Best Fast Food Meal Ever – Got 7.10 Eur Lesson About Rewards

I visited a local hamburger hut (got myself a chicken burger meal, cost 7.10 EUR) and spotted a leaflet about their bonus program. The leaflet was 6 pages long. The text was written with a small font. They tried to hint me, that if I buy loads of stuff from their place (but so that a one-time purchase is big enough), I might get some free food at some point. Maybe. It depends.

The reward program was a pretty complex. There were all sort of rules and systems which would get you to certain level, where you could reach platinum something to get 0.37 eur on something when you bought something somewhere sometimes. And, only if you buy certain amount of stuff.

Or something.

I know that eventually it means that I might get some sort of discount, but I didn’t have a calculator at hand and I’ve only studied Math up until the University so I couldn’t solve the puzzle. Maybe the day when we all carry tiny supercomputers inside our DNA I might figure it out.

Anyway, compare this system with another reward system in a nearby pizza store: “buy 9 pizzas, get 10th for free”.

That’s really simple. No any complex mess. Just simple thing: buy 9 pizzas and the 10th pizza will be free. Simple, and clear. And rewarding.

So, in the case we want to reward some people (whether it’s giving them discounts or rewarding them in game), it’s a pretty good idea to tell them how the reward system works (or at least have some sense in it).

Just think of it: would you play a game where the aim is to get points, but you wouldn’t know how to score points, and the game would just give you a bloody long book that would explain how to get points?

Me neither.

I don’t suggest that you should reveal the player everything in your game… but if the player is clueless (or needs to read a several pages of text to realize how some simple thing should work) about how the basic rewards, then something is wrong. Or maybe it’s just me.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Juuso, it’s not my system. The pricing structure was at 3DO when I started working there. At Near Death Studios, we go with a flat monthly fee these days, like most games do.

    I was told by some people (unofficially, mind you) that the intention of the system was just to trick players into thinking they would pay less than the maximum. From everything I’ve heard, though, the new pricing structure was more profitable and is probably let me get my first industry job working on M59.

  2. Brian: good points.

    Your system is complex, but at least is somewhat understandable :) – and could actually cater for those who want to play the game few hours per week, I think it’s really nice for those guys.

    There’s a supermarket bonus program (basically volume discount) that gives you 5% refund for all purchases if you buy more than 900e per month, and 4% for 700 eur, 3% if you spent 500 eur (or something) etc.

    900e – 5% discount
    700e – 4%
    500e – 3%
    (can’t remember exact figures)

    That is basically telling people to “buy bit more so you get a bigger discount”. It’s a bit more complex than “buy 9 pizzas, get 10th for free” but at least it’s understandable.

    Not sure what I’m trying to say here :)

  3. It does depend on what your goal is. As MrPhil points out, it’s often intended to prevent you from understanding what the prize or reward really is.

    I can’t get too upset about this, because we see it all the time. Take prices for example. Why is it $5.95 instead of a flat $6? Because some people mentally round down the first price. “Oh, only $5!” their bad math gland tells them. The poor sap who tried to be straight-forward gets people thinking that he’s charging a lot more than just a nickel.

    Sometimes being straight-forward isn’t going to help the business, either. After launch, 3DO changed the pricing structure for Meridian 59 to a rather complex system: $2.95 per 24 hours, but not more than three times per week, and if you paid for 10 days you got the rest of the month free (IIRC). Well, do the math: People who played all the time were going to be charged almost $30/month in a time when other game companies were charging just under $10. If 3DO had simply raised the price too $30 people would have balked. Since the system didn’t come out and say the full price, enough people stuck with it. Probably justifying it that they were only going to play a limited amount.

    The main argument against confusion is smart shoppers. People who see a 6 page pamphlet of rules are going to figure there’s not really any gold at the end of that rainbow. But, many more people are going to collect the letters instead oof simply sending in a post card.

  4. @JC: heh, well – actually I prefer playing hardcore games… casually :)

    @Mr. Phil: lol, so… did you win? :)

    @Lumooja: aye

  5. I say always that you can describe a book with one word, or a few words, or with one sentence, or with one paragraph. Some details might be missing in those versions compared to the whole book, but even in the one word version of the book, the central message is still there.

    For example Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet could be compressed to one word: “destiny”. Indiana Jones I could be compressed to: “adventure”.

  6. I see this in company bonus plans all the time and I always shake my head. If the purpose of a bonus plan is give people an incentive, having a complex system is never going to work. Rewards, have to be clear. I’d say if it takes more than a paragraph to understand, then it won’t work.

    I don’t think the problem really is the complexity, but how it messes with risk reward calculation. Taking your example, if I take several hours to understand six pages of small print, am I going to get a big reward? Past experience, tells me no. The whole point of small print in my experience is to make sure I don’t get much of a reward.

    When I was a kid I collected all the letters to a “Million Dollar Prize.” I was very excited, until I learn that all I had won was a chance to be in a drawing for the Million dollars. Worst off, it said in the fine print, in order to be in the drawing, all you had to do was mail in a post card. So, the lesson I learned is to ignore “rewards” unless they are clear and direct.

  7. Could be, but after all… we are talking about freaking hamburgers. And the fact that these guys want us to buy hamburgers so that we would get free hamburgers at some point.

    It’s a simple thing that they are making a complex. I think it adds nothing in value in this case… sometimes simple things must be left simple ;)

  8. Well, while complex games(difficult learning curve) might intimidate some players and that would mean you will lose potential customers. It also sometimes makes the game more rewarding.
    It might just mean that your game is in a niche and not suitable for everyone.
    So it might be that you simpley were not the target audience of that bonus program.

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