory First Bronze trophy

Trophies and achievements are a part of gaming now, like it or not. Gamers and developers both know it. It’s an added layer of gaming that’s easy enough to ignore if you aren’t into collecting little digital accolades, but provides an increased depth for those of us that love to dive in and challenge ourselves, or just want a way to explore every little bit that a game has to offer. Not all trophy lists are created equal though. We’ve already talked about the positives and negatives of online trophies, but this week’s Trophy Theory is all about the importance of a good trophy list overall.

If all trophy lists are not created equal, that must mean that there is such thing as a perfect trophy list then, right? Well that’s a complicated question without a solid answer. Obviously there are some great trophy lists out there, and there are some games with atrocious lists, but what makes one shine over the other? Is it a certain ratio of collectible trophies to story trophies? Is it a calculated grind that entices play while not exhausting players? Is it a hyper challenging accomplishment that only a few players will ever achieve? It’s all of these things, and yet it’s none of them, because the fluidity of the value of a trophy list is dependent entirely on the game.

When we talked about online trophies, I made the case for Overwatch being a great example of perfectly implemented online trophies. Being an online game, it obviously needs to have online trophies. Each trophy helps players to improve, either with specific characters or with certain skills in the game. It requires a fair amount of skill and dedication to the game to earn the Platinum trophy without making it feel like too much of a grind. Getting the Platinum on Overwatch is a commendable accomplishment that you can feel was well earned.

Horizon Zero Dawn The Frozen Wilds

Horizon: Zero Dawn was another trophy list I was very impressed with. It encouraged discovery within the world, and challenged players with completing much of the side content, but they also built the content in game to feel like it had enough meaning to collect in the first place. There aren’t many things worse than being tasked with tracking down 100 pointless collectibles in a game, placed there only because for some reason developers feel like every game needs collectibles. Tailoring the ideal trophy list goes hand in hand with game development and making sure that the driving force of any game doesn’t feel disconnected or pointless. You want every task and every chase to have meaning within each game, and it finally feels like developers are starting to realize this.

How Bad Trophy Lists Ruin Games

Raise your hands if you’ve ever had a trophy list that has made you have disdain for an otherwise good game? I’m going to assume that there are a fair number of you with you figurative hands in the air. It’s happened to many a trophy hunter. A fun game is suddenly brought down by an insane grind, difficult challenge, or nigh impossible online trophy. Whether it’s a single missed trophy holding you back from platinum, or the majority of a list tasking you with things that just aren’t in sync with the game, a trophy list with bad elements can mar the gameplay experience.

I love the Kingdom Hearts series. It’s one of my favorites and has been since the first game launched, but the insane trophy requirements on the first collection on PS3 (non stackable difficulty trophies) really left a sour taste in my mouth. This is true of so many otherwise good games. The Last of Us is another amazing title, yet the first thing that springs to mind with it is how much I despise its trophy list and how it blatantly goes against the grain of the game itself, mandating grinds and difficult challenges on a game that is largely emotional and story focused. It may sound like I am calling out the trophy list for being too hard, but it’s more than that. The trophy list feels distinctly separate from the game, almost an afterthought rather than intrinsically a part of it.

Nex Machina Preview 2

To prove my point, I think that Nex Machina has a fantastic trophy list. It feels deeply connected with everything that Housemarq’s latest title is about. Yes, it challenges the player to near controller-throwing frustration, but that’s in line with the difficulty curve and purpose of the gameplay. The trophies supplement the game design and earning the Platinum on Nex Machina will feel like a true accomplishment, versus other tough games that simply feel like a relief once you’re finally done.

What Makes a Good List?

We’ve determined that a good list is dependent on the game. Each and every one cannot follow a formula, because each and every game does not follow a formula. A good trophy list should accent the game, creating added value and supplementing the game. If the trophy list was to be integrated right into the game itself, it should feel natural that it is there. Sometimes difficulty is key, sometimes narrative focus, and yes, sometimes even online trophies, but a trophy list should take its cues from the game itself. Developers ought to make sure that their trophies reflect the things they want players to experience in their game, rather than being an arbitrary shopping list tacked on at the tail end of development.

A good trophy list is important. If tailored correctly to a game it will offer players the opportunity to experience everything the game has to offer, to increase their skills with the game, and will provide an apt challenge without making players feel like they are wasting their time. It is possible to skimp on the trophy list, and it is possible to go overboard, but depending on the game, each developer can find that happy medium, that perfect trophy list. A good trophy list feels like an earned accomplishment. A bad one feels like an arbitrary task list. Obviously everyone’s opinions on trophy lists will differ slightly, but that’s why it’s important to strike a balance, appeasing as many players as possible while also providing something of a challenge and a reason to explore the depths of any game.


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.