Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Incentive Addiction

Extrinsic and intrinsic rewards are at odds. When we find no intrinsic reward, we do boring things for extrinsic rewards. When we enjoy something, extrinsic rewards supplant intrinsic rewards when they’re added to the system—take the extrinsic reward away and the intrinsic goes with it.

This has been shown true by thousands of studies, according to Chris Hecker who talked about it in a GDC presentation (here is the summary I read). It backs up much of the writing I’ve done here on MMORPGs, especially in the themepark subgenre.

Some games don’t benefit from adding reward treadmills—these games have enjoyable gameplay to begin with. Adding substantial extrinsic rewards would only turn the enjoyable game into a grind. This has happened to me to a small degree with Global Agenda. The way GA is continuing, it will only get worse. I hate watching the addition unnecessary and excessive extrinsic rewards ruin a potentially great game. Unfortunately, it seems to be the current fad in game design.

(You might also want to check out this Overcoming Bias article on incentives.)


Tesh said...

It's easier and cheaper to design extrinsic rewards. It's also easier to condition players to keep playing with them. In the mad, mad world of the game industry, where investors demand ever-increasing ROI, is it any wonder that the cheap, effective, addictive design carries the day?

What's scary is when that becomes the "norm", and it's simply done because it's expected.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

As much as you might hate extrinsic rewards, the fact is that they work and most people don't instantly hate them. There are a lot of people that started playing a lot more WoW once the achievements were introduced.

I do think you need some extrinsic motivation for people, however. Look at newbie in a pure sandbox game and you'll see someone get bored quickly because they don't have enough context to make their own intrinsic goals. I guess the question is where the divide goes. But, if extrinsic goals work well, then what's the reason not to use them from a game design perspective?

This does tread into some moral issues, though. Are games truly "addictive" with the proper extrinsic motivations? Perhaps I have another article to think about for my own blog...