So, I was playing TOR and got the idea for a post exploring various reward structures used in games. Specifically, we’re going to look at reward systems that operate in a binary fashion, specifically, you either have it or you don’t, and ‘continuous’ systems, which mete out rewards in a more steady fashion.
The simplest example of a binary reward is a feat from the 3rd (or later) edition of Dungeons and Dragons. You either have them or not (so they have binary (2) states), and they are all bought at a constant rate of 1 magic feat point.
A simple example of continuous rewards is leveling up. Everything you do (kill) gives experience points, which as you accumulate, increase your strength. You can’t skip levels, the progression is a straight line, like a traintrack or something.
A more relevant example would be, for instance, gear. In most MMOs, the primary source of gear is through killing bosses and taking the gear from their corpse. With gear, you either have it or you do not. While you can have intermediate items, they are essentially separate from your obtaining of the final item.
Gear, of course, also has other ways to be given out. For instance, the highly common badge systems that has been in place in WoW since the Burning Crusade, and both TOR and Rift have had it at launch. Even here, the gear itself has binary states, even if it is earned in a more gradual manner. It presents an interesting set of decisions. Do you buy every gradual upgrade, or just save your tokens for the good stuff?
Some games gate the good gear behind lots of different currencies. Blizzard have the most elegant system at the moment, with their fluid point system. Although it took them plenty of iterations to get to that stage.
I for one, prefer the single currency with obscene inflation (see Burning Crusade), as it gives everyone a chance to get the good stuff with a bit of time and effort. It also makes it possible to twink people up by running them the higher tier content to let them swim in tokens.
The ‘every tier of gear gets a new token’ system I find annoying, as it leads to lots of gating that makes gearing up nigh impossible. It’s inelegant, and frustrating.
Blizzard’s “upper tier” and “lower tier” currency system, where the current content rewards points just for it’s gear, and everything else grants lower tier points is quite elegant, and is a good compromise between letting the raiders have their fancy exclusive gear, and letting the rest of us stay in touch.
Almost always, rewards themselves have specific states. Even leveling you have ‘tiers’ of XP at which you get to level up, which is when your power actually increases. In some cases, however, the reward scales as you gain whatever it is you gain. Usually these have an ebb and flow to them, much more like power ups than the rewards that have been discussed thus far.
Rage probably bears a mention here as a good example of a fluid system. It starts empty, you fill it up by getting hit in the face // hitting things in the face, and you spend it to hit things in the face hard. Of course, you don’t get stronger by having lots of rage. Although that would be nice, I’m sure. It would also make rage an even more interesting mechanic.
Come to think of it, there aren’t many mechanics that work like that that come to mind… well, I’m sure I’ll think of one 20 minutes after I post this, haha. >>;;