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Baby Steps and Giant Leaps: Motivating Players with Achievements

This post describes two types of achievements that can inspire people to play your games and keep them coming back for more.

While playing your games, players will most likely want to feel like they doing well. To keep them playing, players will need to feel they are getting better or at least recognize the potential to get better.  This post describes two types of achievements that can inspire people to play your games and keep them coming back for more.



The metrics in your game are often set up so that to improve one means detracting from another. This is what helps balances out a game. It is the player’s job to figure out the balance by examining how his/her actions affect the metrics. Most player actions should change the metrics in relatively small increments. You probably don’t want to have to many events in your game that trigger instant win or lose scenarios.  Instead, it can be much more intriguing for a player to gently massage his/her game play style until they find the right combination and discover how to tilt the balance of the game in their favor. These subtle changes in strategy and action give the player the opportunity to make baby steps of achievement.

In my game, called Econ U, players manage a university. There are three primary metrics in Econ U including Money (profit earned by the university), Population (how many students are attending the university), and Happiness (how happy the students are).

To improve Happiness, players might have to sacrifice some Money in order to make improvements. Some players might find this unacceptable and choose to maximize Money at all costs.

It should be up to the player to determine what metrics are most important to them during any given game play session. While a perfectly executed play might raise all metrics to an equally high benchmark, a player’s strategy, whether they realize or not, might be to neglect some metrics in favor of others.

In Econ U, players can sort the leaderboard based on any of the three metrics. This allows them to see how they rank compared to other players no matter what metric they determine to be priority.

Ranking players by metrics can affect their strategy and can also encourage replay.

As players compare single metric values they may be surprised to find that others might have achieved similar numbers without a sacrifice to the other metrics. This hopefully would cause them to investigate, adjust strategy and replay.

Baby step achievements are fractional but that does not necessarily mean they are easy to accomplish. In fact, squeezing the last bit out of a metric might be extremely difficult, but might also be a huge driving force for player motivation. After all, tiny differences in metrics could determine the separation between first and second place on a leaderboard.

In Econ U, players might reach acceptable levels for all three metrics easily. However, when compared to other players, they might realize that their accomplishments are rather meager. This might provide them with motivation to dive deeper into the game’s system to better understand how such numbers can be achieved.



In addition to keeping track of incremental accomplishment in your games, it might also be a good idea to acknowledge landmark achievements by a player. These giant leaps, sometimes referred to as trophies, are often a result of a specific combination of baby steps. Giant leap achievements might provide motivation for players who are unconcerned with or unable to reach the numbers achieved by other baby stepping players.

In Econ U, there are a total of 10 trophies. Each one marks a certain achievement reached by a player.

Most likely, only one player will ever baby step their way to the top of a metric’s leaderboard. However, all players have the opportunity to earn every trophy.

Not every giant leap achievement must require a combination of actions. Some might be the result of one, well-timed, action.

One of the trophies in Econ U requires the player to closely monitor the market and build a building when the costs to do so are at their lowest. Not only does this require careful strategy but also it probably requires the player to play more than once.

It might be a good idea to provide the player with a list of possible giant leap achievements along with a vague description. The description can affect a player’s strategy, and encourage replay, by providing some indication of the path to follow in order to earn it.

Some of the trophies in Econ U have a specific description of what is required to achieve them. However, none of them explain the strategy used to earn them.

A giant leap achievement might typically represent a culmination of player actions but that does not necessarily mean it is hard to accomplish. In fact, a player might stumble upon on it completely by accident.

One of the trophies in Econ U is earned when a player maintains the Happiness metric at 100% for ten consecutive turns. A player may or may not realize this achievement exists before they earn it. Even if player’s focus is on other metrics they can still be rewarded with a bonus accomplishment.

With a combination of baby step and giant leap achievements you can keep the player informed of their progress while inspiring them to improve.

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