People like to be rewarded for their efforts. We like to win things. We like to get lucky, but we also like seeing some tangible acknowledgement of the fact that we’ve worked hard or done something exceptional even more.

There’s a scientific reason for this. We’re literally programmed to respond well to rewards, as when we get a reward or acknowledgement or praise then our brain releases a pleasure-giving chemical called dopamine into our nervous system. This then motivates us to continue working in the same vein.

Online game designers realize this, and so create experiences that trigger both dopamine (satisfaction) and adrenaline (excitement), which together are what make the best games feel almost addictive.

Online Casino Points and prizes

There are different types of rewards that you can win in a game. The most obvious are points. Meaningless in themselves, points are the whole, well, point of many video games as you seek to beat your previous score or to exceed a record high score on the leaderboard.

Another type of reward is the kind that helps you to get to the next level of a game or assists your efforts in some other way. An example would be when an action unlocks a new vehicle or a secret doorway, or gets you upgraded weapons or armor. Even in-game rewards that don’t actually help you to win, like a more stylish set of clothes for your character, can make you feel good and more importantly will encourage you to keep playing.

A third kind of reward, and perhaps the best kind in terms of motivating players and creating excitement, is a cash prize. At sites like the Sugarhouse online casino, players can enjoy online versions of traditional casino games like blackjack, roulette, slots and video poker, with the promise of real-world money rewards to encourage them to keep playing.

Keeping the balance

Rewards should be given sparingly, but frequently enough so that players don’t start to feel discouraged or bored. Remember, they’re playing for fun. If it seems like a game is too difficult, or that all of their efforts aren’t getting them anywhere, then they’ll stop playing and will go in search of another activity that gives them the pleasure they’re craving.

Sometimes all it takes is a few flashing lights, klaxons and cheers to encourage a player to keep going. However, if rewards are too easy to come by or too frequent, they become less meaningful, and the dopamine hits are weaker. That’s why a game has to be designed in such a way that effort and reward are evenly balanced.

Go with the flow

In psychology terms, this relates to the concept of flow. Studies in the 1970s found that if a task is too hard and people don’t have the necessary level of skill to accomplish it, they become anxious. But if the task is too easy and they are over-qualified skills-wise, they become bored. When the difficulty of the task and the level of skill of the person are in proportion however, they enter what is called a flow state.

Qualities associated with flow include intense focus, a sense of being actively in control, and a loss of self-awareness as the person completely identifies with the task at hand. They also typically lose all sense of time. Gamers might describe this as being “in the zone” when they can play for hours and it seems like minutes. They don’t get tired or distracted, and seem to be playing exceptionally well, with split-second timing. Indeed, it feels as if nothing can go wrong. Martial arts practitioners and extreme sports enthusiasts will also know this feeling and will doubtless have their own term for it.

Making it work

The optimum conditions for achieving flow generally involve having clear goals and rules, and a direct relationship between achievable actions and rewards. Those rewards should include immediate feedback on performance and accomplishment. Finally, distraction should be minimized in order to aid concentration.

If a game is too confusing, then players may get distracted or give up. The game design should be intuitive, with all elements geared towards encouraging the player in the right direction. It should be clear what they need to achieve and what they should do next. Of course, there is room for mystery and puzzles, and not everything needs to be revealed at once. But a player should at least have some idea of what their next step should be, and why they should take it.

By following these psychological principles, game designers can use rewards and other elements to provide a satisfying experience that players will keep returning to. The relationship between action and reward is at the heart of gameplay, and modern technology shouldn’t cause us to lose sight of this.