Challenges, Deconstructed

Multiplayer Daily Challenges

Multiplayer was likely the most difficult game mode to craft Challenges for because of how secondary meta-goals can have a hugely negative impact on player behavior, for objective games in particular. Any Challenge that alters player motivation to do something counter to their own health or their team goal would quickly turn the game into a hunt for Challenges, rather than the goal of the game type. A Challenge specifying a certain number of flag caps, for instance, would lead to players murdering their own in order to claim the cap for themselves, as would goals around scoring skulls in Headhunter or arming bombs in Assault. Stockpile would quickly degenerate into a game of who can grab and toss flags out and then back in again.

We’ve seen examples of this in some of the more poorly crafted Achievements from the series. Most recently, the achievement to land three melee kills with the Oddball in a single game attached to the Defiant Map Pack was a standout example of a terrible meta game: the goal in Oddball is to hold the ball for the longest amount of time. But because there is a goal of getting kills with it, players would instead rush toward the enemy. As a result, team Oddball in matchmaking was a catastrophe after the map pack released. Similarly, the Achievement to return flags in CTF created bunches of players huddled around a flag to return it, rather than the normal return tactic of one player on the flag and others defending him. It was quite the gift to multi kill seekers, though.

It is probably to avoid those kind of problems that the Multiplayer Challenges fall entirely around three basic tasks: completing games, getting kills, and earning assists, which are agnostic to Multiplayer game types.

To analyze the Challenges, I broke their descriptions down into their primary objective and secondary criteria. Starting with just that first objective, the Multiplayer Daily Challenges fall into a handful of categories; the numbers indicate how many Challenges with each objective have been used:

(Note that I’m lumping the different spree and multikill Challenges together for this summary; for instance, Double and Triple Kills.)

As might be expected, the primary type of Challenge is for kills, taking up 53% of the total. Aside from kills, the rest of the categories fall into assists, playing games (completing or winning them), sprees and multi kills, or achieving certain medals (Revenge, Avenge, First Strike, Assassinate). That handful of categories span the entire range of the Multiplayer Daily Challenges seen to date.

The winnowing process Bungie’s Challenge designers must have gone through is on full display here,  as there are no Challenges carved out for objective game types. In fact, there is no Challenge specific to any playlist, game type or even map. Much as the Challenges for killing enemies in any game type enables player flexibility, so too do the Multiplayer Challenges offer flexibility. These are actions which are universal to every game variant in the Multiplayer matchmaking mode (well, maybe not Rocket Race or Action Sack), and which are earned during the course of normal play. The lack of variety was clearly dictated by avoiding goals that could muck up player behavior.

The most used secondary goal is the requirement to achieve them in a single game, rather than over the course of the day. For example, here are two similar Challenges:

Earn 10 assists today in multiplayer Matchmaking.

Earn 10 assists in a multiplayer Matchmaking game.

The former is what I call grind Challenges – ones that pile up over the course of the day over many games. The latter must be done in a single game, creating a meta-game of sorts. All told, 46% of all Multiplayer Challenges have had the requirement that they be completed in a single game, rather than over the course of the day. (Note: This includes some single-game Challenges which require only one task, such as a First Strike.)

For all of the non-kill oriented Challenges, the requirement to complete them in one game or over the course of the day is the only secondary one which is ever attached. The breakdown into their appearance is below. (A quick note on reading tables such as these. The left column will typically list the primary objective or variable, while the right columns will distinguish between secondary criteria that can be attached. The numbers indicate how many times that Challenge has been used. For instance, the first line here can be read, ‘earn Any Multi Kill in one game”, which has been used nine times, and “earn Any Multi Kill today”, which has been used five times.)

This is where the way the Challenge system is constructed begins to become clear. With the exception of the Challenges for winning or completing games, the categories above are all tied to medals. The way medals are bucketed in the player Service Record on are Multi Kill, Spree, Weapon & Style and Objectives (setting aside the medals). The above medals are all mostly from the Multi Kill and Spree categories, while the Challenges that pull largely from Weapons & Style are kill-based, which we’ll touch on next.

What jumps out is how few of the spree and multikill medals have been used thus far; the upper end of the Multi Kill medals are never used, and just ten of nearly 40 Spree medals appear. In particular, none of the weapon-based sprees make appearances, such as sword, hammer, sniper and shotgun. It’s possible that the Challenge designers felt that encouraging such specific sprees would distort player behavior, which is why the Any Spree Challenge was conceived: the weapon-based ones can be used to complete them and players are free to pick the one that suits them. Still, there are some odd omissions, such as truly challenging medals like Perfections and Exterminations (to be used sparingly, but lucratively paid off). There are relatively few Challenges in the Spree and Multikill categories that are truly challenging, as a single Running Riot or two Triple Kills in a single game are the limit.

Kill Challenges can likewise specify a they be completed in the span of one game or over the course of the day. Below is a listing of all of the kill criteria, and whether they have been required in one game or not.

These Challenges fall into two categories: weapon classes (small arms, ordnance, precision, automatic, grenades) and style medals (plasma stick, beat down, Firebird, headshots). As with the Sprees, the omissions are worth noting. With the exception of plasma grenade sticks, none of the medals that specify a weapon are used (such as sniper or Spartan Laser kills), just weapon classes. Given the the lack of weapon specific spree Challenges, it makes sense there would be a lack of specific weapons required, to discourage weapon hoarding. But that effort cut out many of the more entertaining medals to receive. There are none involving vehicles, either using or destroying them, none for earning splatters or Wheelman medals, none for EMP overcharges or needle super combine explosions.

These two charts comprise the entire scope of the Multiplayer Challenges that have been deployed, which again just reinforces the limitations implicit by establishing a meta goal during a multiplayer game. Their foundation is the in-game medals and weapon classification systems, pared down to those which were deemed to have a minimal adverse effect on gameplay. The effort was largely successful, though there are a few exceptions. The Firebird (kills while jetpacking) or using automatic weapons require many players to use methods they might normally not, and which in many cases are downright inadvisable. Meanwhile the seldom deployed Avenge Challenge might encourage players to not save their team mate, but rather let them die and then try to Avenge their death. These examples just highlight how easy it is to distort player behavior in a multiplayer context.

While most Challenges can be completed in any playlist, some playlists are better for some Challenges than others, and Bungie has leveraged this on occasion. For instance, two Challenges to get 15 close quarter combat kills in a single game arrived immediately after the Grifball playlist was released.

All in all, the Multiplayer Challenges do a pretty good job of providing some incentives now and then to push for a certain feat during gameplay, such as stretch goals for kills, headshots, sprees, multikills and assists. For the most part, this is achieved without negative impacts on gameplay, which is a very tough balance to strike. The single-game Challenges create a fun secondary goal to work toward, while the daily ones provide regular players a reward for more normal play and allow players a choice in how they go about accomplishing them.

But what the Challenges gain in flexibility, they lose in variety. This is a necessary evil in Multiplayer, but in modes such as Firefight and Campaign, concerns about altering player behavior quickly dissipate. The opposite is actually true, as teasing players to try specific tactics against AI opponents can result in some entertaining meta games. Crackdown famously did this with great success with its Achievements. The questions are whether the in-game systems upon which Challenges are built in Reach can support them, and whether the Challenge templates were built with them in mind.

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  1. May 27, 2011

    Brilliantly written. There were many points brought up I felt like you were reading my mind. I won’t spend a lot of time breaking down my personal wishes for the challenge system as you have touched on most and I agree that this is a system that Bungie will likely expand upon in future games and will be one of the main draws. I would like to comment on the cR payouts section as it is such a huge factor in motivation for players.

    As a more casual gamer, I love challenges and often check the dailies in the morning before work thinking how fun/difficult some of them will be when I attempt them later in the day… and that’s fun for me. Thinking about different strategies and ideas on how to complete them efficiently. As I’ve climbed the ranks and time has passed since launch, I can’t tell you how disappointing it is to see 4 daily challenges worth 1000 cR or so apiece. Like you mentioned, higher ranking players can earn well above the grand total here in a single match of matchmaking (depending on length). So, unless it’s something truly unique and fun, where is the motivation? Today’s dailies are a perfect example. Used to I wanted to nail em all… but now, I think “Why bother?”

    If you look what increased weekend cR payouts (and super jackpots) do to otherwise low numbered playlists, you can see how easily players are motivated by cR payouts. Team Arena went from a couple hundred to several thousand players in the playlist with the introduction of these super jackpots. Players are heavily motivated by cR so why not extend these to challenges? As you noted, we are seeing the opposite trend occur than you would expect at this point in the games lifespan. I understand Reach will still get some new players and you don’t want them jumping 3 ranks with one challenge completion, but to take challenges that once paid out 4000 cR and drop it to 1/4 of that now doesn’t seem sensible.

    I really hope Bungie (or 343i) takes note of what you’ve done here and has intentions of expanding on (and correcting) this system. It has huge potential as it is now even with it’s limitations.

    Excellent work.

  2. RC Master
    May 27, 2011

    Good stuff. I’ve been wanting to see an analysis like this for some time and have considered doing it myself at some points!

    How did you actually collate the data and made tables? In an excel file? Database or some other method? Would you be willing to share that file? I’d love to be able to just plug in some queries and get some stats back out.

    On the article, you made a lot of valid points that I agree with wholeheartedly, and a couple of points that I think weren’t stressed enough. Overall you could have been much more critical (I certainly am :P)

    Multiplayer has a much higher susceptibility for play to being skewed in a negative way by external rewards. The kill, assist and other challenges still do this. You’re playing slayer and theres a kill challenge on? Gung-ho!
    Playing flag? Screw the flag lets just dong on the enemy team!
    Playing Grifball? Spawn-camping multi-kills ftw!

    The inherent per-action credits for kills does this already but offering challenges on top of this doesn’t help.

    I find myself consciously reaching this conclusion when a ‘get X amount of kills in MM’ comes up: “Hmmm. Multi-Team or Grifball – ignore the objective and kill dudes!”

    Challenges (and the credit system in general) should take into account the specific requirements of each game mode. At the very basic level by having one requirement for slayer and a different one for objective (as a parrallel to how kills in COD:MW1/2 were worth half as much in non-deathmatch.

    The feeling of kills > all else is so pervasive in Reach that many people literally do not realise that you get 20% bonus of your game complete when you win!

    I think its safe to argue that while multiplayer has a fair amount of replayability in the opponents, campaign practically demands that you should try wildly different, new and obscure things within its set framework since the encounters and enemies will not change.

    As noted there are a couple of examples of good challenges like this but they are too few and far between.

    The notion that there shouldn’t or couldn’t be any weapon or medal specific challenges in campaign is plainly ridiculous when you consider how most kill challenges in the mode would be got: by grinding on the same enemy or few enemies.

    Perfect example:

    At the very least a challenge that was ‘assassinations’ or ‘super-combies’ would mix things up a bit.

    The point about challenge payouts failing to scale well is spot on and I love that I can point to that graphic now. If they’re not tracking the average population rank (mean, mode, median – something!!) they damn well should be. Or if they are I can’t believe that the population has ended up so static over the last several months!

    The no-death challenges for 5K are a good example : when that challenge first came up I could afford to spend a fair amount of time on it and still feel like it was a good reward. Now if I’m going to spend more than 20mins on it there is no point as I could either be earning more elsewhere or doing something that’s actually awesome for its own sake (like trying to land a no-death single segment or improve a speed run).

    Of course, possibly the best solution would be to simply scale all challenge rewards by a player’s current level. So they can at least retain the same relevance to all players even if the reward/difficulty is still wildly off.

    Finally, don’t be shy about posting stuff like this; I enjoyed reading it. You can count on at least one reader for any further articles like this. 🙂

    Woah, ok, thats pretty long now.

  3. May 27, 2011

    Thanks for the feedback guys, you both make great points.

    RC Master, you’re right about the MP Challenges. At one point I started to mention some of those issues – using Grifball or other game types to work on kills; Multi-Team King of the Hill on a day when there is Challenge for getting X kills in a single game is amazing. I pity the fools that actually wander into the hill. In the end I scaled back some of that stuff because it was turning into a list of complaints. I settled on using one or two examples to try and speak to the overall isues. But yeah, there are many more.

    For the analysis I copied the tables into Excel, and added some columns to tag them. From the website I got the Challenge date, name and description and cR payout. From there I tagged them by day of the week, game mode, and then objective (kill, assits, etc), three fields for secondary criteria (in one game, etc.). Then spent a lot of time playing with filters and pivot tables.

    I’ll see if I can put the file up into something like Google Docs so it’s available for all. I work in finance and play with spreadsheets all day, and probably get way too much enjoyment out of it.

  4. Lawnmower172
    May 27, 2011

    Wonderful article and analysis, thanks for taking the time to do this! I would like to slightly change topic and add on another aspect of the cr system. I love the campaign, it’s my favorite game mode. But since I’ve moved my commendations up to silver and beyond, I don’t earn jack squat for the time invested (currently around 260 cr per mission). This makes it almost impossible to rank up or buy anything in the armory through campaign.

    I understand there was a very good reason Bungie capped the commendation cr in campaign. But how about fixing the mission complete payout to reward players who continue to play campaign, instead of the occasional daily ‘mission complete’ or weekly LASO challenges? This would give players who want to immerse themselves in the campaign story more reward to doing so, rather than just rewarding them for the occasional challenge.

    P.S. Thanks to HBO for linking to this article!

  5. May 30, 2011

    Thank you for a well written article.

    I was new to Halo when I bought Reach, and the Challenge System made me want more!

    You’ve covered the points about game play, mode, count and type distribution very well. I feel that I will reference this article whenever I am asked about it to newer player who are seeing the light.

  6. Homeboyd903
    May 31, 2011

    Hey, I was just wondering… as sort of a ‘wish list’ can you touch a bit on how you would like to see this system expanded upon in future Halo (or any shooter) titles? I know you’ve explained in some detail about how you’d like to see the current system expanded upon (within it’s current limitations), but I just wondered if you had some things in your head that would be brand new to this type of system that you personally would like to see added. I know I’m asking a mouthful but you never know where these guys can draw their inspiration from.

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