Since the last generation, trophy and achievement hunting has been tied to almost every game you can think of – except for any Nintendo game, who just do what they want. It’s a marker for progress and also total completion, giving hours upon hours of potential added playtime to those who want to squeeze every inch of life out of a game that they can.
Amongst friends, it’s a sign of prestige. I remember feeling quite proud of my Platinum collection before stumbling across a colleague’s profile and feeling utterly inadequate, so I vowed to cheese my through as many games as I could to increase my tally – I recently platted three notoriously straightforward games just to catch up, my reputation be damned. Meanwhile, for others, it’s a sign of being the very best, evidenced by the supremely dedicated who have more trophies and achievements than is even really sane.
A large part of why trophy and achievement hunting is so popular is because of the thrill of the chase, overcoming all of the hardest obstacles and seeking out the most obscure of collectibles. Completing a game to 100% feels like, well, an achievement. So, when I came across a couple of websites that allow gamers to pay someone else to play their games and hoover up trophies and achievements on their behalf, I was a little vexed.
(Due to the sensitive nature of these businesses alongside it potentially appearing as if Cultured Vultures were promoting them, the sites and their owners requested anonymity when I reached out for comment, so I have used pseudonyms and basic site names to honour this.)
The first site I stumbled across, which we’ll call Website A, has been around since 2012; the latter part of the last generation, effectively. The site is a little basic looking, but if they’ve been around for five years, they must be damn good at their jobs. It presents itself as a storefront where gamers can pick out games that they own and want totally completed for quite the premium, depending on difficulty and time investment.
A quick glance at their “library” shows that paid trophy hunting, which I’ll call bounty hunting from here on out to be cute, isn’t a cheap affair. Take, for instance, the price quoted for the recently released Assassin’s Creed Origins: a huge game with plenty to see and do; basically a lot of filler that you have to wade through to tick off things on your checklist. You should expect that it won’t be a cheap order, perhaps slightly more than the cost of the game itself owing to the many hours of labour spent on getting the Platinum, so I was quite taken aback to see the actual price.
£250. The next newest game on Website A, The Evil Within 2, will ask £180 of you. You could pick up a PS4 console in that price range and maybe have enough money left over to buy everyone you know My Name Is Mayo instead.
Those two are on the extreme side of the spectrum, owing to them both being new and dense games. There are plenty of cheap and dirty conquests that you can “order” to be bounty hunted, including the likes of the infamous Orc Slayer and Nubla, which will cost £25 and £10 respectively.
As they make sure to mention, Website A don’t involve themselves in anything legally nefarious. Instead, they log into your PSN profile and play the game on your behalf, which gets into quite the grey area regarding Sony’s TOS about account sharing. I reached out to Sony for a comment on account sharing for paid trophy hunting but did not hear back before publication.
According to the site’s previous owner, who we’ll call Daniel, an ex-YouTuber who left the platform earlier in 2017, he doesn’t believe they were breaking any TOS.
“When it comes to TOS, things may have changed in the last few months or so for all I know, but when I was doing it, it wasn’t directly breaking any TOS,” he explained. “And trophy services have been around as long as trophies themselves and none have ever been closed down by Sony as far as I know, and I was familiar with all the main ones and the people running them.”
The acknowledgement of familiarity with other bounty hunters rang true with what I had already suspected. During my research, I also came across Website B, which offers a similar service and has much the same storefront layout. The trophy hunting community at large is just that, a community, so it’s to be expected that some people travel in similar circles.
Website B is the older of the two businesses, selling trophies since 2009 but only doing so through a website in the last couple of years. Of the two, Website B is the more professional looking with some solid branding and a cleaner look. It also offers fairer prices with the aforementioned Origins currently going for £160.
There’s a key difference between Website A and B, however, and it’s one that most of bounty hunting’s detractors would be staunchly against. As well as offering “Legitimate Trophies”, Website B also provides “Cheated Trophies”. Rather than playing through the game naturally on behalf of someone, this method relies on third-party software, which makes the trophies appear legitimate. It seems restricted to PS3 games, but if there’s anything you can say about the most dedicated of trophy hunters, they don’t always care so much for the source of their Platinums. Orc Slayer’s completion percentage on PSNProfiles speaks to that – 84.55% of users have acquired the Platinum, even if it being a terminally awful game makes its two hour estimated completion time feel like Chinese water torture.
The site’s owner, who we’ll call Aaron, wasn’t willing to disclose the details of the software and how it all works when I contacted him.
“I don’t wish to share any of our secrets regarding how our cheated services are done, however they are completed using custom made in-house software,” Aaron explained.
Aaron also revealed that they will soon be turning their back on Cheated Trophies, though why they are waiting to pull the trigger is a bit of a puzzle.
“Cheated services are soon to become a thing of the past at Website B as it strips our gamers of what we stand for…actual gaming. With cheated services, the element of fun is not there and soon enough we will cease these services to concentrate purely on providing a safe, legitimate service for our valued customers.”
And it seems that there are plenty of customers who aren’t put off by the prices. As with anything niche, it’s a smaller market, so prices inevitably get hiked up – it’s the same reason why organic food costs the actual earth even when it’s just been plucked from it. Aaron told me that they have dedicated customers who don’t baulk at spending in the hundreds of pounds each week with the workload spread across a team of eight, who are mainly hobbyists:
“I have customers who spend hundreds of pounds a week, and sometimes it’s difficult to satisfy everyone at once, but my team work really hard to ensure orders are completed as fast as possible.”
With such a controversial business model, it’s understandable that Websites A and B want to fly under the radar somewhat. I wasn’t aware of bounty hunting at all before I stumbled across it being mentioned in the description of an obscure trophy walkthrough on YouTube, which Aaaron said is largely by design.
“I receive a lot of praise, but sadly due to trophy selling being a very controversial subject, I also receive a lot of hate. For this reason, I don’t really advertise. The site is there to found for those looking, but I have no intentions of pushing it in the faces of those that don’t wish to buy.”
Daniel echoed this sentiment, while also acknowledging that the bigger Website A became, the higher the risk of it running foul of Sony or bounty hunting’s biggest critics became:
“Sony have never clamped down on it or introduced any rules against it, but of course it’s something that people who run services don’t want to put out in the general public eye too much, just in case, ya know,” Daniel explained.
“It’s a very niche market. I was always happy doing it because of how much priority I put on customer service and trustworthiness, but although Sony had never prohibited it as trophies don’t effect them in any way, it’s not like I would wave it in front of their face.”
As with any job, there’s a certain amount of stress that comes with the territory of bounty hunting. However, whereas you or I can go home and let go of the day, many bounty hunters come home from their full-time work and then jump into the trophy grind; bounty hunting isn’t as illustrious as it may first appear. Ask anyone who’s strived for a cheap and dirty Platinum or picked apart a massive open-world for all of the dopamine-inducing dings – it can often feel like real work.
This, alongside the burden of keeping his growing YouTube channel regularly updated, is what contributed towards Daniel stepping away from professional trophy hunting altogether.
“For a while, I was used to receiving endless messages on PSN etc from subs, which is fine, but it was very tiring answering everyone’s trophy questions and being added by thousands of people – turning on the PS4 felt like booting up a work PC. So I’m just trying to step out of the public eye so I can go back to just enjoying games on a personal level, ya know?”
Aaron, meanwhile, maintains that he gets a lot of job satisfaction, even it means he juggles obligations:
“I am actually in full-time employment in engineering. I run Website B as a hobby in my spare time. Gaming is my passion and I love running this company. I play games for other people and it gives me a great feeling of satisfaction knowing that I am helping out. The money is good, but I do it mostly for the feeling I get when a customer expresses their thanks at the end of the service. It could be because they have given up on a particularly difficult game, and I have helped them achieve the last step to Platinum.”
The impression I got from both websites was that they were playing with fire and trying not to get burnt, slowly expanding but never seeking mainstream appeal or acceptance. Despite wanting to shy away from the public eye, both sites had a social media presence with Website B having fans in the thousands. It’s as if they want to gain popularity, but never too much. There’s a limit to the possible success of websites like these and it seems like they may just about be toeing the line.
For some, paying people to unlock trophies on your behalf may be a bit of a pointless endeavour, or even as if it cheapens the experience. In my eyes, bounty hunting finds a similar audience to those who don’t mind paying extra money in-game with microtransactions to get ahead – they want the status without necessarily putting in the work for it or feeling like they can. As long as there are gamers who are willing to spend to get ahead, there will always be a market for people who want the shiniest of things available in AAA games, just as there will always be a market catering to those who don’t want to suffer through the likes of Orc Slayer to reap its guilt-ridden rewards.