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Motivate player for better engagement and retention

Whether you developing AAA games or mobile games, you know that you need a strong motivation system to engage and retain your users. Retention is a key metric for free to play games and this article will give you hints and trick to successfully achieve it

Daniel Berube, Blogger

April 12, 2019

14 Min Read

When it comes the time to engage and retain the player to your game, the player motivation is definitively one of the most important aspects to take in consideration. In fact, you will need a strong gameplay loop and a great reward system.

The player motivation is really important, this will be what will trigger the player to engage and keep being engaged for long term into your game. The motivation is the action or the process of motivating someone by giving him the reason for doing and keep repeating some actions.

What is a good motivation system in videogames?

A good motivation system for a videogame is the one that will fill the player needs and drive them to engage themselves to keep playing the game.

This is often defined as your core gameplay loop or the OCR of your game.

  • Objective: Give a clear and identified goal to the player

  • Challenge: Create a fun and identifying goal to the player

  • Reward: Give rewards to reinforce and reengage the player

game design core loop


There are three types of motivation that should be applied to a videogame. Those three types are identified by the time that the player invests in the game. We talk about the short term, medium term and long term motivation.

Short term retention

The short term motivation is what motivates the player to complete the current challenge. A short term OCR loop should be quick between 0 to 60 seconds for AAA title and the quicker it is for a mobile game the better it will be.

The OCR will be repetitive for the player and should be integrated into your core gameplay loop.

Short term retention

Short term motivation example

Here is an example of a short term motivation for a player in Zelda BOTW games. In this example below, the OCR that will be repetitive player action in the game. 

  • Objective: Defeat the bokoblins

  • Challenge: Fight the bokoblins using your combat skills 

  • Reward: Gain loot and chest reward 

To be clearer, your short term motivation OCR is the core gameplay loop that will become repetitive for your player. You must prototype this loop early during your conception process and massively iterate on it until it becomes frictionless and fun to play. When this is done and you succeed to prove the fun of it than you can move on to the next steps, find a medium-term motivation.

Most of the AAA games that the player explores the first short term motivation loop within the first minute of the game, however,this number can be count in just a few seconds if you work on a mobile game. Don't expect to get strong D1 retention if you don't succeed to deliver a strong and fun short OCR loop to your new player.

Midterm motivation

The midterm retention can also be defined as what will motivate the player to complete the current chapter, level or mission?

The midterm motivation loop must be clear and understandable by the player during the FTUE. Again, the time will differ depending on whether you work on AAA games or on mobile game. For the AAA games, the player can complete that midterm OCR loop within a 20 minutes timeframe. If you don't succeed to give to the player a strong understanding and amazing experience of what will make them continue playing the game, there's a big chance that you will lose that player forever.

For free to play mobile games, we are talking more about the time between 5-7 minutes. Mobile gamers are more volatile than AAA gamers you must hook them fast. The fact that they don't pay to play the game means that they are less tolerant of any friction that can be found in the game.

midterm engagment

Midterm motivation example 

Here is an example of a mid-term motivation for a player in Zelda BOTW games. In this example below, the player must progress a while to reach the point where they can activate the tower that will be allow them to navigate quicker than before. This tower also gives them a more detailed map.

  • Objective: Reach and activate the tower

  • Challenge: Navigation challenge + climb and or fly mechanic

  • Rewards: Acquire quick navigation and detailed map of a new area

Another mid-term retention example can be the mini-boss fight in Zelda the BOTW. I consider it as a mid-term goal even though that doesn't respect the 20 minutes rule. This is to show you that the 20 minutes rules for AAA can be longer overtime especially if this means that is linked to a different game mechanic.

  • Objective: Defeat the mini--boss

  • Challenge: Fight the mini-boss and use your cleverness skills to beat him 

  • Reward: Gain unique gears and unique loot

You mid-term motivation will be the motivation that will keep the player engaged to progress through the game. in Zelda BOTW, the game designer have clearly built the game so the end of a mid-term motivation is linked to the discovery of a new area to explore. This is a smart hook that can also be seen in other games.

For free to play game, most of the mid-term motivation mechanics are handled by the game system more than directly gameplay mechanic. For example, in Clash Royale, level up a card in early progress can clearly be considered as a strong mid-term motivation.

Long term retention

The long term retention is what motivates the player to finish and complete the game. What will make the player stay in the game for 30, 60 days? What will make them complete the game? For free to play mobile games, we even talk about years from 1 to 5 years. All designs choices that you will do during the design of the game may impact the player motivation. It is obvious that you should have a clear idea of what will be the player motivation in your game design. If you don't have it in your free to play game, you won't retain your super fan user and you will skip great user conversion opportunity.

Long term motivation example 

In Zelda BOTW, beating the end boss can be considered as the long term motivation for the player. We can also consider that point to be the end of the story mode. Wish can be a great driver for story driven type of players.

For free to play game, that is not a strong enough long term motivation. You will need to find a better driver and in my opinion, this long term motivation needs to be linked to your core gameplay loop. If your player is able to answer this simple question "Why I will I till doing this in 2 years" and find the answer in is first to play session, then, you touch something that will drive them to be involved in your game and keep playing it.

  • Objective: Defeat Ganon 

  • Challenge: Win an epic fight  

  • Reward: Beat the game, reach the end of the story mode 

For free to play game, you should definitively aim to have the player be motivated and engaged for years. To achieve this, your long term motivation mechanic will need to be integrated into your core game system. Story and content will be costly and hard to sustain for your team and rarely succeeded to engage your player for years.

I must say that Clash Royale is a good example. Their Arena system is clear and this from the beginning of the game. It gives a clear and engaging goal to achieve for their super fan. They want to reach the legendary arena.

To resume, if early you succeed to give a clear long term goal to your player and the road to achieving it is a fun and engaging core loop. You have way more chances to have long term engagement to your game. You should consider that aspect right at the beginning of the design of the game, do not wait until it's too late.


There are 2 types of player's motivation, Extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation refers to a behavior that is driven by external reward. In video game, you can compare it to any type of rewards that the player acquires in the game that will change is a way of playing.

Extrinsic motivation comes from outside the player. They are generally rewards for a main character in the game.

Intrinsic motivation is driven by internal rewards. It is a behavior that arises as an individual because it is naturally satisfying you.

Intrinsic motivation comes from pleasure gets from tasks or activity itself. This motivation also comes from a sense of satisfaction in completing those tasks or activities.

  • Personal benefits 

  • Pleasure of manipulation

  • Social interaction 

  • Recognition


It is important that your game delivers a strong and meaningful reward system. Your system must support different rewards for different types of player motivations and this around different type of challenges.

In Zelda BOTW, Nintendo worked on different types of experiences, with different types of motivations and adapted rewards corresponding to the challenges of the player types.

The BOTW rewards system contained:

  • The global ECONOMIC system

  • The COOKING system

  • The Guardians ITEMS

  • The spirits EMBLEM

  • The ancient PORTRAITS

  • The link HOUSE

  • The FAIRY fountain

The global ECONOMIC system allowed the player to customize the appearance of the main character. It allowed the player to get better gears and be more efficient against enemies. It also allowed the player to buy, renovate and decorate their house.

Here are 7 different activities that can be accomplished by the player in order to gain resources from the global economic system. Those activities lead to different rewards that will please different type of players.

Beat the bogoblins  


Explore the world, beat the bogoblins, you gain loot and can sell it to gain money


The Fairy Fountain 


Find the item asked by the Fairy, explore the world exchange the item to upgrade link armour. 


The Cooking system 


Find ingredients, find the right mixed to create unique recipe and get positive impact on link status.


The Guardians items


Explore the land and find the guardians, beat them, find guardians gears and exchange them to improve the Sheikah tablet.


The spirits emblem 


Explore the land and find the shrines, beat the puzzle gain orb and gain extra health point or stamina.

Captured memories                   


Explore the land and find location, take a picture and unlock detailed backstory cinematic

When you step back and look at it, all the activities proposed to the player to gain rewards all have all the exact same goal. Push the player to explore the world. This is where all the magic "Nintendo touch" make it happening. While most of the other exploration game will drive the player by mostly using quest and story, they use the player motivation link to a strong reward system to make the player explore the world.

It is what we can consider a complete reward system that will reach multiple different types of users. The more users your reward system will reach, the more they can progress and get involved in each aspect, the more long term engagement you while trigger.

That being said, it is important that you succeed to mapped out your reward system and identify what is the type of player that you will engage with it. If you would like to have an easy cool way to do that, keep reading it! 


One quick way to evaluate your reward system is to list it and map it in Bartle Taxonomy player types schematic. From Bartle, there is 4 types of player in video games.

  • Performers; the performer what to dominate and overcome their enemies.

  • Achievers; the achievers want to create and compare themselves with other players.

  • Socializer; the socializer want to help the others and comment.

  • Explorer; the explorer want to explore the entire game

Bartle Taxonomy

Each of the player types have their own goal while playing a video game. If your rewards system succeed to reach all the 4 different types of players, you have way better chance to create a game that will touch more different type of players. This is a roughly definition and go to my website www.thinkgamedesign.com to get more detailed information about the Bartle taxonomy player types.

When looking at Zelda BOTW, you can clearly see from the image below that the game is intended and pretty well designed to please the Achievers and explorer type of players. There is less interest for the performers and the socializer.

BOTW Bartle Taxonomy

If you design your reward system to allow the player to progress in it for the long term, your will also engage them for the long term.

Engage your player 

We already set that you must have a strong and fun core gameplay loop. We also learn that you need a strong rewards system that will reward different type of players to do a different type of actions. If your game already have those 2 aspects, you are already having a strong design.

The last steps is to analyze your system and be sure that the player can invest themself in it and progress through the system. It may be seen to be simple at first but it can clearly have an impact on your mid and long term retention.

Take your reward system and put it on a timeline based on each player profile. This will allow you to validated that every type of player can progress, discover and engage themselves in your game for long time.

Player engagement

Design new features to please specific player type to reengage them for a longer period of time while they discover it. Plan to have features discovered by the player as they progress through the game. This will regenerate to him their interest, regenerate their brain pattern and keep them playing the game.

Do the same exact exercise for each player type and see where is your engagement system lack of satisfying the player. This will be the next elements that you should work on to increase your main KPI.

Player engagement chart

To conclude, don't forget that a reward mechanic can please more than one player type. This is why it is important to map it out. This will allow you to clearly identify which player types will be impacted by the mechanic.

  • The OCR is used to design and or identify the player motivation from short, medium and long term.

  • The BARTLE taxonomy of players is used to help you identify the player types that your reward system is targeting.

  • The PLAYER TIMELINE allowed you to visualize the potential player progression and engagement by player type. This is helpful to understand your reward system and identify is potential flaw.

If you enjoy the read, you can follow me at: www.thinkgamedesign.com or look for thinkgamedesign on facebook.

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