Casual game designers can show us a big list of game mechanics & systems that “keep player playing the game”. Farmville and others are good at applying these. I have no problem that these games are successful and make money and all that.
But… when I think of games that I’ve enjoyed most, I cannot recall a single game where “achievements” or “external reward systems” would have mattered to me. Well, one. Diablo 1. There the pure joy of creating better character was just awesome. So, there the reward system was in the very core of the gameplay.
By external reward system I mean things like achievements, appointments, “share the game” viral bonuses, and such. All the things that don’t “happen in the game” so to speak. Of course all these games provide rewards that are part of the core gameplay (it’s satisfying to tackle somebody through a glass in NHL ’94, cough). Not sure if I’m able to explain the difference.
Besides Diablo, the games I’ve enjoyed have been like NHL ’94 – NHL ’11, Battle for Middle Earth (multiplayer RTS), Zombie Panic (multiplayer), Battlefield 1942, Monkey Island adventure games and many others. None of these had external rewards that I would have paid attention to. You just went and played the damn game.
A good example is this:
- NHL ’94 had no external rewards system in the game – we played like hundreds of hours that game just to be able to beat our buddies. We had tons of fun.
- NHL ’10 featured system where I could gain stuff and ranks and whatnot. At some point I was playing the game for the sake of gaining new level. At that point I stopped for moment and thought “whadda hell am I doing?” The game was fun, until I started concentrating on the reward system. It ruined my fun for a moment.
In a way, if game itself is so good that it’s fun to play, there’s no need for external reward system (achievements, online highscores, whatnot). If the game is played for the sake of earning rewards, then something is wrong.
In NHL ’11 I stopped caring about rewards and just went back to playing it in because I know the game is fun. I forgot every reward there is and just enjoy doing good hip tackles or beating computer/buddies. Now it’s fun once again to play the game.
Diablo was fun as long as it was fun to level up and gaining new boosts. But when playing Diablo turns into playing for the sake of leveling up, then it’s no more fun. (Damn tough to explain. Maybe you get my point.)
If the game is fun – it doesn’t need additional “external” rewards. Playing the game is a reward in itself.