thread: 2006-10-05 : Reward systems

On 2006-10-09, Eero Tuovinen wrote:

The point is that for the term "reward cycle" to make sense, we have to remember that it's rewarding. This means that it feeds an agenda. Properly speaking, whether something is a reward mechanic or not depends on whether it does this directly as an explicit agenda interface, or indirectly, as just another mechanic in the game's structure. I like Vincent's technical analysis that points out that the reward cycle is, indeed by necessity, the largest repeating cycle in the game. This makes sense, but it's not a definition, it's an analysis of a recognizable property of the reward cycle.

D&D reward cycle: as far as I know, all versions of D&D except perhaps the latest one have the reward be increased depth and control over the fiction. Your character accumulates a history, the game becomes more intricate and complex, you have more sway over the events as the game progresses, your character becomes a protagonist. This is the reward. Leveling up is merely one of the mechanics that clarify and enforce the reward, it makes you notice that you're making progress. (It seems to me that 3rd edition is often played differently, though; many people seem to appreciate character effectiveness as result of player skill at system manipulation as it's own reward.)

Sorcerer roll-over victories: well, they're certainly a resource, but my understanding is that they're rarely a major story-driving force. I could easily see them used in that manner, of course. In practice I'd view roll-overs as more of an exploration level phenomenon that drives satisfying "dramatic texture" by making mechanical connections between previous and following events.

Sorcerer kicker resolution: as Vincent says, it definitely signals game-end. This doesn't mean it's not a reward mechanic. Just like MLwM epilogues, the Sorcerer kicker resolution demonstrates that closure is actually a pretty potent reward for a storyteller. I remember how we used to get high on the very fact of getting to finish a game instead of it just petering out when people lost interest. It's a bit like leveling up in D&D in that regard: you can stand up and say that you've made progress, instead of getting lost in the routine of playing week after week.

To recap: in Sorcerer, the reward cycle is that you get to finish a good story. Just like poker, you look around the table, say "That was a damn good story!" and perhaps go on to play another one. Mechanics that are direct interfaces to this good story phenomenon are kickers (telling you where to start and where to stop), humanity (protagonism) and, in certain kind of play, frequent and systematic use of rollovers. So those are "reward mechanics" in the sense of directly latching onto the reward cycle.

Ben: no, accumulation is not necessary, it just so happens that resources hold a special place in the narrativist designer's heart, because they're an easy way of letting players address premise. Put your chips where your heart is and all that. Almost any narrativist game design you care to name, if it has player-controlled resources, probably uses those resources for this very purpose. And it's a very rewarding purpose, because it's directly protagonizing. Thus, resource -> reward often enough, and even then it's not a matter of accumulation, but rather of leeway in spending.

Ben and D&D: when you play a small-scale D&D interaction without leveling and other campaign play features, what's the payoff? At what point do you feel satisfied by the effort? When the combat is won? When the current adventure is over? That's the reward cycle for the play. I think it's quite possible for a game like D&D to have several, sometimes conflicting reward cycles operating on different levels. We all know that D&D above all games is played in many dizzying varieties.


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