If you don't know about Xbox 360 achievements, then you don't know about the most brilliant Trojan Horse in gaming history.
When Microsot released it's Xbox 360 console ahead of Sony's Playstation 3 they implemented a little thing called "Achievements". These are simple points-based rewards for completing objectives in every game on the console. Seems harmless enough, but all of a sudden developers had tools at their disposal to manipulate gameplay, increase replay value and promote online activity.
Each retail game has 1000 achievement points tied to the player's online profile. A player might receive a 100 points for completing the game, 10 points for winning their first online match or 50 points for getting 100 head shots in online.
Let's look at a few of achievements for Halo 3:
Finish the Campaign on Legendary difficulty – 125 points
Find and Claim the Iron Skull – 10 points
Score 5 grenade sticks in any ranked free for all playlist – 5 points
On a Legendary map, get two Double Kills during any ranked or social match – 25 points
Enter into any ranked or social playlist with 7 EXP on the 7th of the month – 0 points
If we break down a few of these achievements you realize that you get 125 points for finishing the game on each of it's 3 difficulties. If it takes an average player 8 hours to finish the game, that's 24 hours to complete all 3 difficulty levels. When that game's inevitable sequel is released, you can be sure the people that sat down for so long with the previous game will be purchasing the next one.
Then there are rewards for going online and then even greater awards for continuing to play online to meet certain objectives. This relates right back to future sales.
And now we're seeing achievement points get attached to downloadable (paid) content as in the Halo Legendary map specific achievements. Players must first purchase the Legendary Map Pack in order to be eligible for these points.
But it's not all marketing, it's bragging rights too. As can be seen by the 0 point achievement for playing the game on a certain date with a certain amount of experience.
Since Microsoft has the foresight of making their achievement system an open API, I can even show you my up to the date score right here:
And, by building this system into all of its games for a year before the PS3 was on shelves, Microsoft had a built in mechanism for staying with Xbox 360. Since most games aren't console exclusives anymore, people would choose the Xbox version of a game to boost their gamer score.
I've already rambled on too long about this subject, but I will end on the best measure of Microsoft's success in this matter. Sony has recently implemented a "Trophy" system into the PS3, obviously realizing they really missed the boat on this one.