Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, July 06, 2016
When rewards become punishments

There is an old story around about how Blizzard made the World of Warcraft rested xp system more acceptable by framing it as a bonus for rest instead of a penalty for playing too much. It shows that anything you reward people for in a game could be interpreted as being a punishment for not doing something. And thus it becomes very important how you structure your rewards in order for them to not be perceived as a negative thing.

I was thinking about that in the context of various mobile games that I am currently playing, and which I am not going to list. Many of these games have a "reward" for loging on daily. But these rewards are structured in different ways, and that makes quite a difference if you look at them from a different angle: What happens if you *don't* login for one day?

There are a number of games where daily login rewards are increasing as long as you log in every day. I'm playing several games where that is a series of 5 days, you get increasing rewards for loging on every day for 5 days, and if you miss a day you have to restart that series from day 1. But I have seen longer series of 30 days and more as well in the past. That is obviously a problem: If life intervenes, maybe your internet went down for a day, or you really didn't have time for games for a day for business or family reasons, the motivation to log into that game again is diminished. The game punished me for not loging on yesterday, so why should I log on today?

Other games give out rewards every day, but it doesn't matter whether you logged on the day before or not. You are still missing out on a reward for missing a day, but at least that isn't reducing your reward for the day after.

Finally there are some games, from "idle games" to EVE Online, where a reward accumulates over time while offline. Sometimes there are upper limits to that, so you need to log on at least once every X days to collect, sometimes there are no limits at all. In the hypothetical situation of you having missed a day, obviously this system is the most motivating one. Not only did I not lose anything from missing a day, but the reward I receive looks bigger, because I get a bigger chunk of it at once.

I do think this is something that game developers should keep in mind: Rewards for daily logins are fine, but don't structure them in a way that missing a day demotivates people from playing.

I think that if the final reward for the "30 days login" challenge is cool/powerful/amazing... then yes, I think it's fine as it is. It's meant to be "harder" to acquire and not for everyone. Those who can't will stick to the 1-day or 5-days reward. I don't think that everyone has to get everything at all costs. Sometimes you just... can't. That's it.

This is not much different than any regular farming for item XXX with a 0.01% droprate. Some players will farm for the entire year, others will blame the game because "I want that item too but I don't want to endlessly farm for it".
Even Online's skill training has become pretty forgiving over the years because there is a generous queue. In the bad old days there was no queue though so if a skill finished at 3am in the morning you needed to set you alarm to start training the next one.
> you needed to set you alarm to start training the next one.

You actually didn't need to do that. It was just the gaming obsession to be competitive and ahead of others ;)
I guess their view is that havving to log in every day to maximise rewards is more of a motivator than losing the accumulated increase is a demotivator.
You actually didn't need to do that. It was just the gaming obsession to be competitive and ahead of others ;)

That's actually a good skill everybody should learn. To be able to think about a virtual reward and go "fuck it I don't care if I make it home in time, I keep doing ".
I don't understand this whole "reward for playing" thing.
The in-game rewards are valuable for you only if you play. If some game I stopped playing would place a reward on my account (World of Tanks often sends me letters about that), I don't care, as I don't play.

Rewarding logins is like "every day you visit me, you get a hug". If you don't like me, it's not really a reward and won't motivate you to come see me.

There is only one exception: when the reward is item shop currency. It's "if you play every day (providing content to others), you can play for cheaper", which is a real-world payment for a real-world activity.
@ Gevlon

Rewards for consecutive logins are an incentive to keep playing even if you're not 100% committed to the game. They're not intended for those who don't play anymore and/or don't like the game. Sometimes you're just lazy, you forget about your ingame character, etc. They're like a nice piece of sushi even when you're not that hungry: if you love sushi, you will eat it.
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