Posts Tagged rewards

game design is in no small part marketing


Two of the ten point in the HUGHTRAIN Mk II, that are directly relevant to game design.

“1. The market for something to believe in is infinite.

We are here to find meaning. We are here to help other people do the same. Everything else is secondary. We humans want to believe in our own species. And we want people, companies and products in our lives that make it easier to do so. That is human nature.

“7. Your job is no longer about selling. Your job is about firing off as many synapses in your customer’s brain as possible.

The more synapses that are fired off, the more dopamines are released. Dopamines are seriously addictive. The more dopamines you release, the more the customer will come back for more. Your customer thinks he is coming back to you for sane, rational, value-driven reasons. He is wrong. He is coming back to feed.

1 – get the subject, setting, story and situations right, so that people care about them and they have meaning.

7 – dopamine is at the heart of lots of human behaviour. Get your rewards paying out in dopamine, and create anticipation for rewards & outcomes to pay out more dopamine in advance.

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you’re great… and you know it

“… not only do US college students have higher self-esteem than previous generations, they now value self-esteem boosts more than sex, food, receiving a salary payment, seeing a friend or having an alcoholic drink.”

And a note of caution about how you can become addicted to rewarding behaviours

“…’Of course we should enjoy the good things in life, but not so much that we want them more than we like them,’ Bushman’s team concluded. ‘We do not want to become addicted to self-esteem or other rewards, or we will become "slaves" to them, to borrow the words of Fritz Perls”

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games are exploratory learning experiences

“The secret to good game design is simple. Set up situations where there is a problem that must be solved and let the user solve it. Give them subtle clue, but don’t take away that ‘aha’ moment. “ – Dan Cook

Exploratory Learning;

“an approach to teaching and training that encourages the learner to explore and experiment to uncover relationships, with much less of a focus on didactic training (teaching students by lecturing them). Exploratory learning does not necessarily mean an unguided or unconstrained learning environment, but does mean that learners may discover unexpected lessons and reach conclusions following various paths.”

“Several loops of learning, the user’s mental model will crystallize and they will have an ‘aha’ moment where they know exactly what they need to do and how. This moment of understanding and mastery is at the heart of what we call Fun. We’ve triggered the primitive reward system at the base of all learning. It is the same feeling of delight that you feel when you ‘get’ a joke. It is the same feeling of satisfaction that arises from a job well done.

  • You are given a goal
  • You aren’t told how to reach it.
  • You can fail (and be told that you failed)
  • You can succeed.
  • Delight comes when you figure it out on your own.

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novelty seeking zombies


We can easily become slaves to novelty, especially in the form of shiny technological toys that push novelty to us every hour of the day.

“…The brain is built to ignore the old and focus on the new….
Novelty is probably one of the most powerful signals to determine what we pay attention to in the world.”

“Researchers have found that novelty causes a number of brain systems to become activated, and foremost among these is the dopamine system…
…research shows that dopamine is more like the "gimme more" neurotransmitter.”

“…the role of dopamine is not in the pleasure that one may get from the drug, but in establishing the craving that keeps one coming back for more…
When dopamine is released, it is a signal to the brain that is it now time to start learning what is going on.”

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when do you stop living for the moment?

“Youngsters tend to live for the moment whilst older folks are more concerned about their futures.”

“A key difference emerged between participants who were aged thirteen and younger versus those aged sixteen and older, with the older group being more future oriented. There were no age-related differences among participants aged thirteen or less, or among participants aged sixteen or more, whilst fourteen and fifteen-year-olds were mixed…”

The younger age group tends to favour immediate reward, while the mid-adolescent & older age groups tend to value immediate rewards less.

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a little triumph goes a long way

“One of the reasons we like crosswords is that they let us have an intellectual triumph on a small scale”

Amy Reynaldo, Wired

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design language : reward compression

“compression is the tendency of rewards to become less effective with repetition”

Seth Godin, Permission Marketing

In the same way that we adapt to familiar fragrances and start to no longer notice them, you can become immune to the thrill of rewards with excessive repetition.

Add some mystery to the rewards;

Think about them as treats, that you use more sparingly;

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loyalty or addiction?

Game rewards can sit in a structure & have a purpose of generating emotion and loyalty for a game. Loyalty is a slightly different, more conscious and perhaps more positive version of addiction.

Is there a good loyalty encouraging structure for your game’s rewards?

“Finding the right reward model

…loyalty programs provide a good basis for understanding the basic levers of incentives and rewards…

  • The frequent flyer model — Participation -> richer experience — …reserve exit row seats in advance, get a United representative on the phone quickly, and — best of all — board before the unwashed masses.
  • The credit card points model — Participation -> cash …most, an accrued currency ("miles" or "points") are exchanged for tangible goods…
  • The American Express model — Participation -> manufactured exclusivity — "Membership has its privileges." Amex marketing has taught us that simply using the card communicates a sense of status. Invitation-only web services …offer a certain cache to the users as representations of geek cred.”

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recognition is the bell

“Pavlov was on to something. Ding… Recognition is the bell that drives human behaviour”

The Recognition Microscope: Fuel for Human Acceleration

Recognition or game rewards should be;

  • Positive – recognition is not a time for correction or feedback, it is a time to detail the positive
  • Immediate – the closer to the event or behaviour the better
  • Close – best presented in the same environment as the behaviour
  • Specific – recognising specific behaviours have the greatest impact, clear and direct link to an event or behaviour
  • Shared – peer feedback is as or more valuable than top down

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design language : careful flattery

94Careful flattery of the player works well as a valid game reward. Focus on making the player feel good, it’s a game, make them feel good and they will play again.

Flattery is the act of giving excessive compliments, generally for the purpose of ingratiating oneself with the subject.

“Flattery is telling the other person precisely what he thinks about himself” Dale Carnegie quote
“The aim of flattery is to soothe and encourage us by assuring us of the truth of an opinion we have already formed about ourselves.” Dame Edith Sitwell quote

Excessive, overly false and repetitive flattery will become tiresome and transparent.

Careful flattery could be called a compliment, which might be ‘better’ than flattery, although risks being too subtle for gamers in the heat of the action, where most activities are very unsubtle.

Compliment an expression of praise, commendation, or admiration: A sincere compliment boosts one’s morale.

Plutarch recognized that flattery, “which blends itself with every emotion, every moment, need and habit, is hard to separate from friendship.”
quoted from “In Praise of Flattery” By Willis Goth Regier

Carefull flattery should be focused on helping the player achieve their goals, which is likely to be to feel good and enjoy themselves.

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1 for gain, -2 for pain

It is believed that the impact of a frustration or negative experience is double negatively, that of a positive experience.

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design language : accumulative advantage

A positive feedback loop rewards the successful ‘player’ and means that it is easier to be successful in the future.
Failure means things get harder.

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design language : the treadmill

On scheduled rewards;

“MMO’s have empty gameplay but keep players hooked with constant fake rewards (“the Treadmill”)”

Jonathan Blow

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reward me. reward me. reward me.

Has the trend to market heavily to kids/teens changed their requirement and expectation from rewards? Is it necessary to provide more rewards, bigger or more extravagant rewards to saturated kids?

Parents have been rewarding their kids for just showing up. These teens have grown thinking everything they touch is perfect. Even marketers have rewarded teens with free stuff for just coming to the site, walking in the store or walking by a rep on the street. Marketers need to learn to give rewards for free, but also teach teens not to expect it every time. Sharon Lee of Look-Look talked about the need for brands to stay engaged (beyond just freebies).”

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design language: extreme fever

Apply ‘Extreme Fever’ to reward design, don’t be too subtle or coy about celebrating player success.

First, he added a rainbow flying across the screen. Then Brian piped in musical accompaniment: Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” When it all came together, the experience of Extreme Fever was an exhilarating (and hilarious!) reward for passing a level. Our test players found themselves thrilled every time they saw it.

Despite the insane wonder of Extreme Fever, the team never fully intended to keep it in the game. As Brian explains, “At first, it was just a joke… it was so over the top, it was just funny.” But Extreme Fever was one of those rare entertaining and rewarding features that people loved so much that it simply had to stay in the game. In fact, when people brought up concerns about the phrase, even Jason Kapalka, PopCap’s Creative Director, chimed in: “If there is one thing that will never change about Peggle, it’s ‘Extreme Fever.’”

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reward categories

  • Currency rewards: the acquisition of a game resource that can be spent represents a fairly universal reward system…
  • Rank Rewards: the player gains benefits from acquiring points towards an eventual step up in rank.
  • Mechanical Rewards: such as increases in stats that the player can feel the effect of.
  • Narrative rewards: a little narrative is effective for certain players as a reward.
  • Emotional rewards: when the player feels they have done something for someone in the game.
  • New Toys: anything new that can be experimented with is a ‘new toy’.
  • New Places: are a mimicry reward for players driven to explore
  • Completeness: achieving completeness (chasing 100% for instance) can be a reward in itself.
  • Victory: defeating a challenging foe (or a boss).

(This is stolen/paraphrased from the blog Only a Game) via Andrew Chen

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add some mystery to your rewards

It helps for player’s to understand why they get a reward or score, it links them to the simulation at the core of the game. Occasionally, and for certain types of rewards it might add to the enjoyment if there was more mystery about the reason.
“We try to reduce our uncertainty by explaining positive events and thereby reduce the amount of positive emotion we feel.”
“Research shows that when people are exposed to traumatic events, the sooner they ‘make sense’ of what has happened, the sooner the negative emotion is reduced and they recover.
Exactly the same process seems to operate for positive emotions. We try to reduce our uncertainty by explaining positive events and thereby reduce the amount of positive emotion we feel. It’s an unfortunate consequence of an adaptive process that normally helps us recover from traumatic and upsetting events.
So, the next time you give someone an unexpected gift and they ask why, just smile mysteriously and let them enjoy the moment for a little longer. Sometimes explanations really do kill the magic.”

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is the pyschology of money, the psychology of score?

While money has more importance to people in their real lives, score shares many of the same influences to gamers when they are playing and in the gaming zone.

“We’ve all got money on the mind.

Not a day goes by when we aren’t thinking about money in some way. We’re deciding how to get it, what to spend it on, saving it up or wondering where it’s all gone. Whether we like it or not we spend much of our everyday lives deciding what to do with our money, from a simple cup of coffee to buying a house.

Despite this, most people understand very little about their relationship with money. We are remarkably insensitive to how it warps our thoughts, tugs at the emotions and changes our behaviour towards other people. Money seems to have an almost magical effect on us.”

“…your brain’s (edit) ‘reward centres’ will ‘light up’ if you make more money than your colleagues. Now money sounds like a drug again.”

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wired on crackdown

“…and I was rewarded for it! Not just with the sheer joy of the act itself — even though that would have been, for a while, reward enough. No, the more you explore and leap, the more your powers increase, and the higher and farther you can go. Rewards are so frequent that it keeps you hooked, because there’s always “just one more” thing to do before you take a break. You never take a break.”

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skinner’s guide to rewards


For many reward situations; use immediate and intermittent responses to player actions.

“One of Skinner’s most important discoveries is that behavior reinforced intermittently (as opposed to consistently) is the most difficult to extinguish. In other words, intermittent rewards beat predictable rewards. It’s the basis of most animal training, but applies to humans as well… which is why slot machines are so appealing, and one needn’t be addicted to feel it.”

Good use of (positive) reinforcers requires;

  • reinforcement of behaviors as soon as they occur
  • starting with continuous reinforcement, changing to irregular reinforcement when the player has repeated successful
  • setting small tasks for a small rewards

Read the rest of this entry »

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