Chapter 15. Motivation

Such a rush! The summit of life!

But it’s not found with loving folk

It’s on a peak that’s much less rife

An empty room; the last brushstroke

A game designer’s motivation must be both strong and carefully directed. Strong, because we need a powerful drive to overcome the great challenges of game development. Carefully directed, because it’s easy for that drive to go in the wrong direction and accidentally encourage us to do things that don’t help the game, or even harm it. This chapter is about motivation—where it comes from, how to grow it, and how to direct it, in ourselves and in others.

Extrinsic Rewards

It seems intuitive to say that the way to make people work better is to reward them better. Developers who work better should get more money, stock options, a parking space, health coverage, a bigger office, or a hundred other goodies. This is akin to a factory owner paying workers a dollar for each ton of pig iron they haul onto a rail car. These kinds of incentives are called extrinsic rewards.


EXTRINSIC REWARDS are rewards that are separate from the work itself, usually in exchange for some measurable performance on the job.

Extrinsic rewards are common in businesses ranging from finance to government to industry. But they are doomed to fail in game design. There are four key reasons for this.

First, extrinsic rewards fail in games because the work is so hard to judge from the outside. To give someone a money carrot for doing something well, we have to know ...

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