Art Update 1/15/14

Since I have been quiet for quite some time I decided to post a screen cap of the game so far.  There are still some placeholder assets and things that will be changed/improved but you can see the art direction.   artupdate1

If you want to see the game in action I will be at Indie Game Night to be held on Wednesday January 29th at 7pm at the Ninjabee Offices in Orem. They have a big Wahoo sign on the front door. Their address is:
240 N. Orem Blvd, Orem, UT

Here’s a Google Maps link to it,+Orem,+UT

Hidden Costs of Extrinsic Rewards in Games

Consider the costs of extrinsic rewards in your games, and the long term health of the industry.

Creativity, interest, curiosity, enjoyment, learning memory, conceptual understanding, and upstanding behavior are fueled by intrinsic motivation.  Extrinsic rewards improperly implemented can knock these off like a koopa shell sliding through a line of goombas.  Extrinsic rewards can turn an interesting task into a drudge, and can turn play into work.  They often unknowingly sacrifice long term goals for short term gains.

What if awarding players for playing games with extrinsic rewards means they will play less games in the long term?

One of the most sited articles in motivation literature was performed by Mark R Lepper, David Green, and Richard Nisbet.[1] The three researches observed a classroom of preschoolers and identified the children who spent their free time drawing.  The researchers divided the children into three groups.

The first was the “expected award group,” they showed each of these children a “good player” certificate adorned with a blue ribbon and featuring the child’s name. They asked if the child wanted to draw in order to receive the award.

The second group was the “unexpected award group.”  Researchers simply asked these children if they wanted to draw.  If they decided to, when the session ended the researchers handed each child one of the “good player” certificates.

The third group was the “no award group.” The researchers asked these children if they wanted to draw but didn’t promise or give them a certificate.

Two weeks later, teachers set out paper and markers during the preschools free play period while the researchers secretly observed the students.  Children in the “expected award group” showed much less interest and spent much less time drawing than the other two groups.  When children didn’t expect a reward, it had little impact on their intrinsic motivation. Only contingent rewards (if you do ____, then you get ____.) had the negative affect.

By using Gamification techniques such as badges, levels, and achievements to increase engagement may actually do the opposite over time.

If/then rewards require us to give up some of our autonomy which decreases intrinsic motivation.  This puts at risk all the attributes listed at the top of the article.

Extrinsic rewards in games and gaming communities take the form of trophies, badges, achievements, public recognition, attention, privileges, money, hats, and more.

Instead of learning about and mastering a task, extrinsic rewards encourage players to only do what is necessary to get the reward as soon as possible. When rewards are at stake players prefer to engage in easy successes rather than engage in optimal challenges. Think about MMO players grinding an easy area that is optimal for loot or XP rather than another area that is more challenging for their level.

When no rewards are at stake a task is done once curiosity is satisfied, mastery is attained, problem is solved, a question is answered, or fatigue sets in.  When Rewards are at stake a task is done when the reward criterion is reached.

When we use these rewards to control player behavior for the short term we do considerable long term damage.

Self-determination theory[2] advances the view that there are three basic, innate, psychological needs that we all have: the need to belong or feel connected, the need to feel competent, and the need for autonomy or self-determination.  When these needs are met, we are motivated, productive, and happy. When we use if/then extrinsic rewards we inhibit autonomy and thus motivation, productivity and happiness.

When adding rewards ask yourself if it is manipulating player behavior by extrinsic rewards.

Games can be intrinsically rewarding to play in themselves.  By using rewards responsibly we can create better games, and players will be continue to come back to games as a rewarding medium that makes life better.

If you are interested in learning more about what motivates us, I suggest the book Drive by Daniel H. Pink.

You can follow me on twitter @LyleCox


[1] Mark R. Lepper, David Greene and Richard Nisbet, “Undermining Children’s Intrinsic Interest with Extrinsic Reward; A Test of ‘Overjustification’ Hypothesis, ” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 28, 1973, 129‐37.
[2] Edward L. Deci, Richard M. Ryan, 2010
Shapira, 1976
McGraw & McCullers, 1979
Edward L. Deci, Richard M. Ryan, 2010
Condry & Chambers, 1978
McGraw & McCullers, 1979
Ryan & Connell, 1989
Amabile, 1985

A Game with Purpose

I thought it would be beneficial to write down how and why we are making a meaningful game. There are many ways to make a game worth playing, I do not purpose to say this is the only way, nor does every game need to have meaning. Still, it is beneficial to express the core ideals important to us.

We want the player’s life to be better for having played our game. We will do this in part by fulfilling the core human need for relatedness as described in self-determination theory.

We want players to share a personal connection.  This goes deeper than an exchange of gunfire or virtual goods.  The systems that compose the game encourage empathy, trust, sharing, interdependence, and cooperation.

A game should stand on its own as something of value without relying on manipulative psychological tactics such as Skinner box techniques.  The intrinsic value of this game is that it provides an environment for relationship building between its players. Through playing it, you not only experience self-discovery, but increased empathy and connectedness with the other player.

During play tests so far players have been without previous knowledge of the game or its intent.  They start out with competitive banter, but within the first three levels all competitiveness is gone and is replaced by cooperation.

We live in a media saturated world.  Media choices impact our lives in both positive and negative ways.   Our goal is create media that makes life better.

That this is a realistic goal is backed by a study conducted at BYU. They found positive associations for co-playing video games between girls and their parents.[1]

Why I’m Quitting my Day Job and Becoming an Independent Game Developer

When I tell people that I am quitting my job to make a video game I am most often met with questioning looks.  If they are comfortable enough they might ask a cautionary question or two, their doubts apparent in tone of voice.  I would like to answer all their questions.  After all, it is a major life decision for my family and something important to me. The purpose of the conversation usually ends up being to make the other person comfortable with decisions that are already made.  I would rather have the far more interesting conversation about what motivated me to make those decisions.  So lets do both, I’ll write down the questions that are likely going through peoples heads.  Then I will answer them directly, followed by my motivations that have placed me where I am.

The questions are usually financial or about the well being of my family.
Isn’t that risky? How will you pay for things? What are you going to do for insurance? Have you considered just going part time?
Rachel and I have good parents that taught us about money.  We worked our butts off before, during, and after college so that we would have no debt.  No mortgage, no car payment, no student loans.  Rachel is working full time and will have health insurance for us through her work.  We will be able to live off less than what she makes.  Over the last two years we have also saved up over 2 years of living expenses to make her feel comfortable with the transition.  We have also saved an equal amount for my business. It is amazing how much you can save when you eliminate all but the necessary expenses.  If we wanted to, we could both stop working for over two years. Nobody would come after us, the sky would not be falling, we would not be evicted or foreclosed on.

The American Dream that everyone seems so focused on achieving is not your dream.  Well, it might be. But have you ever stopped to think about what your dream life would be?  I can tell you that living in the shackles of debt is not my dream. That all sounds more like a nightmare than a dream. Family members often tell me that i’m “throwing money away on rent.”  In my mind I am gaining interest on my money instead of spending it on mortgage interest, house repairs, and property taxes. I am spending my time on things I care about instead of maintaining a house and yard.  When I do buy a house it will be in cash and I will not need to remove $150k+ of the chains of debt.  What about working for a big company(s) at an 8-5 job for 45 years?  Nope, not in my dream either.  I want independence in my work and I don’t want to wait until I’m retired to start working on something i’m passionate about.  If you don’t have a dream, start dreaming. If you have a dream, I humbly suggest you make a plan to achieve it.

A plan is a real thing, and things projected are experienced.  A plan once made and visualized becomes a reality along with other realities-never to be destroyed but easily to be attacked.  -John Steinbeck, The Pearl

If asked, most people would say you should face your fears and live your dreams, but how many of them do it? Start taking steps towards living your dreams.  It won’t be easy, people will think you are crazy like they do me.  But it sure feels great!  On a related note, I identified with this movie, you might too. Here is the trailer.

You might be thinking…
He is going to waste a lot of money trying to get rich and there is a good chance it won’t work.
There is some truth to this, I want to be rich…
…in happiness.
…in creativity.
…in choice.
…in independence.

Money is not my primary motivator.  If it was, I would continue working for a large corporation. I know that statistically, on average people who do so net a greater return than those who work independently.  If I continued saving and investing as I am doing, and the market continues it’s historical growth, I could retire with 4-6 million.  I am not bragging, if you are my age you can do it too! If you get your finances in order.

But I won’t be saving as much as I am now.  And that is OK. I judge success by comparing myself to my goals, not comparing myself to others.  I will be much happier this way. I want more from life.

I bargain with life for a penny.
And life would pay no more
However I begged at evening
When I counted my scanty store.

 For life is a just employer
He gives you what you ask.
But once you have set the wages,
Why you must bear the task.

I worked for a menial’s hire.
Only to learn dismayed,
That any wage I had asked of life
Life would have willingly paid.

I do not want this to be a short term thing.  I have my plan.  That is becoming financially independent by creating something meaningful.  In this case a video game (we can talk about how a video game can be meaningful another time.)  There is no reason in having a plan B because it distracts from plan A.  If everything falls flat and I need to find a job working for someone else I will, but that will be the temporary fix to get plan A back on track, not a fallback plan.  I have been studying game design for the past year and a half.  I do not mean I have been thinking about game design.  I am talking about text books, magazine subscriptions, and hundreds of online articles. All of these with the purpose of improving the skills involved in designing and creating games.  I have a lot to learn, but I am focused on achieving my goals.

Subconsciously you might be asking yourself
What does it say about me if he is right?
I hope you avoid thinking this can’t be right because it is different.  Instead ask yourself these questions. What if I would be happier? what if my family would be happier if I pursued my dreams?  Have I been lying to myself about what the right thing to do is? I always think it is ridiculous when I hear people say to high-schoolers “These are the best days of your life.”  What a load of crap!  If this year isn’t the best year of your life then change something!  Life should always be getting better.  If not, maybe you are investing in the wrong things.

There is so much to get out of life.  I intend to squeeze the most out of it that I can.

You can follow me on twitter I will post updates on the game there.

You can also subscribe to the newsletter. I will only send out major announcements here if I do anything like launch a kickstarter or release a beta of the game.