The Psychological Trick That Can Make Rewards Backfire

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Goals and rewards can be a great way to motivate players to learn, try out features, and play longer - but in certain circumstances, they can actually backfire on you. To find out more, let's jump into the psychology of motivation.

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Sources

[1] Undermining children's intrinsic interest with extrinsic reward | Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1974-10497-001

[2] Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic rewards in Klei’s latest game: Don’t Starve | The Penny Arcade Report
http://web.archive.org/web/20130117075748/http://penny-arcade.com/report/editorial-article/intrinsic-vs.-extrinsic-rewards-in-kleis-latest-game-dont-starve

[3] Outer Wilds: a game of curiosity-driven space exploration | USC Digital Library
http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll3/id/248860

[4] The Machinations Behind Infinifactory | Game Wisdom
https://game-wisdom.com/podcast/infinifactory

[5] Mini Metro: When Less is More | GDC Vault (Free Access)
https://www.gdcvault.com/play/1024250/-Mini-Metro-When-Less

[6] Effect of Expected Rewards on Children's Creativity | Creativity Research Journal
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1207/s15326934crj1204_1

[7] How Incentives Hinder Innovation | Behavioral Scientist
https://behavioralscientist.org/how-incentives-hinder-innovation-creativity/

[8] Why do goal-based incentives cause cheating? | Williams College (PDF)
https://sites.williams.edu/mc20/files/2017/09/Chao-Larkin-2017-Why-do-goal-based-incentives-cause-cheating.pdf

[9] What to do? | Steam Forums
https://steamcommunity.com/app/368370/discussions/0/530645446308194754/

[10] A Nintendo Argument Against Achievements | Kotaku
https://kotaku.com/a-nintendo-argument-against-achievements-5740114

Find out more

Throwing Out the Dopamine Shots: Reward Psychology Without the Neurotrash | GDC Vault (Free Access)
https://www.gdcvault.com/play/1024181/Throwing-Out-the-Dopamine-Shots

Rewards in Video Games | GDC Vault (Free Access)
https://www.gdcvault.com/play/1023948/Rewards-in-Video

The Cake Is Not a Lie: How to Design Effective Achievements | Gamasutra
https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/6360/the_cake_is_not_a_lie_how_to_.php?print=1

The Psychology of Games | Steamworks Development
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0GZMA6c0T4

Achievements Considered Harmful? | Chris Hecker
http://www.chrishecker.com/Achievements_Considered_Harmful%3F

Games shown in this episode (in order of appearance)

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End (Naughty Dog, 2016)
A Plague Tale: Innocence (Asobo Studio, 2019)
Hearthstone (Blizzard Entertainment, 2014)
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout (Mediatonic, 2020)
Rage 2 (Avalanche Studios / id Software, 2019)
Diablo III (Blizzard Entertainment, 2012)
Marvel's Avengers (Crystal Dynamics, 2020)
Don't Starve (Klei Entertainment, 2013)
Mini Metro (Dinosaur Polo Club, 2015)
Subnautica (Unknown Worlds Entertainment, 2018)
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (Nicalis / Edmund McMillen, 2014)
Outer Wilds (Mobius Digital, 2019)
Exapunks (Zactronics, 2018)
Shenzen I/O (Zactronics, 2016)
Opus Magnum (Zachtronics, 2017)
Spacechem (Zachtronics, 2011)
Infinifactory (Zachtronics, 2015)
Tormentor X Punisher (E-Studio, 2017)
Lonely Mountains: Downhill (Megagon Industries, 2019)
Tetris 99 (Arika, 2019)
Minecraft (Mojang, 2011)
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo, 2017)
Lumines Remastered (Q Entertainment / Reonsair, 2018)
Planet Zoo (Frontier Developments, 2019)
God of War (Santa Monica Studio, 2018)
Destiny (Bungie, 2014)
Hitman 2 (IO Interactive, 2018)
Her Story (Sam Barlow, 2015)
Overwatch (Blizzard Entertainment, 2016)
Horizon Zero Dawn (Guerrilla Games, 2017)
Devil May Cry 5 (Capcom, 2019)
Hitman (IO Interactive, 2016)
Forza Horizon 4 (Playground Games, 2018)
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (Infinity Ward, 2019)
Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo, 2017)

Music used in this episode

Music provided by Music Vine - https://musicvine.com/
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