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Gameplay Design Fundamentals: Gameplay Progression
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Gameplay Design Fundamentals: Gameplay Progression

November 28, 2006 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

Practical Gameplay Rewards

More and more games these days are following the old-school RPG and fighting game model of unlocking practical new content pieces that directly change, expand or improve the way the game is played. Fighting games may unlock new characters, attacks or powers, while racing games may unlock new vehicles, vehicle upgrades or race courses and combat games unlock new weapons, multiplayer maps, or environments. The reason more attention is being paid to rewards these days is that players have come to expect them in many instances, but also that practical gameplay rewards lead the player through the game and are the most effective means to encourage continuation and replay (vs. decorative rewards or just beating the game). An excellent example of structured practical rewards in my opinion is in Burnout: Revenge, where new modes, new tracks and new vehicles are all unlocked at a structured pace (the rate seems fast at the start and progressively slower through the game), with a few nice awards very soon after starting the game. A well planned and executed practical reward structure is extremely helpful in enticing player continuation and replay and ultimately in increasing review scores.

It is extremely important that the player be able to understand the rewards system. Some games present rewards just after completing a level, while others award money at the end of the mission, race or level and then allow the user to purchase new content, and in these cases the rewards system needs little or no explanation. Other games tabulate experience points or other categories which either automatically unlock the reward at a predefined pace, or allow the user to select which reward they wish to purchase; either way these systems of points need to be explained more clearly (or at least presented with the reward input / output organized in a table) since they are not as intuitive. For a combat game like any of the James Bond or Medal of Honor games, the mission results screens usually tabulate categories like shot accuracy, remaining health, enemy kills, or enemies escaped, and in any such game there should be a point value associated with the performance in each category that serves as a system explanation, because the user can see the relative weights of each category (see Figures 5a/b for some fictional mission results examples); a player can use the category information and relative values in their future gameplay strategy in order to improve their ability to earn rewards. Keeping the system as obvious and simple as possible will reduce the amount of explanation feedback the interface will need to provide.

Ideally, the player should also get a glimpse at the rewards content that lies ahead (either the next few or all remaining practical rewards) in order to encourage their long-term continuation and replay. It is great to know the next reward (say a key character model unlocked for play in multiplayer). It is even better if the player can see that mysterious and intriguing new team gameplay mode or crazy character or weapon that is available several awards down the line (see Fig 6) because they might want that one so bad they will extend their play in the current sitting or at least keep playing long after they might otherwise, just to gain that item and be able to experience it in gameplay.

These days it is increasingly more important that the main content unlocking system of the game feature Practical Gameplay rewards only. Decorative Ancillary Rewards (Trophies, etc.) do add value but should be presented separately from Practical Rewards; if it appears that Decorative Rewards are stuck into the system to fluff up the appearance of Practical Rewards then the chat forums and reviewers may respond with comments like some of them are ‘useless’ or ‘cheap’. Decorative Rewards can supplement the Practical Rewards, but they should be kept separate and not treated as equals.

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