Reward Loops: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Fun

Insights & Best Practices

November 14, 2013


min read

A single game is played and enjoyed differently by multiple gamer types, ranging from social to hardcore. ?By offering multiple types of fun in different loops throughout your game, you increase the chance your game will succeed with a wider audience.Chartboost friend and co-founder of Get Set Games, Matt Coombe, gave an influential talk to the Chartboost University class on types of fun and reward loops. ?I really liked how his talk organized topics so innate to all gamers, so I?d like to summarize it here.Matt has been working on games such as Mega Run, Mega Jump and partnered with Disney to bring Monsters, Inc. Run. His role has covered multiple roles throughout the studio: Game Designer, Art Director, 3D Artist, UI Designer, Level Designer and all things Business.

The Player Reward: Intrinsic and Extrinsic

Matt urges all game designers to keep one very specific question in mind when building a game:Why is the gamer playing your game?For all gamers there are two types of ?fun? to be experienced: intrinsic and extrinsic fun, or simply put, subconscious and conscious fun.?Fun? is not a universal feeling, which is why a successful game has a good mixture of both intrinsic and extrinsic fun that is balanced by the time needed to achieve it. I always notice when my favorite games have varying uses of player rewards and time loops--some games favor one concept over the other, but that?s the beauty of video games. Art in motion and ?fun? is different for everyone. In fact, the same game with a small tweak or literally different art assets, could change the entire game experience.

The Player Reward: Intrinsic Fun

Intrinsic fun is the kind of fun that gamers have when they have fun subconsciously or are unaware of the event happening. These types of events are generally simple, integrated to the core game mechanics, and have a short lifespan of emotion.

Below is a list of examples that Matt used in his talk to describe when gamers most likely experience intrinsic fun:

  1. Pressing jump is fun
  2. Killing bad guys is fun
  3. Not getting killed makes me feel good
  4. Picking up coins seems like a cool thing to do
  5. Exploring this game world is exciting
  6. Finishing a level makes me proud (especially if it was kind of hard - but not too hard)
  7. Picking up power ups is exciting and funny and can help my score
  8. Figuring out combos like jumping on 3 enemies in a row without touching ground
  9. Learning more advanced play techniques for better scores
  10. Finding where secret items are hidden in the Level
  11. Collecting all the hidden items in a Level in one run
  12. Time bonus for speedy run
  13. Getting the bonus coin at end of Level
  14. Discovering new enemies in later Levels
  15. Discovering new gameplay features in later Levels
  16. Seeing new artwork and backgrounds of later Worlds

The Player Reward: Extrinsic Fun

Extrinsic fun is more synonymous to a gamer?s expectations of achievement. This type of fun is where gamers are focused on accomplishing something for personal satisfaction. These types of events are generally are more difficult to achieve and involve more time from gamers.Below is a list of examples that Matt used in his talk to describe when gamers most likely experience extrinsic fun:

  1. Complete a Level on your first try
  2. Complete a really challenging Level after lots of tries
  3. Get a good score
  4. Get a better score than last time
  5. Get a better score than your friends
  6. Get a better score on an online leaderboard against strangers
  7. Finish an entire World
  8. Find all 3 gems in a Level
  9. Find all 3 gems in every Level in a World
  10. Unlock the next world by getting enough stars
  11. Gain XP by completing a game Level
  12. Gain enough XP to move up to the next XP level
  13. Unlock new power up by reaching new XP Level
  14. Collect enough coins in game to purchase unlocked power up
  15. Unlocking new Character customization options
  16. Collecting enough coins to afford new customization options
  17. Unlock item to max level
  18. Unlock all game achievements
  19. Reaching Max XP Level
  20. Complete all the game Levels

In a nutshell, it?s important for games to leverage these tactics not only be fun, but successful as well.

The Player Reward: Time Loops

While there are two core types of fun, the tactics used to achieve this emotion require varying lengths of time. The length of time can be loosely categorized into three groups of time loops: short, medium, and long. Note that within these varying loops, there?s a mixture of intrinsic and extrinsic fun. In Matt?s talk he broke down, Mega Run, and displayed the examples of the Reward and Time Loops.

Mega Run by Get Set Games (iTunes Link Here)

Short Loops

  • Jumping on bad guys (Intrinsic)
  • Collecting coins (Intrinsic)
  • Using a power up (Intrinsic)
  • Finishing a Level on your first try (Extrinsic)

Medium Loops

  • Collecting enough coins for new item (Extrinsic)
  • Getting 3 stars in a Level after a few tries (Extrinsic)
  • Level up your XP Level (Extrinsic)
  • Mastering game controls (Intrinsic)

Long Loops

  • Get 3 Stars on all stages (Extrinsic)
  • Max out power ups (Extrinsic)
  • Discovering new enemies (Intrinsic)
  • Find all the secret items in the game (Extrinsic)
  • Seeing new artwork and backgrounds (Intrinsic)

As you play your favorite mobile games, check to see where you find these concepts--you may just end up learning something about tactical game design. ?And as you build your game, keep revisiting the question ?Why is the gamer playing my game?? and explore ways to increase the fun for all gamers.