Just made a post this morning on Warp Skip regarding Foursquare, XBL achievements and usability. Here’s an excerpt:
Gamerscore and achievements serve a similar purpose. They give you feedback on your play; they give you acknowledgment when you do something noteworthy; they let you know (in broad terms) how much of a game’s content you’ve completed; they let you compare the way you’re playing the game to the way your friends are playing it. Achievements are one of the reasons I prefer playing games on the 360 to playing games on (for example) the Wii: more feedback, more context, makes for a more fun gaming experience.
With a few notable exceptions, no one plays games just for the achievements. They’re not a goal in and of themselves. Likewise, no one “plays” Foursquare just to get the badges. Both badges and achievements are there to let you know that your activities follow a particular pattern. As an added benefit, badges and achievements you haven’t earned yet suggest what other patterns are possible.
I wrote this before I read Sirlin’s response to Jesse Schell’s lecture, in which we are urged “to be vigilant against external rewards” (such as achievements). “How resistant are you to letting others manipulate you with hollow external rewards?” asks Sirlin. Obviously, I am much more sanguine about achievements—I think that people like them because they are useful and fun—and hope to argue for this more effectively in a future post.