Every single game awards players with rewards for their efforts. Awarding with rewards makes sense just by the sentence itself. It’s not always a badge or a trophy. It’s not always gold or credits or whatever form of currency the game uses. It’s not always experience points and level ups.
But it should always be something the players feel was worth their time. Notice how we said should? Well, right now, we are not here to speak about good or bad game design.
However, even some well designed games are frustrating the hell out of their players simply by not providing adequate rewarding for their effort. And they still play. Every week. Everyday. 4 or more hours a day!
This goes way beyond instant extrinsic and intrinsic rewards.
There’s always something there, unseen and unheard, but expected. And it’s precisely what we’ve been talking about: that huge, amazing, jaw-dropping, envy-making reward that, ultimately, pays off every effort made by that particular player.
So, basically it’s just a promise. The player keeps wasting hours and/or money playing – we can even say he’s actually grinding – to the promise that, one day, he will be rewarded for all his or her efforts.
It is true in video games…
Depending on the type and genre of video game, there are a set of motivational factors that can be successful and keep you in the game or be a complete failure and make you put the game on the shelf or even in the trash can. We’ll give you a handful of examples:
Role Playing Games (RPGs)
These games are often based on a solid storyline with several choices and endings. As you play you are constantly rewarded with new equipment, currency and character levels. While these help you become more versatile and efficient in combat or decision making situations, it is the promise of unraveling the storyline that keeps you playing.
And, like in a book, you will not stop playing once you complete Chapter 1 of 10. Yes, there’s the intrinsic (and the extrinsic) reward for completing it, but there’s still a promise of 9 more awesome chapters to play.
And, in some really good RPGs, once you finish the game, you may want to play it all over again, just for the promise of that alternate ending or that different story path. “Now that I’ve completed this as the good paladin, I will now try as the evil warlock!”
Simulation Games (Sims)
There are all kinds of simulation games out there. Life, Space, Civilization, City, Farm, Sports, Family… Goats. Each one requires different efforts you have to make in order to be intrinsically or extrinsically rewarded. Some require you to be very good at managing its currency. Some require you to be very good at managing all kinds of different needs. Some require you to be very good at managing everything you can think of.
For every challenge you complete, there’s always the promise of more. Sometimes the game does not explicitly set the challenges, but it makes you set them, even if unconsciously.
Your city can be self-sustained already, but you will not stop while there’s still usable terrain in the map to expand. Besides, there’s that really good looking spot right there in the corner that would make the best tourism place ever, even according to real life standards!
Your character may have found a job as a laboratory technician, but you probably want him or her to be a world renowned scientist. Besides, your house sure could use a re-decor, and money is tight as a lab techie!
Your football team may have won their first game in the 2nd league. But, if you are a good manager, we promise you will reach the 1st league and, who knows, you will train the best team in the world and win every trophy there is!
Your civilization may have been the first to discovered the wheel, but you were promised there would be lasers… considering your skills as a ruler prove good enough to manage diplomacy and war against other civilizations throughout the centuries!
Action Role Playing Games (ARPGs)
Also known as Hack and Slash games, these are probably the pinnacle of the reward system. They basically reward everything that you do with either experience points, currency or items. Most often with a mix of every one of those. And everything that you do is hacking and slashing, which can be translated to kill all the monsters in your screen!
You swing your crude club once and kill the first monster you come across. You get some experience, a couple of gold coins and a steel sword. Effectively you were handsomely rewarded for the effort of killing it – it took you a mouse click; that’s a sweet payback right there! Now that you were rewarded, you can quit the game and go brag about it on the forums.
Let’s skip the part where you are trolled to no extent if you actually do that.
The rewards themselves are far from being the motivators in these games…
There are thousands of monsters to kill, over and over again, each one rewarding you with experience, gold and items. And each one (usually the boss monsters) holds the promise of dropping that unique piece of shiny armor that everyone in the world is trying to get.
Even your character level ends up being secondary. Most times, the “real challenge” starts once you reach your maximum character level. That’s when the quest for ultimate rewards for your massive efforts starts: The promise of getting the highest end equipment in the game.
… but also in other games
Not only board or card games. The way these work is very similar to video games, as it’s only a matter of physical or virtual support.
Games based on luck. Lottery, scratch-cards, casinos… You can be rewarded and receive twice the money you’ve spent, but most people wont stop until they win big. That means getting the reward that pays for all their efforts so far in that particular game, and more. Making it really count. It’s widely known that the probabilities of that happening are ridiculously low, but it doesn’t stop people from trying.
The promise is constantly there… and there’s only one way Lady Luck will choose you as the lucky winner to that handsome reward:
By trying your luck and playing the game!
Rewards for the efforts in real life
If you think about it, everything in life comes down to the promise of being rewarded for your efforts.
Why do we get out of bed in the morning? There’s the promise of a good day ahead of us. Even if it that promise ends up failing, it wont stop us from getting up the following day with the same promise in mind.
When we’re starving late at night we go and check the fridge. There’s this promise there will be something really tasty that will completely satisfy or hunger and our taste buds. Sometimes, upon opening the fridge, we get disappointed with what we find and eat whatever. Even if we do not do anything about it in the meanwhile, the next day will reward us with exactly the same: disappointment. But we keep checking!
Until we do something about it. And we always do something about it, eventually.
On the other hand…
You may work for years in the same company. You are rewarded at the end of the month. It’s enough for you to pay your bills and save some for a rainy day. Or maybe you are an high-school student and all you want as a reward for your (lack of) effort is just enough so you don’t lose the year.
It’s things like these that are different from the game world. Most people do not see the promises in life. Life, in today’s standards, does not provide the much needed motivation to see (or rather feel) these promises and/or work in order to achieve the rewards they hold.
There’s the promise of that huge, amazing, jaw-dropping, envy-making reward in everything in life. Just like it happens in games, only a few lucky and dedicated individuals will reap the promised rewards.
Since we cannot control luck, we are left with dedication.
Can you listen to the call of each promised uber reward in life and dedicate yourself to the quest of reaping them?