Archive | June 2015

Incentive to Play

While listening to Angus Baillie’s week 7 podcast, Castaway, I couldn’t help but laugh in agreement as he explained how the motivational high of game presentations quickly faded when he realised that the game he presented actually needed to come to fruition.

I was feeling the same.

While we are being completely honest here, I have a confession. My game group specifically aimed to create a game unworthy of being voted for so that we wouldn’t actually have to make it… that quickly backfired when the plan to elect the best games to produce was replaced with the plan to elect all games to be produced. Forced to create this game we had so thoughtlessly crafted, I felt challenged by something Angus touched on in the end of his podcast. He claimed that he aimed to create a game that had purpose, and that gave individuals an incentive to play.

To ensure that our game, Friend Request, was worth playing, we needed to understand why people play games.

Professor Dr Steven Reiss established the theory of ‘basic desires’ in the mid-90s. Basic desires are what Dr Reiss suggests are the impulses that motivate what individuals are striving for in life. Such basic desires include power, order, social contact, status and vengeance.

This means that these things motivate humans, and impact how we behave. Sometimes people strive to attain power because they desire having influence, other times people desire order as they thrive on tidiness and organisation. When we transfer this knowledge to the realm of video games, the point I’m making becomes a little bit clearer.

Games like Bejewelled, Tetris and Candy Crush are appealing because they play on the basic desire of order. Players are not encouraged to organise what they see on the screen, but are rewarded for doing so quickly and efficiently. Other games work with the basic desires of vengeance and social contact. Vengeance essentially refers to the competitive nature of humans, and suggests that we are motivated by competition or trying to get even. Most games that feature high score ranks and leader boards are effectively using this desire. Social contact is, as you would assume. Humans are naturally quite social creatures, and so a significant motivation for some is companionship and relational dialogue.

If we put multiple of these desires together, we have the ability to create a game really worth playing. In regards to our game, Friend Request, order, vengeance and social contact can all be employed.

Order: Scattered on the game-play screen are sprites, cigarette icons and beer icons. At any given time there can be over 10 different icons on the screen, excluding the player’s head and trail of friends that follows behind them. This sort of game style can appear messy, and prompts the ‘order’ desire to motivate the player to clean up the ‘mess’. Because the mess never really goes away, players are often caught getting addicted to these sorts of game, because their desire to create organisation is never quite met.

Vengeance: Building in a leader board that ranks the best scores, and encouraging users to share their scores via social media heavily relies on the notion that humans seek to get even. Ensuring that individuals are fuelled to play this game because their friend just beat their high score is not only a great tactic to apply the vengeance desire, but impedes on the desire of ‘social contact’ as well.

Social Contact: This desire is satisfied with social interactions. As mentioned, allowing users to interact with friends regarding the game through social media will encourage them to play it. If they can satisfy their internal desires to create order and to get vengeance while being relational, our game will have the upper hand in the very polluted video game market.


Reiss, S 2004, ‘Multifaceted Nature of Intrinsic Motivation – The Theory of 16 Basic Desires’, Review of General Psychology, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 179-193, accessed 1 June 2015,