Rabbits want carrots, players want rewards

One of the most important aspects of game design is finding ways to keep your players rewarded and motivated, so they keep coming back for more play sessions. There is nothing more frustrating than spending time in a game and then having to go to bed while you feel like you didn’t progress, didn’t receive any loot or weren’t able to get a triple kill in your play session…

In this article I will talk about the different types of reward that you can add to a game, and how to maximize the amount of joy the player will experience from the reward system.

Types of reward

There are many ways to add reward to your game. A common misconception is that reward can only be something that you “receive”, for example gold or loot. Reward can be part of anything in your game, including progression, audio, visual effects, performing well as a team, or performing well against other players. It is the job of the game designer to identify the actions that require reward and accentuate those action with correct reward. Consider the following types of reward you could add to a game:

– Currency (gold, resources, badges, etc…)
– Loot (equipment, upgrades, collectibles, etc…)
– Progression (upgrades, experience, level unlocks, skill unlocks, etc…)
– Kill streaks (extra reward for double kills, triple kills, killing sprees etc…)
– Competitive (personal score points, achievement points, etc…)
– Co-op (team/clan score, team achievement points, etc…)

Baseline for rewards

Every good game, game system or design philosofy starts with a strong baseline. A baseline is what you should experience in every playsession. It is not related to luck, player skill or being smart. Every player should get these baseline rewards. It is not related to how long your playsession lasts.

A baseline should be:

– Linear in time
– Measurable
– “Steady Progression”

Why is it important to have a baseline? It is important so that there is a steady way of progressing through the game, especially important for casual players to feel rewarded as well as for people who just have long periods of bad luck.

The baseline can be created by identifying the core gameplay loops in your game and adding straightforward rewards for those actions.

Adding milestones

Milestones are short bursts of reward on top of the baseline. They require a certain amount of time or effort to get. Milestones provide you with short motivational boosts to keep on playing the game. The longer term milestones, that require a lot of time/effort or luck are there to provide the player with bigger motivation to keep playing the game. But they also give you point at which you can end the play session with the feeling you achieved something. Following my rule of three design principle, there are three main ways to add milestones

short term, much effort, Max 10 minutes, steady, not much luck required
Mid term,  not necessarily much effort, max 45 min, some luck might be involved
Long term, requires a lot of time or luck

Adding randomisation

What casual players want and what hardcore players want from a game can be very different. Especially in terms of reward this can be a hard topic to balance in your game. You definately want to get the baseline right so even a short play session at least yields some reward. The hardcore gamers though, they want increasing rewards the more time you spent (milestones). But hardcore players usually also like to min/max things, prove that they are better and smarter in this game than others. Thats where luck and randomisation comes in. It provides more depth to the game. People can start keeping statistics in excel and try to find out the most efficient ways to play the game.

A game where everything is steady and balanced is a BORING game!!

Special FX & audio

A great,way to accentuate on rewarding certain actions the player performs is by creating special interactive GUI FX, sounds or particle effects. for example, leveling up should be accompanied by a popup with sparkles and a clear, loud sound effect so the player really knows that he just increased in power. Having a great sound effect or special FX when a key action in the game happens can feel really rewarding.

Final word

So, I hope this article gave you some insight in different ways to reward the player. It can be really fun to figure out ways to make the player go “woow” or “woooot”. Also balancing, adding milestones and randomisation can be really fun to figure out.


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