Motivation is better than monetisation with a picture of a small plant growing from a pot of coins

Understanding Mobile Gamer Motivation

Every gaming company creates games to make money. Therefore a well-designed monetisation concept is essential. However, to monetise your players properly, it is equally, if not more important, to understand mobile gamer motivation to ensure they will play routinely. After all, when no players exist, there is no financial success. 

So, how does one ensure that players have fun and are willing to open and play the game frequently?

Understand Your Audience

First, it is vital to know the target audience and understand mobile gamer motivation. Ask yourself, is it important to the player to be creative in the game? To be able to create or build something? Do they like mastering tricky mechanics, solving puzzles, or comparing their successes with others? These and many other factors correspond to psychological needs. These are referred to as intrinsic motivational factors. Let us take a look.

The word 'audience' written on a whiteboard with 3 arrows pointing towards it

What Is Extrinsic v Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic factors refer to actions driven by internal rewards. Extrinsic motivators are driven by external rewards.

These motivations are not necessarily disconnected from each other; they can also be intertwined. A loot box after a successful PvP duel reinforces the feeling of having achieved something. But coupling them is a risk

Just as social media tries to make recognition measurable through awardable tokens like hearts or thumbs up, these motivators we’ll talk about below try to give real value to feelings of achievement. This behaviour can transform a purely intrinsic motivation, which previously ensured that the player played the game of their own free will, into an extrinsic motivation. Which then follows the principle of expectation and has to come with a constant supply of rewards. 

When someone has more followers or likes, many people feel less valuable. This is also true in the gaming world. Players can feel less valued and lose interest in a cherished game if rewards are distributed unfairly.

Extrinsic Motivators

Extrinsic motivators are brought to the player from an external source. These often include fixed rewards in game-relevant resources, loot boxes, or simply in-game currency. These are relatively easy to implement, simple to understand, and generalised to all players without taking their individual needs into account to any great extent. 

This doesn’t necessarily make extrinsic motivators bad, as everyone enjoys rewards as they make us ‘briefly’ happy. If the reward is valuable enough, extrinsic motivators can even be used to mask monotonous gameplay or include more video ads. The player perceives said reward as a desirable goal and is willing to compensate for the inconvenience.

The Difficulty With Extrinsic Motivators

The difficulty lies in scaling and creating a valuable goal the player wants to aim for. Since the motivational flow consists of a constant supply of tangible rewards, the reward chain can not break. The player’s motivation works according to the principle: accomplish task A, then you get reward X. This principle repeats itself repeatedly, creating an expectation in the player. If the next task then holds no further reward in store, the player also sees no reason to complete the task. This is because they are only playing for the reward and not for the fun of the game itself. 

Furthermore, it doesn’t help to keep the reward constant. We humans get used to things quickly and therefore get bored quicker. We then crave something new. The constant development of newer smartphones with more and more features or higher-resolution cameras is an example of this. 

To ensure a constant flow of motivation, the subsequent task must hold out the prospect of a higher-value reward. This leads to exponential growth. This isn’t easy to balance in many cases. This sooner or later leads to an abrupt end or culminates in absurd reward numbers that neither the game nor the player can handle.

Intrinsic Motivators

Intrinsic motivators, on the other hand, come from the player. It’s much more difficult to design such motivators and requires, among other things, an understanding of the player’s psychology. Intrinsic rewards satisfy the deeper needs of the player. Including the need for attention, affiliation, success, or self-determination, these players often see gaming as a worthwhile pastime.

Of course, intrinsic motivation also has goals or attainable rewards. An improved status or a higher rank on a leaderboard can be just as valuable a reward as a loot box. A defined achievement combined with a challenge that requires the player to use skills they’ve learned in the game can also achieve this.

Some players prefer a gripping, well-developed story and world, as they often want to experience epic adventures. Others like to explore mysterious or magical places. Others like to optimise their avatar’s abilities or skills. While some gamers enjoy interacting with friends or strangers from all over the world.

A Gamer Motivation Model

The team from Quantic Foundry has reviewed this topic and evaluated data from over a million users. The result is a motivation model that groups the intrinsic needs of gamers into different categories, each representing a broad spectrum. Social interaction, for example, ranks between competitive elements such as player versus player (PvP) duels on the one hand. Cooperative elements, such as organised player communities (clans, guilds), on the other.

A gray and white table of a gamer motivation model: Action, social, mastery, achievement, immersion, creativity

Gameplay & Monetisation Elements

There are many good examples of gameplay elements that intrinsically motivate players and, if implemented well, are also easy to monetise. 

Giving the player an item at the beginning that is rarely earned in the game is an example. Making the game easier to play, giving the player a buff at the beginning, or gradually reducing access to game-changing resources is also a useful strategy. This will likely make the player grateful for the monetisation options presented to keep them playing the game. 

Rankings allow players to rise above others, track the increase of their abilities and personal growth, and generally make themselves look good. 

Cosmetic customisation options for the player’s avatar, a freely explorable game world without any restrictions, or the ability to constantly adapt their gameplay to their own needs through ever-changing elements again support the need for self-determination. And the possibility of forming player communities such as clans or guilds strengthens the sense of team spirit and belonging and creates bonds that keep players returning to the game. 

To Conclude

Many free-to-play titles, especially in the casual and hyper-casual sector, often deal with intrinsic motivational factors only rudimentarily and shower the player with extrinsic rewards instead.

This is often in the nature of things, as the market in this segment changes incredibly quickly, and many games do not even have the playful scope to come up with a flood of intrinsic factors. However, once the mobile gamer motivation principles of self-determination, affiliation, and competence are understood, creative ways can be found to provide the player with a compelling gaming experience that makes the monetisation that many dislike bearable or even enjoyable.