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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

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
  • Flow
  • 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: