How Not To Reward a Player…

I got back from my small trip, and got this pretty strange incident. I tested a golf game in my cell phone. The game is pretty simple, pretty easy to learn and quite fun too. While easy to learn, it’s not so tempting for new users…

Let me explain. The first time I tried the golf game, I was hitting the ball badly and sometimes it went far, and sometimes not so far. Eventually I got the ball in the hole, with a result like +9 over the par.

Before I let you know what the game did, I’d like you to ponder a bit: how would you reward a first-time player who uses 13 swings (instead of 4) to finish the first hole?

Think about it a moment. I suppose you might think that the game would like throw some victory particles and congratulate or something, but not this game. The moment I hit the ball in the hole, the game displayed word:


I was like… what? Okay, I knew it wasn’t perhaps my greatest game ever, but when I eventually managed to get the ball in the hole, the game says to me “bad”. How many times a 4-year old kid would play the game? (the controls were such that a 4-year old could handle it, at least with little help).

Game was a pretty fun, but I think you might want to think twice to blame players when they complete something. If you think of it: how many times a 4-year old would play the game that says “bad” when they complete something?

(I dunno, maybe they rely on the fact that most 4-year old kids can’t read…)

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Newcomers indeed could be considered somehow.

    @caesarsghost: uh… Golf something :)

    @Lumooja: “almost, but not quite” approach sounds pretty good.

  2. It should be done like in the C64 game word wizard, there a bear like wizard voice said: “Almost, but not quite.”. So be positive and say that the goal was almost met, but give some constructive criticism how to improve it.

  3. I couldn’t agree more, I think people should always be rewarded for failure, no matter how badly they’ve performed. That way they don’t have to worry about improving at whatever they’re attempting, and can just feel all warm and fuzzy inside, despite failing miserably.

  4. I’d say the key to learning the most from this is, “The first time I tried … Eventually I got the ball in the hole, with a result like +9 over the par.” Experience playing the game, 0. Experience with the game UI, 0. Experience with the game controls, 0. Experience with the results of hitting the ball, 0. Hmmm… I think I see a pattern here.

    So, besides the obvious ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don%27t_bite_the_newcomer ) I would like to point out a possible solution, difficulty levels; training, beginner … expert. That gives a context for “bad”. Normally par is set at advanced levels of difficulty to match the standard par values of real golf courses. being able to adjust the par values should be simple. Could even just be a matter of which values to calculate and show. That should make it possible to mitigate the effects of such “rewards”.

  5. Similarly, I played some strategy game on iPhone (“warfare incorporated”), and everytime I left the game, the woman told me a very motivating words: Mission Failed.
    But nevermind, that game sucked anyway, unlike Red Alery 2, where just listening to messages alone was fun (“Why dont you drive?”, “Lets make a delivery” (suicide bomber), “Rubber shoes in motion” (tesla man), “The appocalypse has begun” (mammut tank)) etc, and it all sounded so enthusiastic.

    But the woman commentator in that iphone game sounded soul-less, same with army units.

    But back to your question: maybe we should just take the parenting advice: reward success, and be neutral or ignorant about non-success, because it’s normal part of life, one shouldnt be ashamed, but encouraged to try again.

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