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Hi everyone. I'll try to bring forward some of the elements that bind people to a game for hours and days. These elements can be used to create a game or application that motivates the user to use/play it. Think of it, an educational game that the kids at school will enjoy and learn from, or of course a game of games!

Now this is not the almighty recipe for creating the captivating game of the year, but some of these elements are often overlooked. And that's a shame.

The elements are:

  • Reward
  • Competition and comparison towards others
  • Anticipation
  • Participant ship
  • Tempo
  • The Grand Ending


There are many different levels of rewarding, and they are related to one another. If you achieve the right balance of rewarding, depending on your game goal and type, you will succeed in capturing the player. Now that, my friend, is a bold statement.

Let's look at this as some rules within a specific time span, say between two character levels, or between the first upgrade and the second.

First the different aspects, and then some more comments on each.

  • The player needs to be rewarded often and in small portions.
  • The player needs to be rewarded with a greater reward that is expected and the time of the reward is known.
  • The player needs to be rewarded with a greater reward that is expected but the time of the reward is unknown.

Smaller and often

If the smaller rewards are useful in some way they will not become routine and needless. If you give the player a healing, it is useful to the powerful and novice. But if you reward with a great flashy effect it will lose its strength along the way. You are quite safe if you make the small rewards lead to a greater reward, e.g. money, experience for leveling, points for extra life, and so on.

Greater and known occurrence

This is something the player will anticipate and strive to achieve. She can see the goal as she progresses towards it. There could be many known goals. There is nothing wrong with giving away a lot of goals and give the player the thrill of imagining what to do and how to get to them, as well as dreaming of different combinations and so on. But remember, once you give away a greater reward the smaller rewards will mean a little less.

Example: The leveling of a character or skill tree and descriptions of skills and their cost.
Example: The different items the player could buy if he had the cash.

Greater and unknown occurrence

When the player has a chance of getting a greater reward and it could come anytime the anticipation is always there, and in the times of gloom there is always a hope of getting some reward. This hope can save the day many a times. Remember though, the player needs to know about the rewards and expect them, but their trigger could be anytime within the rules.

Example: Every time you defeat an spaceship you could get a "Ancient artifact".
Example: Every trader could have a "Crystal sword" but the chances are very low.
Example: If you kill an orc you might find a "Steel Claw" if you are lucky.

The relations between the rewards

Ah, the most interesting part! One should first focus on the goal and type of the game. Is it to be replayed a lot of times or more like "play it, have an experience and then put it on the shelf"? Should the same game (not replaying it) be able to be played a long time?

If the player becomes too powerful due to the rewards the game will have a climax and then the game cannot beat what it has previously given the player. Thus the game will have reached its designed content limit. Designed content limit is not the same as the game limit. The player could play a lot of quests and content in general, but it's more like a walk in the park, and the next "level" of rewarding is not as important, or even unreasonably far away.

A very potent and time-cheap design method is to give the player a difficulty option or adapt the game by changing some colors and increasing the difficulty.

Never ever "steal" a greater reward given to the player, not even to make the game more exciting and/or harder. The frustration is exceptionally high, and the relationship (trust) between the player and the game will be crippled. If you decide to "steal" a greater reward be sure to explain why the game did it.

Example: Never take a level from a character as a punishment or special event. If you do tell the player why.

Always reward smart playing and creativity by the player. Sometimes the reward is automatic since it was probably the right way to play the game. As you all know the right way to play a game doesn't necessarily mean the way the designer intended the game to be played. The majority of players are like water: they always find the natural way of flowing down the mountain. But what I'm talking about here is some designed content.

Example: If the player clicks on the well in the middle of the village he doesn't have to purchase new water skins.

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