Rethinking Achievements on Steam

Case Study by René Engelhardt — Dec 19, 2021


Disclaimer: This is a concept and not a real world product made by Valve Software.

Achievements in gaming have a very strong presence across the last 15 years. Some collect them to feel the accomplishment of 'truly' completing a game, others the competition between them and their friends. No matter the cause, achievements in video games are here to stay and will continue to fascinate gamers for various reasons.

The Problem

Steam still uses an outdated design and thought process of their achievements component. Over the last decade, almost all other gaming distributions evolved this feature to give players more reasons to complete a game, either through trophies or scores that add up to the users profile.

This one in particular hasn't been updated in quite a while, a lot of quality of life features are missing and the visual design is not up to date with the new Steam Library Overhaul design system.

Key Drivers

As I looked through various related websites for what features are the most beneficial for the majority of users, these three are among the most important that other Steam users wish for.


Different players, different ways to complete achievements. Some users like to actively hunt down certain achievements, especially if they feature a progress bar. Tracking or pinning achievements towards the top of the page or overlay ensures that each user is able to customize the page to fit their goals.

Achievement Rarity

Through out most of my research, there was a clear desire for a staggered rarity / value system. Xbox indicates this with Gamerscore (a higher score usually equals a rarer achievement) and Playstation with Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum trophies respectively. Something that is often found within Valve's own games is a rarity system that displays this as Common / Uncommon / Rare.

As this system is widely used in a broad assortment of games, it won't confuse the user, and is therefore a good fit with the extra benefit of having a different approach than other platforms.

Filters and Search Functionality

The current design lacks a search bar or filters to organize all achievements in a meaningful and user friendly way. Important new filter options like type of game mode, achievement status (e.g. unlocked / locked / hidden), part of an expansion or DLC, and rarity are essential to a great search experience. This issue is especially prominent on games that feature hundreds, sometimes even thousands of achievements. Simply scrolling through such a list is a taunting task for some users.

The Solution

Down below is the prototype of a reenvisioned Steam Achievements feature within Steam's ecosystem. It highlights multiple new ways to obtain and track additional rewards for completing the developers challenges. Following this prototype I explain my thought process on why I included certain features and how they improve the user experience on Steam.

Note: Figma unfortunately doesn't support setting the frame content to fit by default. Viewing this frame by clicking on the file name underneath the frame fixes this issue.

The Elephant in the Room

A big contribution to the lack of updates from Valve's side is the "openness" of operating systems on PC. Consoles are locked quite dense in terms of what can and can't communicate with their services. On PC, this usually isn't the case, and therefore opens up the gate for applications like "Steam Achievement Manager". This tool is able to unlock achievements with the click of a button. Even starting the game is not necessary.

For this concept however, we are trying to enhance the experience of users that like to unlock achievements by themselves, without external help.

Features & Business Goals

The initial user research uncovered various areas of opportunity, such as achievement discovery through intelligent filter and search solutions. I kept Valve's business goals in mind and ultimatively what Steam achievements are for: User retention, engagement, higher playtime, and interactivity between users to keep them on the platform.

Unlocking Rewards

With this concept game developers are able to link rewards to an achievement. A good use case would be profile items (e.g. backgrounds, avatars, badges, emoticons etc.) to give users a bigger incentive to hunt achievements and therefore keep them engaged longer.

Something I would like to note is the thin line for wrong types of rewards. Steam users and the fanbase would most likely denounce an attempt to obtain actual in game items as achievement rewards.

Shows a potential reward from completing an achievement.

Experience Points

Tying achievements with XP (Experience Points) is a nice way to give players another way to track progression of any game. Following the same principle of least amount of friction for developers, this is also calculated dynamically. I attached my FigJam file for you to look at and understand my thought process behind this feature.

On Desktop: If you want to scroll within the iframe hold Ctrl + Mousewheel Up / Down


A rarity system gives players another incentive to complete remaining achievements, therefore increasing their playtime and engagement on Steam's endless list of great games. A potential scale could be Common, Uncommon and Rare. It is vital to minimize the friction and expense for developers that want to, or in this case more importantly, already released their game on Steam.

It is only logical to introduce a rarity scale based on how often an achievement has been unlocked by percent. For example, if 60% of the players unlocked an achievement, it is common, but if only 2% unlocked it, it would be considered rare. This way the developers don't need to add anything retroactively to this feature.

This could potentially open up a new community of achievement hunters, buying games they had no intention to buy before, but want to collected as many rare achievements as possible and compete amongst them.

Integrating Filters, Groups and Search Functionality

This is a bit of a personal pet peeve. Playing games that feature hundreds of achievements without the ability of searching for a specific one? A user experience nightmare. This concept offers lots of ways to personalize the achievements you want to see on the page.


Filters are a sophisticated way to toggle achievements that are important to a user. Someone that doesn't like playing multiplayer in certain games may uncheck the multiplayer box to only see relevant achievements. This is also a good way to hide achievements that are unobtainable (e. g. old game with a permanent server shutdown).

Shows all filter options.


Searching through achievement titles and descriptions is a fast way to get the desired information. A good example is how many achievements feature the keyword "difficulty". This way a player can evaluate the amount of playthroughs they might need.


Next to the search bar inside the sticky bar (scrolls with the whole page) is a dropdown to select the text language. This might seem a bit overkill for some, but is actually a day to day problem for non-english speaking users. Completing achievements with friends that don't use the english language in the Steam client often times get translated achievements. This makes it hard to communicate what achievement the group is talking about.

Shows the language dropdown.

Tracking Achievements

This is a very useful feature to pin achievement towards the top of the page. These are achievements that a user would like to complete or keep an eye on. Particulary helpful for achievements that have a progress bar and you quickly want to see your current progression.

Shows how achievements are being tracked.

A great way to further utilize this feature is to also incorporate it into Steam's in-game overlay. I also created a case studya couple of years back for a new and improved Overlay. The following image is an adaption to this case study and includes improved UI and UX of what i created initally.

Shows tracked achievements within Steam's Overlay.

As you can see in the top right corner, we activated the module by clicking on the target icon in the achievements component. With a module like this, it is extremely easy for users to track down the challenges they wish to complete next.

"On the Brink"

To immediately see achievements you are close to complete is a great way to help users find an achievement to complete. Users are also able to track these and see the current progression.

Shows achievements that are on the brink of being completed by the user.

Playtime vs Achievements

Another prominent feature is the Playtime vs Achievements graph. This section highlights the amount of time needed for achievement completition and compares it against your friends. I've decided against the use of timestamps for Steam friends, as it would be too intrusive in regards to their privacy and when they are playing games. Instead, it shows the hours played till they reached this milestone in the graph.

Strict privacy settings inside the Steam user profile will not show any information inside the graph and a user won't be able to compare achievements with this friend.

Shows the playtime graph.

Achievement List

Arguably the most important bit of an achievements page is the complete list of them. If a developer chooses to categorize them into containers, users see an accordion to collapse / expand a list of achievements. Regular use cases would be dividing them into base game, DLC1, DLC2 and so forth. Of course the accordion state should always be remembered so users don't need to collapse them every time they refresh or re-enter the page.

There are a lot of variables to an achievement component. In short, a component shows the achievement name, icon, description, rarity, game type (if an achievement is Single Player, Coop or Multiplayer for example), tracking icons, experience points, date of completition if already completed,if it's part of a DLC or extension, a potentional Steam Points Shop reward, or / and a progress bar.

Shows achievements in a list.

Final Thoughts

Achievements are a great way to squeeze out more hours of a game i enjoy and don't want to end. Working on this project was a lot of fun, especially thinking about ways to improve a feature as rich as achievements. They are an integral part of almost all console and pc game distributions, so it's only fair to give them a new and improved life on Steam.

Thank you for taking your time to read this case study.