Motivational Design

Lenses and Patterns for Motivational Game Design

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Control Beliefs and Self-Efficacy

Control beliefs describe what we believe our abilities to affect the world are. Self-efficacy beliefs are the conviction that one can successfully execute the behavior required to produce the outcomes one expects to be caused by that behavior.

How to Design for Self-Efficacy

Computer games “should offer mastery experiences even to novice players and support the development of game-specific efficacy expectations, which in turn increase the players' motivation to sustain the activity even when they face opposition and obstacles, and to return to the game later when the current session is terminated.” (Hartman and Klimmt)

Main Pattern


Goals are needed in games to give the players both something to strive to complete and a way of reassuring the player that they are progressing through the game and doing well.


In Gears of War 3 there is a game mode called 'Horde', where the object is to survive 50 increasingly difficult waves of enemies. By surviving all 50 waves, the player will have completed the mode. This overall victory is the 'end goal', however, each wave in the set can be seen as a 'mini goal', and completion of each of these provides a feeling of accomplishment that grows with each one.

Use To

  • Give players milestones to look forward to completing
  • Give players a sense of accomplishment upon completion
  • Give players a way to measure their progress throughout the game

Can be instantiated by

Goal Achievements: Primarily story driven, like completing a quest or finishing a level.

Grind Achievements: Awarded following a period of performing repetitive tasks or monotonous work, like leveling up magic in World of Warcraft.

Testing Achievements: Awarded to players for trying new or different things, like using every weapon in a game.




Fallout 3

In Fallout 3, once you finally escape the vault, your goal is to find your Dad. It takes several quests until you finally find your dad. There are many ways of going about this and you can even choose to ignore finding him until later on, but the overarching goal of several of the quests is to find him. Each quest brings you one step closer to finding him, which makes finding him all the more special. When you first exit the vault and look at the vast nuclear wasteland, one can be overwhelmed at the thought of finding your dad in the huge map. A player's self-efficacy in being able to find him might be very low, however, they know that they will eventually be able to level up and slowly explore the world, just like every other RPG out there.

Street Fighter

In the Street Fighter games, the goal is simple: beat your enemy. This is a very straightforward goal in which you can clearly see how close you are to accomplishing your goal, as well as positive feedback once you finish your goal. The self-efficacy of a player in this game is quite wide ranging. New players will be hesitant in their expectations of being able to win many games, if at all, due to the game requiring complex combo moves to deal max damage. Not only that, but considering every character has different move sets, it can be very confusing and frustrating for new players, causing them to doubt themselves. However, experienced players may have a much higher self efficacy since they will have the expectation of being able to easily defeat the enemy.


Not too hard, not too easy.

Having goals taps into player's self-efficacy in a big way. The game's goals should allow players to believe that they have the ability to accomplish these goals. This means that they shouldn't be too difficult to cause the player to have enough doubts to not even try or to give up after only a few tries. These goals also should not be too easy or else the player will become bored with the game and will look for another one instead.

Reassure the Player

Goals in games also provide excellent ways to reassure the player and congratulate them on their accomplishments. This reassurance and positive feedback causes players to feel good about themselves and makes them want to continue playing. Going through 20+ hours in a game with no positive feedback can be very boring and almost depressing. Players need this reassurance otherwise the game seems hopeless to beat since they have no way of knowing if they doing well or not. It is similar to school when you get grades back. If you get an A your parents will be proud and congratulate you, but if you get an F your parents will be angry at you and force you to study more. It is essential to have this feedback to let you know how you are doing/progressing.

Self Determination Theory

Link to self determination theory Familiarize yourself with the self determination theory.

Competence: Players who feel competent are likely to experience a boost in self efficacy.

Autonomy: Highly autonomous experiences are congruent with player goals and support sense of control over ones circumstances. This seems to feed directly into control beliefs.

Relatedness Other players and NPC that acknowledge player accomplishments or cheer on near successes can increase a self efficacy. This can feel more integrated into the game world than something like achievements, and does not require expensive asset creation (just voice overs or support for player communication).


This pattern is industry standard.


  • Motivations: competence, self-efficacy, achievement, self, mood management
  • Mechanics: Goals, Feedback, Challenge, Player Journey



Zach Whitman

motivations/control_beliefs.txt · Last modified: 2014/05/30 10:08 by codingconduct