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Designing for Motivation
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Designing for Motivation

June 7, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next


II. The PNRC System

The purpose of the system that I am presenting is to manage internal motivations both coming from the game and in the game context. The player’s external motivations are non-estimable and unverifiable. We cannot know if the player made the bet to finish the game or if his circle wanted him to stop playing. What we are interested in here is the motivation induced by the game mechanisms and systems.

We have to offer challenges to the player in order to entertain him and test him along with rewards that would motivate him to continue playing. Motivating the player is also to understand his needs with the purpose of fulfilling them. It is thus to know but also “to control” the progress of his needs in order to increase them, vary them and modify them from the beginning till the end of the game.

A reward can take several forms but it must be in correlation with the universe and with the player’s expectations. A reward is related to a challenge, a test or an effort, and thus must be proportional to the difficulty to obtain it.

To reward a player in a FPS with a bouquet of flowers would be a proof of no common sense. However, in a game of seduction this kind of reward is in adequacy with the game universe. Likewise, to loot Excalibur on a goblin or a rusty dagger on a giant are serious mistakes in the game design. The player receives a reward either disproportionate or inferior to the difficulty and the reward system collapses. Another dangerous and common practice is to have random rewards. Based only on luck, this system is difficult to tune and it can be a source of frustration to the players.

We have to reward for a given challenge, according to the difficulty and the needs. This is the PNRC system or the Motivation loop:




We have to know at any time what the state of the player is. By getting this information we can determine what his needs are, what rewards will be adequate and what level of challenges we can propose.

Hence, we can say that the player’s motivation is an outcome of 4 following functions:

  • PLAYER STATE (P): This is the state of game variables of the player’s avatar. His life, armor, and the quality of his equipment, etc. It is also his talent, his knowledge of the world and of game mechanisms. We can say that this is the strength of the player.
  • NEEDS (N): These are the needs at the moment when the challenge arises. These needs depend on the player’s state and on his advancement into the game. There are also the needs added, by the game design, as the player goes along.
  • REWARD (R): This is the player’s expectation of the reward. The value depends on the type of reward (function of the needs); it depends on the estimated difficulty and also on the player’s past experience with the reward system.
  • CHALLENGE (C): This is the player’s expectation regarding the challenge. The value is high if the player believes in his own capacities. However, if he does not feel comfortable or if he doubts in his skills, the value is low.

For a particular Player State we have the following equation for motivation (M):

M(p) = N(p)*C(p)*R(p)

Indeed, the function of time P(t), is the parameter of N, C and R. These three functions interact in multiplicative ways. As soon as one is null, the motivation for this player state is null.

For example, for a particular player state (P), a player can be demotivated when his good performance is not recognized by the system. Poor reward (R ~ 0) results in poor motivation even when the player believes in his own skills (C high) and his needs are significant (N high).

Another example: the player can believe in himself (C is high), and considers that a high performance results in high reward (R high), but he is too well equipped or armed (N ~ 0). M is then low.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

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