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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 st