Motivational Design

Lenses and Patterns for Motivational Game Design

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Rewards are anything that is given to a player in response to masterful use of mechanics and lasts beyond the moment of gameplay. In-game currency, character skill boosts, and items are common rewards for task completion. Providing new play arenas and game mechanics is another way of using rewards to support continued play. An arousing or intriguing experience is a reward that can stick in the player's mind even if it doesn't create lasting change on game state. All of these types of rewards should be considered when building player goals and attempting to support player Competence and providing strong Feedback.

Super Mario Bros. used the motivation of reward, earning coins, to teach the simple mechanic of jumping.

Use to ...

Rewards motivate player action by helping direct goals and reinforce correct use of mechanics. Rewards can help players weigh the relevance of game tasks by expressing the possibility of larger rewards for completing more relevant tasks. They also allow a game to support player accomplishments by giving the player a stronger ability to affect the game state.

Can be instantiated by

  • Stats
  • Tools
  • Opportunities
  • Aesthetics



The game Fable provides multiple iterations on the idea of reward. In the video, whenever we see the character defeat an enemy or complete a quest, the player is given money, experience and renown. The obvious rewards (money and experience) are expected by the player; they both serve to allow the player to proceed further in developing their character. They also serve, however, to denote moments when a player succeeds, giving way to competence development.

Fable also implemented a system of “Renown”. Renown served as a meta-reward. Growing renown provided one of the first signs of character development. The renown you earned also played off of your character alignment, good or evil to produce appropriate responses from the various NPC of the world. High renown and good alignment would produce cheering whenever you entered a town, or passed by villagers on the road. High renown and evil alignment would cause the NPCs to jeer at you and run away in fear. A very real and visceral reward for your actions.


Established Rewards

Use common rewards if you need to quickly establish a frame of reference for the player. Money, experience points, and items such as potions and swords are part of a common, established video game vocabulary and can be used as shorthand if expedient. If you want to intentionally subvert player expectations less recognizable rewards and symbols should be considered.

Extrinsic Rewards

Rewards within the game serve to give motivation for the player as they use those rewards as tools. Rewards that are not directly related to the player's ability to affect the game state, however, may decrease player motivation overtime, as they become an expected part of task completion. These rewards become the reason to play the game, making the game dependent on their ability to keep up with player reward expectations. Extreme extrinsic rewards, such as real world money and swag, pulls motivation out of the game's control. Achievements, and even in-game currency, can become extrinsic if they are portrayed as more important than the gameplay required to acquire them. Be wary of pushing rewards too heavily because doing so could hurt long-term motivation.


The pattern is industry standard.



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patterns/reward.txt · Last modified: 2014/05/14 21:10 by awilliams