Motivation for Play
Identifying intrinsic and extrinsic reward mechanisms
After having defined what games actually are it is now important to identify what motivates players to play games. The question whether intrinsic or extrinsic reward mechanisms have to be triggered in order to motivate players sustainably has been subject to many studies in recent years. At first sight, external influences play a major role in gaming and related marketing activities. That is why reward and incentive structures are an essential part of almost any game on the market. Game designer Radoff describes point systems and reward mechanisms as important “ways to provide the player with feedback that they are advancing toward something with emotional value”. Extrinsic motivation has an effect on strategic and even economic choice making as behavioral economists and related disciplines have stated.
In the context of games, designers make use of two psychological models that are an integral component of freemium-style games like Farmville. The endowment effect (valuing what is already possessed more than a new equivalent) and the loss of aversion moment (people cannot stand losing again what they have already won). Therefore, many (social) games try to engage players with a free start into the game. The engagement mechanism more or less works like a frequent flyer program where many travelers try to seek more bonus miles at the end of the year in order to enter the next status stage (because they hate losing their miles). Gamers who have built up a farm on Farmville keep playing because they hate giving up the established farm – even though it only exists in a virtual setting (Radoff & Beam, 2010). Although these systems seem to work quite well in some cases, the problem is that neither businesses nor games can be exclusively built upon this principle.
First and foremost, there must be an intrinsic driver that motivates people to play games on a sustainable basis. Intrinsic motivation can even be destroyed by extrinsic impulses if not implemented in a task-congruent way. Additional external incentives can even demotivate players when players perceive the action as fun already. Therefore, it is rather important to emphasize the positivistic nature of rewards. In a positive sense, the challenge is to make things, which are hard for people, intrinsically rewarding. Even marketing-oriented practitioners suggest that gamification should align the marketing-interest with the interest of the user and his implicit goals. In that sense, game mechanisms like reward systems and achievement levels should rather be implemented to support the implicit game experience and trigger intrinsic motivation.