Game Design: Rewards

(Until I get my own host in a couple of days, I’ll use this blog for my game design thoughts.)

The very concept of reward in games interests me from a design point of view, since the game can alienate the player by giving him no feedback on his actions, or overcompensate for menial tasks. But the subject is a lot more complicated than just that, so let’s begin slowly, by just naming a few different types of rewards:

  • With a numerical value. Money, score, exp, they are all basically the same type of reward.
  • With story progression, be it a cutscene or a dialog or a simple animation of a door opening.
  • With items. Quantifiable objects that the player has to collect in order to get a greater reward.
  • Actually congratulating the player in text and/or flashy graphics.
  • With power ups that enhance some gameplay aspect.
  • With an adittional ability.
  • With addittional media. Concept art, music, etc


Different rewards are always suited better for different types of games. A brilliant game design on one genre might be a terrible mistake in another. The game designer has to think of his audience in orther to choose wisely what type of rewards he’s going to use.

Score/experience/money by itself is absolutely meaningless unless there’s other rewards that depend on it. For example, a highscore table, a new unlocked level, a new item/weapon, new characters, etc.

But let’s move on to something more juicy: the stackable rewards, or in other words, bigger rewards are given to the player the more he advances through the game. Truth be told, the rewards really don’t get better, they are just relative to the progress of the player, so in reality, the amount rewarded is always the same. Nevertheless this can become a rather dangerous game breaking aspect of the whole design when nearing the end.

The problem lays in that the “greatest” rewards are given when the game finishes, so they are of no use whatsoever because the player doesn’t have the chance to, you know, use it (depending of the type of reward as I’ve said earlier). A +45 platinum sword of liquid awesome dropped by the final boss is the single most useless reward. I just defeated the toughest monster in the world, why would I need better gear now? (I’m looking at you Fable) A “new game+” feature, a good wrapup of the story, a congratulatory message with flashy graphics and some access to hidden media would be a much better reward after finishing the game.

For RPGs the stacked rewards give a sense of improvement since everything keeps getting better the more the player progresses. But if the game finishes at some point then before this happens there needs to be a change in the system so that the player is rewarded with other type of rewards. Before the two final bosses, give the player the best weapons (through a sidequest possibly) and give him useful ways to spend all his resources. That little advice will help your game avoid the RPG sindrome that plagues a shameful porcentage of the genre.

In general, games have continuous rewards and big nuggets separated from each other. So from beginning to end the game ideally would have a steady stream of rewards and progress, kicking it up to a maximum when it finishes.

Let’s analize the classic Mario for it’s simplicity and elegance: No matter were you go, there’s always bound to be some coins floating in the air to be picked up by you. Then there’s some hidden items in brick blocks, question blocks and even thin air. And then there are shortcuts, sometimes hidden really well. This game works, it’s absolutely brilliant in it’s game design for it’s time. Sadly the ending is all but rewarding, level after level the princess was in another castle, and when the player finally get’s there…well, see for yourselves:

There’s much more to talk about, but I’ll keep quiet for now since life is interfering with my thought process.

2 thoughts on “Game Design: Rewards

  1. This is a good analysis of how rewards are best dispensed in a game. The hardest thing is coming up with some new types of rewards, new ways to obtain those rewards, in what ways they can be used, and etcetera. Some people say that everything has been done before and while that could possibly be true, there’s always some new twist that can be put on it.

  2. kimari2

    It’s not exactly easy to come up with a new concept for rewarding the player, but that doesn’t mean that “everything’s been done before”. That attitude is just lazy in my opinion.
    Pretty much anything in a game design has something to do with rewards. Just getting feedback on the player’s actions can be viewed as a reward, so to constrain the meaning of the word to particular stuff the player can get is not sufficient for me.

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