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Game Design Theory Applied: Endogenous Value
by Toni Sala on 12/23/13 04:55:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Today’s article is the third one in the series “Game Design Theory Applied”. You have the previous two here:

In the previous two articles I talked about game design aspects that I think that were well addressed in New Sokoban. However, today I’m going to talk about a very difficult and tricky topic that should be better applied to New Sokobanendogenous value in games.

Endogenous Value


What’s endogenous value?

“The word endogenous derives from the Greekενδογενής, meaning “proceeding from within” (“ενδο”=inside “-γενής”=coming from)” - Wikipedia

“Relating to an internal cause or origin” –

“Proceeding from within; derived internally.” –

“Having an internal cause or origin.” – Oxford Dictionary of English

So, endogenous value in games is achieved when some objects in the game or some part of the game have some kind of value to the player generated inside the game and only by game design means.

Giving endogenous value to our games

So, as you can imagine, giving endogenous value to our games is very interesting and desirable. Fun games are great, but fun games with endogenous value are better. It is more difficult to forget a game that has endogenous value, so it is easier for the player to come back and play again to increase that value. Even if it is not the funniest of the games.

So, from my point of view, there are two ways of giving endogenous value to our games:very difficult tasks and internal economies.

Do you remember playing a game that was extremely difficult to complete? Imagine that you lose your progress. That would be dramatic… In general, things that are hard to achieve have more value than easier ones. No fancy science here I guess.

Internal economics are a more powerful mechanic to gain endogenous value. However, creating a well balanced economics system in a game is a titanic task. When saying “economics system” I don’t necessarily mean involving virtual money or trading operations. Classic RTS games like Starcraft have resources based economy systems that works great from the endogenous value point of view.

However, I think that the best example for this kind of endogenous value are MMO games like World of Warcraft (no, I’m not working for Blizzard, but I like their games :p ). These kind of games generate an incredibly amount of endogenous value to players by having lots of objects, tasks, power-ups, etc, that have value in the game for players.

Players complete quests, kill monsters and bosses all the time, even when it is not fun! However, the value of the reward is so huge that the effort is worthwhile.

Mental note: endogenous value in games is not related with fun. Actually, in general, players perceive endogenous value from things that are hard to achieve and often not so fun to do. Unfortunately, it seems that we don’t perceive the value of fun. It’s a gaming paradox I guess. Or maybe a human one…

Forcing endogenous value

The result of forcing endogenous value is having no endogenous value at all but regularvalue. All FreeToPlay games are included to this category. You, as the designer, are pricing the objects and consumables of your game. That’s not endogenous. That’s just regular value.

So from my point of view, when real money is introduced to the equation talking about endogenous value has no sense.


Unfortunately, New Sokoban is a very simple game. It is very difficult (at lest for me) to introduce all these mechanics to a little game like this one. I tried to increase the endogenous value of the game by means of increasing the difficulty of some tasks. Completing all the puzzles with 3 stars is not that difficult but finding all the under par solutions in the game is very, very difficult. I hope that players that achieve it consider their progress valuable.

Toni Sala  ":^]

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Game Designer


Darren Tomlyn
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There's a lot more that needs to be discussed about this subject, because taken to its extreme, it turns a game into work, which is a problem for people who are intending to create games to be play.

But that, of course, needs an understanding of work and play, let alone an understanding of games, too - all of which is currently a problem.

Yama Habib
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You're right that excess of Endogenous value turns play into work. You're wrong, however that this is problematic in terms of player enjoyment. Consider fighting games like Street Fighter. Well designed fighters in general are usually heaping with endogenous value in the form of player skill. SFIV in particular emphasizes this value with its Battle Point ranking system.
Learning to play the game at a high level is pretty much work, yes, but it adds another level of fulfillment to the game, beyond the initial appeal. Moreover, not every player spends hundreds of hours practicing to play at this high level. As matter of fact, only an extremely small percentage will, but those players can still enjoy the game by playing single player or against similarly capable opponents.
The same applies to games like Starcraft, Diablo, World of Warcraft--any game whose playerbase can be divided into two distinct skill levels.
Another good example is speedrunning. A game that lends itself well to speedrunners like Super Meat Boy, Sonic, or Super Metroid has some intrinsic Endogenous value in that aspect, and it is very much work for the speedrunners to do so, but the average player's experience is very much distinct and unaffected.

Darren Tomlyn
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Play != enjoyment (joy is WHY we play, not WHAT play is).

This recent perception is a MASSIVE problem people have with their understanding of human behaviour and its representation in language (especially English) at this time, and is also another reason people struggle to understand games - (since work and play are only relevant in how individual games are subjectively applied, not defined.)

Why is understanding play such a big problem? Because of its true nature and relationship with what we label as WORK - something that acts as the very foundation of human existence and civilization.

A lot of problems we currently have today, involving everything from economics, finance and unemployment etc., have a lack of understanding of work being part of the reason for their existence.

In short - as an entire species - this stuff MATTERS, and people such as yourself, who merely perceive play as things involving games etc., rather than a label of some extremely fundamental behaviour - (joy is a property, not behaviour itself - the word enjoy is all that matters there) - are helping to perpetuate an awful lot of problems.

It's not your fault you do not fully understand, but therein lies the problem:

Work: Things that people DO that are productive (e.g. I/you/we work)/the property of such a thing (e.g. it is work).

Play: Things that people DO that are non-productive, (and are therefore done for enjoyment instead)/the property of such a thing.

(Of course we can label other being's behaviour as either when we feel appropriate, but since we do not fully know and understand their perception and understanding of it, it still exists in relation to human behaviour in general.)

THIS is what work and play MUST represent, for the benefit of humanity and civilization itself, since productive behaviour (of any and ALL kinds) is the very foundation of our existence and civilization, (let alone economics and finance), and an understanding of how and why neither can EVER be fully recognised and understood without its opposite, is something most people need to have.

What we label as work and play are therefore a natural dichotomy, and for most of the past century have been recognised and understood as such - but now, all of sudden, we have a group of people who think otherwise - (Raph Koster is another) - much to humanity's detriment, as we have seen and are seeing in the world today. Most of these economic and financial problems can, should, and probably all need, to be recognised and understood in relation to, (as an application of), work, (productive behaviour), itself.

Toni Sala
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For me, endogenous value is related to engagement (or addiction, to be clear...) not fun. You may design a fun but NOT addictive/engaging game and viceversa.

Candy Crush Saga executes it perfectly. The game is fun, of course, but the ridiculously huge amount of hours that people is spending playing the game is more ralated to addiction than to fun.

So, for me, a fun game is great but a fun and engaging game is very profitable.

Luis Guimaraes
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To sum it up: intrinsic reward still better than extrinsic reward.

David Serrano
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"Do you remember playing a game that was extremely difficult to complete? Imagine that you lose your progress. That would be dramatic… In general, things that are hard to achieve have more value than easier ones. No fancy science here I guess."

With all due respect... as it applies to the modern gaming audience as a whole (and to the wider potential audience), science and market research do not support or substantiate the claim or concept. Because it's entirely based on the personality type based play motivations and preferences of a subsegment of the existing audience, and of the general population. Which is why based on his research, Chris Bateman warned in his book 21st Century Game Design: "What is clear is that designers who design games solely to please their own sensibilities are unlikely to create genuinely mass market games".

joeri jongen
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First of all, I want to congratulate Toni Sala with his three articles about the game design theory. Because blogs like this will make games and regular software a lot better.
Basically in the three blogs, Toni is talking over Video game HCI(human computer interaction) values. For everyone in the software world, I recommend all of you to learn and investigate more about HCI. Since I started to pay more attention to it, my interfaces and of course my clients satisfaction improved a lot.
game values:
definition: They are sustained beliefs about preferable conduct during play, as a basis for video game HCI. This includes values like maximising points in candy crush or like the layered reward system in “New Sokoban”.
A lot of them are values of “Play and Progress”. They encourage the player to keep playing or in the next day, to restart the game. This has already been extensively discussed in the first blog with the flow channel.

In the last blog, I agree with the definition of endogenous values. But I strongly disagree with the complete paragraph “Giving endogenous value to our games”. Making very difficult tasks will only demotivate players. This is because, they will need to repeat the tasks too many times before they will be able to finish them. The time that the player will be frustrated will be longer than the time they will be happy. Frustrating players is never good, they just will stop playing the game.

There are better ways to implementing endogenous values, one easy way is positive feedback. Giving feedback to players is very important. You need to give the player the feeling that he or she is very important,great, the best player of them al,... Players will come back to the game only for those feelings. Another way is making use of social media,... so that they can compare themself with other players. This will give the players an extra stimulance. Almost all facebook games are using this.

Toni Sala
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Thank you for your kind words, joeri

Yes, I understand your point. Too difficult tasks may lead to frustration. However, too easy tasks may lead to frustration as well. Actually, is a matter of balance: game designers need to adjust the difficulty of games to the widest possible audience.

Just try to swap "difficult" for "challenging" in my post and your overall impression will probably change. "Challenging" is a more positive word :)

So, for me, difficulty balance is very relative. If your game is targeted for hardcore players you will need to include some really challenging tasks. Otherwise, players will get bored and frustrated.

If your game is targeted for mass market audience you will probably need to decrease the overall difficulty and/or implement some mechanisms that will let the user adjust the difficulty to their needs.

This is what all good F2P games implement perfectly. Candy Crush Saga is NOT an easy game. Actually, completing all puzzles without using boosters is almost impossible. Players pay (for power ups) to decrease the difficulty until reaching a level where they can manage to complete the game.

Difficult (or challenging) tasks have value because they take time to complete; and time is money. That's why, in my opinion, F2P games are so successful among mass market audience.

joeri jongen
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Changing the word “difficult” in “challenging” does make a big change.
This discussion highlights the difficulty in making a game or even regular software for everyone.
Design for everyone = design for yourself.
The lack of a description of a user often leads to self-referential design.

What I want to say with this is that. It is very important to know the users. Designers and programmers really should make a detailed description from them, even before writing one single line of code. When doing this, the programmer can optimize the program or game for the primary user.
This is called “user and task analysis”.