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COMP1682: Developing a Game using Techniques in Game Design to Motivate Players


Gaming has been a popular trend over the last decade with constant improvements and an evolution which test the bounds of technology. Due to the popularity, developing games has branched out to include many different careers; one of which includes game design. This project will research the different techniques to motivate players and apply these techniques to make a mobile game that is enjoyable and rewarding to the players.


Gaming has been a widely talked topic across different areas of interests. Games is a place where people go to for entertainment, sharing passion and creating memories that last. This literature review will focus on the different ways someone can be motivated, accessibility issues in games and how gaming has impacted society. The findings here will influence the decisions made in this project to create a game that understands and illustrates the knowledge gained from the research.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Games today use many different techniques to motivate players intrinsically and extrinsically. (Ryan & Deci, 2000) explore these types of motivations. Intrinsic motivation is where you personally find something interesting without the need of an external reward, this can occur when you play your favourite game out of enjoyment. Extrinsic motivation is where you are motivated to do something for a reward or to avoid punishment, this can occur when you are given items in-game for getting an achievement or to gain an extra life to avoid losing. Some studies have demonstrated that offering excessive external rewards for an already intrinsically rewarding behaviour can lead to a reduction in intrinsic motivation, a phenomenon known as the ‘overjustification’ effect.

An interesting study which was conducted by (Lepper, 1972) to test the overjustification hypothesis. He collected 51 nursery school children aged 3-4 to partake in an activity they already were intrinsically motivated to do, drawing. These children were put into three categories, get a reward, no reward or they were getting reward but was told about it after finishing their drawing. To summarise, the results of the study indicated that if the child was expected a reward, the time spent drawing was significantly lower than the children who were not expecting a reward or were not told they would get a reward. This means that the hypothesis is true and that motivating someone extrinsically can reduce their intrinsic motivation. Furthermore, the study also shows that the children who was not told they were getting a reward spent just as much time as children who was not getting a reward. This means that there is a way to extrinsically motivate someone without decreasing their intrinsic motivation. It is important in game design to understand when to use these types of motivations to get the best outcome and to achieve and maintain intrinsic motivation where possible.

So how can game designers increase intrinsic motivation? The self-determination theory (SDT) is the investigation of people's inherent growth tendencies and innate psychological needs that are the basis for their self-motivation and personality integration (Ryan & Deci, 2000). The SDT suggests that if three psychological needs: autonomy, competence and relatedness are achieved, then people become self-determined, able to be intrinsically motivated. The SDT goes on to create several sub-theories, one of these theories is called the Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET) which focuses on the psychological needs of competence and autonomy. (Ryan & Deci, 2000) argues that social-contextual events (e.g., feedback, communications, rewards) that conduce toward feelings of competence during action can enhance intrinsic motivation for that action. In terms of game design, for example, giving players positive feedback on a task that they are intrinsically motivated to do (autonomy) can give players positive feelings and self-develop (competence), players like to feel special, so providing that in a form of achievement or other message will help with supplying competence. You cannot have one need without the other, autonomy is important as you cannot increase intrinsic motivation of the individual if they were not willing to the task. Competence helps with increasing motivation once the individual is willing to accept it. It is very important to have both psychological needs or intrinsic motivation will deteriorate over time and the individual will become less willing and quit.

Motivation Techniques

Leaderboards are one of the most popular ways in games to increase intrinsic motivation due to its simplicity of implementing and its effectiveness. They provide a goal for the player which gives them something to work towards. (Duggan, K & Shoup, K, 2013) adds that many people are motivated by the urge to compete and tapping into this innate desire is a great way to motivate desired behaviours. In addition to this, recognising players achievements helps them engage in the activity and thus, increasing intrinsic motivation. It is important when presenting Leaderboards that players do not get discouraged. For example, if a player achieved a low score of 100 and the player in first place has one million, then this will decrease intrinsic motivation knowing that the low score player will never be able to achieve something rewarding like being in the top 10. To solve this issue, (Duggan, K & Shoup, K, 2013) also explains that by splitting the Leaderboard into categories helps stop players from being discouraged. Categories such as weekly and daily which show scores based on time will reduce the number of players with high scores and most likely have lower score players. In addition to this, being able to filter the Leaderboard socially with your friends limits the number of scores significantly and a higher chance of achieving and being recognised.

A different technique to motivate players is by having good flow in games. Flow is a concept coined by (Schell, J, 2015) where he explained in his book that flow is where an individual is in a state of sustained focus, pleasure, and enjoyment. To get to this state, or have good flow, (Vygotskiĭ, 1978) had an idea called the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which he explained that it is the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers. In terms of game design, at the beginning of the game, the player starts at the bottom of the zone and if the game has good flow, should remain in the zone as both challenge and competence increase. A game with bad flow may either become difficult too quickly or the difficulty does not change with the players skill. This results in negative effects like anxiety or boredom which decreases intrinsic motivation. In addition to this, (Schell, J, 2015) also agrees that a key component in keeping in the flow state is being continuously challenging.

There are many other techniques that can increase the players intrinsic motivation such as points, levels, quests, feedback and many more. These techniques by definition, follow the SDT theory that for these techniques to work, the player must first be intrinsically motivated. Extrinsic motivation can help supply the need for intrinsic motivation but only to a certain extent.

Game Accessibility

An important issue in game design to take into consideration is game accessibility. Not everyone is capable to play games the same way as others do. According to the disability prevalence estimates in Great Britain (Department for Work and Pension, 2011), it is estimated that 11.6 million people in 2011/2012 have at least one impairment where 6.5 million, over half, is related to a mobility impairment. This is a very large number of people with an impairment, so it is crucial for games to cater for these people if they so choose to play games.

The (AbleGamers, 2012) explains that their goal is to create a guideline for developers which will allow gaming to be accessible. They further express that 100% inclusion is not feasible, but access to entertainment is, but sadly, only about 15% of the mainstream titles released in 2011 included technologies that help people with disabilities. This pressures the point that accessibility in games is a very important and popular companies are too lazy to support these needs. In addition to this, (Bierre, 2005) adds that disabled gamers are consumers, and access to gaming is a quality of life issue. (AbleGamers, 2012) points out that it is currently impossible to apply universal design practices to the entire video game space. However, (Miesenberger, 2008) suggests that by making the HCI flexible and adaptable, it will significantly reduce the cognitive overload which will make standard HCI a universal tool for inclusion. (Bierre, 2005) also thinks that by developing an awareness of which accessibility technologies are commonly used, it is possible to make a game accessible with relatively minor adjustments to the gameplay itself. Shining a light on accessibility will defiantly make more people aware and are able to design games with accessibility in mind.

In the guidelines created by (AbleGamers, 2012), one way of making the game accessible is by introducing remappable keys. This feature enables the player to change different functions of the game to a different layout, making people with a form mobility impairment able to be comfortable with how they play. If remappable keys is not an option, such as in mobile games that do not use keys as main input, then alternate configurations can also help. Being able to change from touch controls to gyroscope can also further help accessibility. (Bierre, 2005) also agree that people with mobility impairment struggle with standard game input and alternate configurations would help accommodate their needs.

Another feature that can help accessibility is having fail safes or save points. Someone with stamina issues such as muscular dystrophy will find it hard to play games for a long period of time. (AbleGamers, 2012) suggest that if the level is too hard, the game should recognise that the player failed many times and provide them with support to make it easier or have save points throughout the game or a pause button to enable players to take a break and come back later.

There are many more features that can be added to help improve accessibility in games. Having said this, (AbleGamers, 2012) also explain that many of the issues that affect disabled gamers with mobility impairments also impact the general gaming community at large. This means that developers will have to be cautious when implementing features as it could also have negative effects such as making the game too easy for other players. Furthermore, adding some features to make the game accessible does not necessarily solve inaccessibility but will help those with minimal impairment.

The Impact of Gaming on Society

The effects games have on society over the last decade have been a controversial hot topic to talk about. The number of people playing video games has been on a steady increase with more and more people getting invested in the virtual world where according to (Ukie, 2017), approximately 32.4 million people in the UK play games.

(Shapiro, 2014) says that the mainstream view of gaming has become less curmudgeonly in recent years, more people are accepting video games in their life. Having said this, Shapiro also adds that most parents still see games as a negative influence on their children. This is also in agreement with (Content Writer, 2013) and (UK Essays, 2015) where they exclaim that gaming can also have negative effects on the development of both children and young adults in society, especially in education, where many students choose to spend hours on video games rather than focusing on studies.

On the other hand, gaming can have positive effects on society especially in education with the use of gamification to encourage students to learn. (Griffiths, 2002) explains that videogames have the capacity to engage children in learning experiences and there has been considerable success when games are designed to address a specific problem or to teach a certain skill. In a study conducted by (Przybylski, 2014) which looked at how the different amounts of gameplay can impact gamers of aged 10-15. Przybylski found that children who typically invest less than one-third of their daily free time showed higher levels of prosocial behaviour and life satisfaction and lower levels of conduct problems, hyperactivity, peer problems, and emotional symptoms. This means that instead of blocking children from gaming that some parents tend to lean towards, gaming should instead be monitored and even be encouraged. There are also other health benefits to gaming, (Kühn, 2014) conducted a study where volunteers who played Super Mario 64 had increased the size of their brain regions responsible for fine motor skills, spatial orientation, strategic planning and memory formation. Furthermore, (Gregory, 2015) also tested whether video games improve Hippocampal-Associated Memory by getting participants to choose between playing Angry Bird, Super Mario 3D World or nothing. Results show that the participants who played Super Mario 3D World performed better in memory-oriented tasks. This means that complex 3D games may help improve the memory capacity of the brain and overall cognitive abilities.


In conclusion, motivating players can have positive and negative effects depending on what techniques are used and how it is implemented. It is hard to establish intrinsic motivation when none exist, the use of extrinsic rewards like money could influence the individuals’ autonomy to do the task but may not inherently increase intrinsic motivation. However, once the individual is intrinsically motivated, applying competence to fill the desire of the individual can increase intrinsic motivation further. Having said this, by using extrinsic motivation or an excessive use thereof, can negatively impact the individuals’ existing intrinsic behaviour.

The accessibility in games is a very important factor to take into consideration, to echo what Bierre said, bringing awareness for the different ways to make games accessible will help encourage developers to make more of an effort to help disabled gamers be able to play the games they want. It is important to understand that the key motivation for disabled gamers is to simply have the opportunity to play the game, having fancy features will not help them if they cannot use them.

The impact of gaming on society has seen a decrease in negative behaviour and more people are starting to see the positive effects that gaming can bring. If parents were able to monitor their children playing games instead of outright telling them that it is bad for them can cause more harm than what was initially trying to be avoided. Gaming can work wonders for the brain by improving its cognitive abilities to adapt and learn and gaming should be encouraged especially in education as long as it is well monitored and not over used.


AbleGamers Foundation. (2012). A Practical Guide to Game Accessibility. [Online] Available at:

Bierre, K. (2005). Game Not Over: Accessibility Issues in Video Games. [Online] Available at:

Content Writer. (2013). Impact of computer games on society. [Online] Available at:

Department for Work and Pension. (2011). Disability prevalence estimates 2002/03 to 2011/12. pp. 2

Duggan, K & Shoup, K. (2013). Business Gamification for Dummies. Hoboken, N.J, John Wiley & Sons.

Gregory, D. (2015). Virtual Environmental Enrichment through Video Games Improves Hippocampal-Associated Memory. [Online] Available at:

Griffiths, M. (2002). The educational benefits of videogames. [Online] Available at:

Kühn, S. (2013). Playing Super Mario induces structural brain plasticity: Grey matter changes resulting from training with a commercial video game. Molecular Psychiatry.

Lepper, M. (1973). Undermining children's intrinsic interest with extrinsic reward: A test of the ‘overjustification’ hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Przybylski, A. (2014). Electronic Gaming and Psychosocial Adjustment. [Online] Available at:

Ryan, R, & Deci, E. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist.

Ryan, R. (2006). The Motivational Pull of Video Games: A Self-Determination Theory Approach. pp. 2-5 [Online] Available at:

Schell, J. (2015). The Art of Game Design. Boca Raton, CRC Press.

Shapiro, J. (2014). A Surprising New Study on How Video Games Impact Children. [Online] Available at:

UK Essays. (2013). The Impact of Video Gaming on Society Media Essay. [Online] Available at:

Ukie. (2017). The games industry in numbers. [Online] Available at:

Vygotskiĭ, LS. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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1 Comment

Feb 09

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