I’ve been reading a lot about motivation lately. Intrinsic motivation comes from inside the person vs. extrinsic which comes from the outside. Intrinsic motivation can come from opportunities to pursue tasks that are of particular interest to the person. For example, leading the development of a new game would be intrinsically motivating to a game designer and would motivate them work hard. Extrinsic motivation could be the fear of job loss if a certain task is not completed – not very fun!
This is very relevant to game design. One of my latest theories on game design might fit within the intrinsic motivation category as described above. My theory is to enable the player to complete tasks on their own time without punishment. This way the player is rewarded with the items they want in the game without ever feeling prevented from doing what they want to do. I’m going to describe a few mechanics to demonstrate my theory:
Encroachment is a mechanic that I find to be too punishing. Over long periods of time like days or weeks, debris like trees or weeds grow anywhere in the playspace. Once there, the player can not use the areas until they spend resources to remove them. I played my Tribez game for the first time in a few weeks only to find my entire playspace filled with an overwhelming amount of debris! It was going to take too long and too many resources to clear before I could get to any of the tasks I really wanted to do. I closed the game!
However, there may be ways to incorporate encroachment in a way which fits my theory. Perhaps we allow the player to designate space for encroachment areas. This way the player expects this to happen and we avoid punishing them since they would not plan to use that space for other things. In the end, they would still be motivated to return to the game at a later time since their weeds would have time to grow and they can earn currency when they choose to remove them.
A popular theme that is thankfully starting to die out is withering and spoiling mechanics. For example, in Farmville the crops wither if the player waits too long to come back to the game. When this happens, the player waisted a ton of currency and feels like a terrible farmer! I’ve noticed they started to loosen up on this by having a few of the plots start to wither and drawing out the length of time before they all die. To fit with my theory, I would avoid including a wither mechanic by not allowing the crops to spoil at all and find other positive mechanics to get the player to come back. This would remove an avenue of monetization, however I think it would be more beneficial to the game since the retention will improve and players will play and pay for longer amounts of time.
In Frontierville beasties randomly pop-up while performing tasks like farming or chopping down trees. The beasties block the player from continuing to perform the original task until resources are spent to defeat them. Often this means the player doesn’t get to finish what they originally planned to do since they run out of resources. Even though they’re well rewarded in the end, it can be punishing when a beastie pops up who prevents the player from achieving their original goals.
An example of a battling mechanic that fits well with my theory is the Pirate Ship feature in Tap Paradise Cove. Pirate Ships appear in the non-accesible water areas of the playspace. The pirate ships are not punishing since they do not prevent the player from carrying out any of their original tasks. If and when the player decides to spend their resources on attacking the pirate ships, they will be rewarded with resources. Since the player has the ability to decide if and when they want to spend their resources, but is not forced to or punished if they don’t, its a very enjoyable experience. It makes me want to instant finish repairs on my sailboats so I can attack more pirate ships!