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Goals and Rewards

December 19, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Back in the day, beginning at the dawn of computer games and continuing for some time thereafter, goals and rewards in games were fairly simple. There was generally just one ultimate goal, and the player did his best to overcome the challenges – be they monsters or soldiers or alligators or ghosts – to achieve that goal. In Pong, the player played to beat the opponent. Skip forward some years and we see Mario on a quest to save the Princess. Once the goal of the game was accomplished, that was it, the game was beaten. Unless the player wanted to play a higher difficulty, the game was conquered by the victorious player, and this was their reward for overcoming the challenges. Any more play was just redoing something that had already been done – perhaps still fun, but not as much, and not as fresh or rewarding.

Now we skip forward to today, and games are no longer so simple. One major feature of the majority of games today is “achievements,” in some form or another. There are games like World of Warcraft, which, one could argue, have no ultimate goal. Players are instead rewarded with loot and improvements to their persistent characters (which becomes a big loop, by the way: they play to get loot, so they can play more and get more loot…). World of Warcraft includes achievements too. Games like these are designed for a huge amount of replay value, insisting that certain challenges may be completed multiple times, and in different ways, to reap different or better rewards. The end of the game (in those games that have ends) is only the first step.

But which direction is better? A definitive and victorious ending is probably more rewarding overall to the player than simply receiving a small reward, which may be replaced later on. On the other hand, such a complete ending quickly limits the replay value of a game. It’s clear that each structure has its own pros and cons, and quality games can be made in either structure, as we have seen. What a person gets out of it depends largely on that particular person’s tastes, but I’d say there should be a balance. Definite goals, even if they are not game-ending ones, are necessary so that the player has a purpose in the game. Achievements and rewards can really add a lot of value, even encouraging the player to try things he didn’t think he would like, but perhaps does later on. So what do you think? Which is your favorite system?

Feel free to comment too.

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