Rewards in Video Games



In this 2017 GDC session, Blizzard Entertainment’s Travis Day share ssome of the hard learned lessons about how reward systems can guide or harm player experience in games like World of Warcraft and Diablo 3.

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  • An important note about Rewards. Generally rewards look like items. But what are we rewarding people for ?
    Are you rewarding them for: Killing a lot of monsters, or travelling a far distance, or doing multiple steps in a quest. Or overcoming a difficult challenge, or choosing the harder path rather than the easy path. Was the player able to connect multiple dots and find that they all pointed at something. Was the player cooperative with the other players, or was he selfish.
    Did this player remember something that was said by an NPC a long time ago, and Now is the time to put that little tidbit of info, into action.

    Did the player solve a riddle, or a puzzle. Did he solve some philosophical question with a correct answer. Was he able to find a unique or unusual solution to a difficult problem, that most of the other players were unable to see.
    I'm at reyesing42@gmail.com

    Randor11 June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • I find this video to be a very good elicitation of the various reward dynamics, psychologies, and strategies etc. I've played a ton of Diablo III with all 6 characters level 800+. Everything he said about the auction house was true. My characters all had 95% of their items from the auction house, and I could never get those exotic items on my own.
    I believe that rewards should be commensurate with the amount of work, effort, time, research, intelligence, perseverance and desire to achieve that goal.
    I do have to say though, that calculating which item is better than another item, became incredibly complex. I developed several spreadsheets, and flowcharts, in order to numerically calculate the overall "Attractiveness" of a given item.
    But I was only operating with partial intelligence, and best-guesses, and incomplete data.
    I found that managing and administering the files to keep track of all of the stats of all of my items, to be eventually overwhelming, and have mostly let that game sit idle.
    I managed all of the stuff in my stash too, and that was A LOT of work.

    I believe that an item-swap comparison feature with expandable levels of detail would be very useful.

    Here's a game-changing suggestion for you Developers:
    – Have little gremlins or followers that can be "instructed" (ordered) to pickup certain items, or classes of items, or a certain threshold of items. Some of them could then programmed to do certain other automated tasks, such as gem combining, or selling everything on a "to-sell" list, or moving things around, or doing other things, on behalf of the player.
    – Here's another suggestion: Maybe you could have the game client, kindof "monitor" the kind of things that a player likes, and then make some "adjustments" as you see fit.

    Randor11 June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • i think every single piece of advice he gave was wrong

    judgeomega June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • Rewards in video games. Starts with I worked on D3 reaper of souls.
    Thanks I'll save 1 hour of my time not watching this video

    Rainbow Sam June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • The 2nd question is the reason I stopped playing wod because I wanted an item from the first boss in Hellfire Citadel, and after 3 months of using bonus roll on him, I stopped playing wow all together.

    Flemeth's House June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • Do you know who should never talk about items in games? Anyone who worked on Diablo 3.

    ajdebrevishe June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • This confirmed my suspicion that the WoW devs were completely skewed in their perception of the player base they should have been catering to.

    I was a relatively hardcore player back in college (if you go by the amount of time spent), but you’d never know it by the gear I had—which was barely enough to get into the lowest tier raids. After sinking hundreds of hours into a game, playing a character I thought matched my personality or play style, I was left with a character that was completely useless to being along on raids—and when the size of raids dropped from 40 to 25, it meant ONLY the best players (which meant they had the best gear/specific build) in your guild ever got to go—so the rich got richer, and by the time those roles had been sufficiently geared up, the guilds main raiding group had moved on and it was impossible to get those geared up people to continue dragging folks through to gear them up. The ONLY time that ever happened, was if someone quit or left the guild and we needed to find a replacement for that raid slot—but more often than not (just like in the corporate world) they would find someone from another guild that was unhappy with their raiding group as the replacement, rather than promoting people up from the ranks.

    Like that lady said, as awful as he thought their badge system was, it at least allowed people like me a chance to get that base level of gear needed, so that when LFR came around I could get a shot at earning the really good stuff. My roommate and I started playing at the same time and he had picked his class before me, and had chosen a Paladin, which was OP at launch while I had picked a Hunter—which was THE WORST class, that had been so broken that it made solo questing impossible and provided such little benefit to grouping that he quickly shot past me. By the time they finally started to nerf Pallys, he’d already made it to level 60 (pre-BC obviously), while I had to re-roll a new character and try to grind my way back up. In that time, he joined me for brief periods on his alts, but it was mostly soloing and PUGs to get to the late game dungeons, which I ran regularly with my new Priest. Of course the Shadow Priest build I had sucked for leveling and when it came to late game healing things should have been great, but Pallys and Druids ended up having smaller (but far more mana efficient heals) and wore far beefier armor—so when it came time to move onto raids, I got left behind and I NEVER caught up.

    Anyway, my point is simply that my friend/roommate had a bit of an addiction to WoW and after he graduated, it became a debilitating problem where THAT was literally all he did from the time he woke up until he went to bed—it was literally the lowest point in his life, and it fucked up our relationship on some level because I still remind him of that time, and it’s a painful memory for him. Anyone using a product THAT much needs to be cut off, because it’s a fucking problem. This poor fuck (and the other people he raided with) spent multiple nights per week, grinding through MC’s bosses and trash mobs, and spent all day every day grinding rep and farming supplies for potions and items needed for raids. Sure, he got into (and beat MC) before anyone else on our server did, and had the best gear before anyone else—but at what cost?

    The bottom line is this: the casual players of your game ARE your target audience—the hardcore players will ALWAYS get bored with the lack of end game content, and there is almost no limit to how long and hard they will grind to get it—no matter how much they seem to bitch about the grind and drop rates. (Seems like a fair comparison between games with that personality type and those Game Devs that claim to hate “Crunch” but still wind up doing it, even when they’re the one in charge of the studio).

    The solution is simple, STOP CATERING YOUR PRODUCT TO ADDICTS! There’s no other industry in existence (except for maybe the tobacco industry—but I still don’t feel like even those creeps want to kill their customers MORE than they already are) that has such a twisted relationship with their customers!

    Imagine if the alcohol industry were run by Blizzard. They’d drop the whole “Drink responsibly” attitude, and they just started tailoring ALL of their existing and future products to their most hardcore audience—the raging alcoholics! They’d probably start out selling a nice range of lower ABV products like some fruity wine coolers up to some higher ABV craft beer, but as time goes by they would see their “hardcore” users become bored with those offerings and eventually ratchet things up to a point where they simply give up on all of that variety that caters to the wider range of tastes, and just start selling straight grain alcohol in fancy collectors edition bottles, with maybe a hint of dye to make it look pretty. When you target the most dysfunctional subset of your audience, who view your product as a means to an end, how can you expect to have anything but a dysfunctional company or business model?!

    WoW is the most successful MMO in history and had the largest player base at any one time, and I’m not sure how the numbers have dropped off in recent history—but I’m willing to bet that it’s far higher than any other MMO that’s as old as it is, and it’s even possible that they still have higher than much newer games in that genre. Not all players ever manage to reach max level on their characters, and only a small percentage of those people ever get to the end game content. Even fewer of those people ever beat it and far less of those people ever see the best gear for their class, much less get a chance to ever roll on it (if their guild even allows them to roll). So why the fuck are they allowing THOSE people to dictate the course of their game? Fuck those people, let them get bored and leave—because as long as you make it fun for 1-5 players to do all the stuff that leads up to that end game dungeon bullshit, then you’ll have a successful game. When your level is maxed and there isn’t anything more for your character to do, there’s still PvP or rolling a new character for the other faction, which can lead to more fun. I had far more fun playing alts, and trying out new characters and seeing new areas and playing quests I’d never experienced with friends that just started the game than I ever did waiting around for a group of 10-25 people to run through an instance. If had gained XP for jumping around (which is what I would do when I was bored) like I did in Morrowind, then I could’ve jumped from Ironforge to Stormwind or beyond if there wasn’t a cap.

    Not that Blizzard will ever see this, but maybe a current or future Game Dev will, and hopefully they heed my advice and avoid the model created by WoW, where the end game content bifurcates the game into two completely separate experiences. If you want to make a game that’s all about raiding—fine, just get rid of levels entirely, give your players points that they can allocate and let them run through a few easy quests to learn the mechanics, and make a game that is 100% loot and raiding driven. People into raiding will eventually find the base game tedious and a burden that stands in the way of them getting more characters into raids—so make them a game that is JUST those mechanics if that’s what they like? Clearly Blizzard must think those players are valuable enough to fuck up their entire game for them, so why not build them their own game? I suspect that the economics of that decision won’t lead to a profitable game, because it’s far too niche of a product the same way that a roguelike MMO would cater to only the smallest number of masochists. I’ve seen entire guilds crumble because stupid people caused too many wipes, and the cost of repairs and the amount time required to grind the gold to pay for it was so high, that people would just leave—so I can only imagine the rage that would be caused when some fuckup in your party caused you all (or just you) to wipe in a game with perma-death.

    Mass appeal is the way to go, so you’re better off focusing on making a game that anyone can find something to enjoy, because those hardcore people will still buy it and put months or years into the game before leaving—so why worry about keeping them happy? Release new content with new levels and all new gear, or classes and that will bring those people back. If WoW had kept up with my pace of level up characters before boredom set in and they came out with new races or classes more frequently than they did, then I’d probably still be playing. Give the players more, is always better—whether that’s variety, quests, loot, whatever! It’s all content that keeps people interested and keeps them playing and keeps them paying.

    Kernelpickle June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • So this GDC was in 2017. A year before BFA (which we can assume was in development at the time). Well, well, look who learned abso-fucking-lutely nothing. Anyway, Shadowbringers is the shit now. WoW has terminal cancer.

    Turntapeover June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • I actually really liked the badge ideas and never thought they were complicated at all. It surprises me that a developer thinks they are that confusing and hates the math side of items. I guess it's no wonder they introduced armor penetration and had to be shown spreadsheets by the theorycrafting community (that guy eventually was hired by Blizzard iirc). Badges were a way for people who didn't raid to have something to look forward to. When they took those out, I was pretty disappointed. What I find humorous is all of these "failed" systems (his words, not mine) that he talks about, but in current retail, the catchup systems they put in place allow players to not play at all, log in for a month, gear 3-4 characters nearly to the max, then quit again. I know because that is what I do. There isn't much incentive to continue to play.

    But I think the biggest issue is that they haven't changed the spells enough over the years. I am utterly bored using the same damn spells over and over again. It's neat to have a new talent tree or new take on how the class should be played. But they have remained static. People get excited over 2 or 3 minor changes to spells. It's not enough though. Oh well. Just my opinion.

    digitalconsciousness June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • How to take the soul and humanity out of an experience, hire people that mimic machine learning.

    Sirabot June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • Wait…six RAID quality items / 5-man dungeon? That would kill the raids…and the guilds too, I guess.

    TehBigB4dWolf June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • Somehow it's sad how Legendary equals a common item in their vocobulary…I hope it's only in the past. Sure, it would've been cool that in WoTL every class/spec could have a legendary. But that doesn't meant that every single player could/should gather them.

    TehBigB4dWolf June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • Blizzard failed with WoW when they decided to try and make their game please everyone, which I wholeheartedly believe was shortly after activision bought them. WoTLK was IMO their best expansion, it was also the last expansion that was developed free from the clutches of activision. If you look at the various player/expansion data out there you can see a massive drop off after the release of cataclysm. At this point their loyal fans (myself included) are basically battered housewives that cling to the memory of the man we married but are stuck with the man he's become. If Blizzard actually cared, they would have given us a "WoW classic remastered" with hi-res textures. Like for $20/month Blizzard should've already redone all the textures in retail WoW up to BfA so players don't have to do a graphics time warp through expansions. I won't even start on the game mechanics they've shit all over or diablo immortal…

    Mackenzie June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • 19:30 Lulls… all the years that I've been watching GDC videos (tons of them are Indie talks) and this is the first time someone didn't turn their phone off…

    lol… you would think; this presentation has a lot of clout, maybe I should respect the speaker… Nahhh…

    Nathan Stoddard June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • Y i K E S

    Sindragozer June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • Okay. So. That was a waste of time. I'm a huge gamer and even /I/ have no idea what he's talking about. I don't play MMOs for countless reasons beyond it just not being a genre I like. I have literally ZERO idea what he's talking about. I thought this was gonna be useful information…

    Gilamex June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • This talk should have been titled "How we dealt with reward systems in WoW". There's some really neat insight, but most of the time seems spend on info that is a bit too much tied to the particular games and case scenarios he's talking about.

    RaoulWB / Rilliam June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • tbh, the badge system was MUCH better than the mythic+ version of the game, at around 13:00 you say "more hardcore players had to farm lots of content, that was rather trivial to them", with the mythic+ system this got A LOT worse, I stopped playing during legion because I felt like the overly random rewards for hourlong grinds of the same dungeon were not only stressful because of the time-limits but also felt like a complete waste of my time.
    You guys were the reason I got into game dev and as all heroes do, you fell to your own ideals.
    Nonetheless very good talk, maybe some day there is a chance for me to visit gdc as an indie.

    TheJP100 June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • Interesting to finally find a video on game devs talking about reward systems and it's someone from blizzard…. the company that couldn't resist turning something amazing into a drug.

    Steven Smith June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • Very good speaker. Extremely good and informative presentation. One of the best I've seen on this channel

    frikky99 June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • It took me more time to find Yangs recurve than It took me to get into whimsydale

    PhantomTissue June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • The sad thing is that they removed almost all deterministic loot for random shit warforges… Deterministic only feels like a shore of the gameplay where you farm it is boring.

    The solution is rather simple… Put higher lvl items as random drops and not normalized lvl items as deterministic and cut the crap warforge, done now you can do a raid and even if you're not getting loot you can get something to farm for…

    I know that there are some level of deterministic itens with reputation vendor, but its shit because its time gated and gets outdated really fast.

    DemonGamerTT June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • Can't believe Blizzard let this guy explain all this mistakes….

    David Puerta June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply
  • Established
    Balance
    Make everything OP
    Be generous

    RuizuKun_Dev June 29, 2020 5:33 pm Reply

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