“Rethinking Carrots: A New Method For Measuring What Players Find Most Rewarding and Motivating About Your Game ” -Gamasutra (January 16, 2007)

“Rethinking Carrots: A New Method For Measuring What Players Find Most Rewarding and Motivating About Your Game ” -Gamasutra (January 16, 2007)

By Scott Rigby & Richard Ryan

Published in Gamasutra  | January 16, 2007


Gameplay strategies for motivating players largely focus on reward paradigms (“carrots on sticks”) that dangle the sweet enticements of hidden levels, provocative content, and variations on the Sword of A Thousand Truths. But like all of us, don’t games want to be loved for who they are deep down, and not what they have?

Given the deep emotional engagement today’s games can elicit, it seems clear there are more meaningful motivational dynamics that lie at the heart of a player’s enjoyment. But what are they and how can we practically understand and measure them so we can build better experiences?

One of the biggest challenges to achieving such a model is that papers and mini-theories about the “player experience” of gameplay are multiplying like tribbles at a Barry White concert. This makes it very difficult for developers, who are dealing with greater pressures on their time and resources, to discern which approach (if any) will be of practical value. What makes this even harder is that there is often no statistically significant data to prove the real value of even good ideas about playtesting and measuring relevant aspects of the psychological world of players.

Here’s what we believe constitutes the four pillars of an applied player experience model:

  1. It is practical to apply during development, providing meaningful and rapid feedback
  2. It demonstrates an ability to accurately measure player experience variables that are statistically proven to relate directly to those things that matter to developers, such as player enjoyment, perceived value, likelihood to recommend, and sustained engagement
  3. It empowers and facilitates creativity in development, rather than burdening it with a long checklist of requirements.
  4. It brings together rather than expands on player experience theory and playtesting methodology (i.e. it moves us towards a “grand unified theory”)

Immersyve has been focused for the last several years on building and testing just such a model. The academic battalion of our founding group has clocked more than twenty years of empirical research into human motivation and has detailed specific motivational needs that we have been testing in the context of games, while our business contingent has pruned back any ideas (even good ones) that couldn’t be tied directly to tangible and practical value.

Here we will outline the elements of our model, citing examples from a variety of games, and review some hard data that indicates how it can help extend developers’ understanding of player motivation past “carrots on sticks” and increase their ability to measure motivation throughout development and even post-launch.


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