Thinking of Rewards First
Recently, another designer and I were talking about designing a game for the rewards you want the player to have and using this as a starting point for design. Not just winning and all, but the actual rewards or reward feelings you want them to get while they play the game. They want to be King. They want to exert power over lots of little things. They want to have their character adorned in all kinds of cool stuff. They want to see bonuses in terms of +100. They want to be better than their friends. Naturally, the conversation also involved reward distribution and scalability of those rewards from a base on up (but that’s a much, much bigger post and possibly another blog).
There’s another game design model out there, and this is different from that, I think. The MDA model of game development which discusses the (A)esthetics of a game and how we might create those (D)ynamics through various (M)echanics. So, you might want the player to feel on edge and scared for a gameplay experience. What mechanics can you use to create the necessary dynamics to provide that experience? But beyond that and, while playing this scary game, what are you going to give me? What are my rewards? I want to do more than just survive. I want to eventually be someone. I want some serious rewards for what I’m doing or planning to do.
I’ve unintentionally created games from this perspective, I suppose, since RPGs are about constantly rewarding the player with one thing or another, but I’ve never actually started with this as a design point. Rewards are both central to and apart from the core game mechanics. For instance, amazing animations and cutscenes could be considered rewards themselves, and certainly there is the expectation of wanting and then having received something you hope a great game would deliver.