Rescuing Web3 Games: The Key to Success Lies in 20 Years of Gamification Insights on Motivation and Rewards
February 9, 2023
Blockchain meets gaming, but do they play well together? The surprising answer comes from the Gamification research
WEB3 SERIES PART 1/2
Play-to-earn games are similar to gamification because they both incentivize players to perform specific actions through rewards. In play-to-earn games, rewards can come in the form of in-game items that have real-world value, whereas in gamification, rewards are often intangible such as points or badges. Both play-to-earn games and gamification use game design elements to engage players and encourage them to perform desired behaviors.
Blockchain Meets Gaming: The Conundrum of Choosing Riches Over Fun
In other words there is a misalignment of priorities in Web3 Gaming which leads to the value proposition challenge.
The challenge facing web3 games is their perceived value proposition by players. The marketing tactics used for these games often highlight the financial gains associated with them, pre-conditioning players to prioritize their portfolios over the actual gaming experience.
As a consequence, the discussions and hype around these games on various channels are often centered around price prediction and trading stories, rather than the actual gameplay. The community moderators of these games also tend to encourage this focus on financial gains rather than the gaming experience.
Enter the Miner — A New Player Type in the Web3 Gaming Landscape
Sure! The introduction of the new player persona, the “miner,” into the world of web3 games promises to bring a unique gaming experience: by doing various actions in the game you get (mine) real money. But before diving into the specifics of this new persona, let’s first take a look at the existing player archetypes commonly found in traditional games.
Note: the player types can be refined into more categories and subcategories but we’ll keep it simple
Killers (1%): These players enjoy creating chaos and challenge authority by trying to disrupt the functioning of the game world and affect the experience for other players.
Achievers (10%): These players aim to accumulate status, loot, and points by winning battles within the game, and tend to follow the game’s rules unlike killers.
Explorers (10%): These players want to discover the systems that govern the function of the game world, understand their technicalities and unique features, and learn how to take advantage of them.
Socializers (79%): These players seek to form connections with other players by sharing stories, tactics, and working together within the game.
Different games attract different player profiles. A different classification done by Blizzard with a lot more insight on demographics and mapping player types on game genres. All the gamer personas can be explored here. Below I chose 2 out of 6 different player types just to illustrate the various differences in motivation, preferred genre and demographics.
Also they tap into the motivation of the players and it reveals as we actually expected to be predominantly intrinsic motivation.
This intrinsic motivation creates engagement and willingness to spend money in the game. The chart showing the monetary spending seems to be aligned with the motivation levels or allocating non-monetary resources like time.
So, what is the Miner persona all about? The miner player persona is born out of the first interaction with web3 games and their value propositions, such as “get rich fast,” “earn passive income,” or “make easy money.” This type of player is most likely to come from the Achiever and Killer archetypes, with fewer conversions from Socializer and Explorer. However, the problem is that the nature of the discussions in web3 games communities and the way the value proposition is expressed tends to attract more Achievers and Killers, just like shooter games do.
For the Miner persona, the actual game play and journey are just a means to acquiring more assets. They may even choose to trade on secondary markets to attain these assets faster. This disconnect between the in-game meaning and purpose and the real-world goal of financial gains can detract from the fun of the game and reduce engagement with its world, journey, and meaning.
The Miner archetype in web3 games presents a distinct challenge to game designers as it fundamentally differs from other player archetypes. Unlike other players who are motivated by the intrinsic rewards of the virtual world, such as exploration, personal satisfaction and social interaction, the Miner is driven by extrinsic factors, such as earning real-world money. This objective, which is focused on generating profits rather than participating in the immersive experience of the virtual world, puts the Miner at odds with the other player types.
The Miner’s approach is similar to that of a day trader in the financial world, where quick decisions and a willingness to take risks can lead to significant gains. However, this focus on financial gain means that the Miner may not be as invested in cooperative play or teamwork, unless there is a clear financial benefit to be had. The Miner’s tendency towards impulsive behavior and their moderate to high risk appetite further highlights the difficulty to keep them fully engaged in the gameplay.
Designing a web3 game that caters to both the Miner and the other player archetypes is a complex challenge. On one hand, the game must provide opportunities for the Miner to earn real-world money, while on the other hand, it must also offer a rich and immersive experience for the other players that draws them into the virtual world. And the most dangerous trait of the Miner is the ability to convert other player types into Miners as soon as they touch the material rewards or the value proposition.
Here are some examples from the real world “miner” behavior
Studies have demonstrated that material rewards can impact intrinsic motivation in real-world activities. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely found that groups offered low to medium level monetary bonuses performed similarly, while those offered high bonuses performed worse, particularly in tasks requiring cognitive effort. A study by Deci, Koestner, and Ryan showed that participants who received material rewards for solving puzzles displayed decreased interest in the task compared to those who did not receive rewards. The “crowding out effect” highlights how extrinsic incentives such as rewards can undermine intrinsic motivation, as shown in studies with preschool children and students receiving tangible rewards for drawing and participating in learning tasks. These findings highlight the importance of considering the effects of material rewards on motivation in real-world activities.
The episode 6 of “100 Humans” on Netflix reaffirmed the theory that financial incentives can have detrimental effects, such as reducing creativity and cognitive abilities. The results also showed that financial rewards can negatively impact social interactions. In the context of games, this means that players who prioritize socializing and interacting with others may find it difficult to derive pleasure from the game. These findings highlight the importance of considering alternative motivators in game design, such as fostering social connections and providing unique and challenging experiences, to truly engage and retain players
The Rollercoaster Ride of Web3 Gaming: Balancing Fun and Fluctuations
A successful game is a carefully crafted journey filled with an equally balanced economy to keep players fully engaged and entertained. But web3 games offer a wild card — game assets that double as blockchain digital assets with values that can change on a whim.
When these assets become integral to gameplay, like weapons, upgrades, or in-game currency, the effect on the game economy and player progress can be unpredictable. And in player vs player scenarios, it can lead to an unfair advantage for the wealthy over the skilled, causing frustration and disengagement.
Regular games may also allow for buying items or shortcuts, but in web3 games, currency fluctuations can create major shifts in player wealth, resulting in players who were once able to afford anything suddenly unable to do so. This, in turn, can cause frustration and drastically impact the player journey in ways never intended in the game’s economy design. It’s a rollercoaster ride that threatens to throw the game’s balance off course.
The correlation between crypto market prices and player activity in Axie Infinity over the past year highlights the game’s dependence on financial incentives for its user base.(charts below) The sharp declines in player count aligning with crypto price drops reveal that most players are likely miners, who will leave when there’s no longer a financial reward. This also indicates that Axie has not successfully fostered intrinsic motivation and engagement through enjoyable gameplay.
Axie Token mirrors 100% Bitcoin price movement. All price correlation is external not related to the game.
But the game suffers dramatically in engagement and active players because of the price movements of Bitcoin
In conclusion: Balancing Competing Interests in Web3 Games
The introduction of the Miner archetype in web3 games brings a new challenge for game designers. The Miner’s goal of earning real-world money through in-game actions creates tension with other player archetypes who seek to escape reality in the virtual world. Balancing these conflicting interests and crafting an immersive experience for all player types is key to the success of web3 games.
Drawing on 20 years of gamification insights and best practices, game designers have the tools to design games that cater to each player type. By limiting opportunities for Miner-style behavior and prioritizing intrinsic motivators, game designers can create a rich and engaging web3 gaming experience for all.
Tips for Crafting a Fantastic Web3 Game
Refrain from advertising the game as a means of easy financial gain.
Protect the player journey by keeping critical game assets separate from secondary market trading.
Prioritize the game’s epic meaning and purpose in the value proposition.
Focus on intrinsic motivators, not just financial gain, in game design.
Create a player journey aimed at development and achievement.
Empower players by allowing them to make choices and be creative.
Foster a social experience for players.
If you must have financial mechanics, either keep them as a pure in-game currency, or give players a separate currency to trade. But, beware of the black market!
If you have a secondary market for assets, keep prices in check with the in-game economy and resist the urge to intervene and mess with the asset prices (unless, of course, you want to play the role of virtual market manipulator). We know sometimes you have to do it to save the game, but that also shows some design flaws.
Developing any game it’s a challenge, let alone a web3 game with all the added complexity. The focus should be on creating an engaging and meaningful gameplay experience that utilizes blockchain technology for transparency, asset ownership, inter-game portability, and ease of trading. By following these guidelines, web3 developers can build a game that truly stands out.