Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation

For some things, after you learn about them, you recognize the patterns. Extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation - for me - is one such thing. Whenever I think about gaming, rating my experience with a game, or check features, I think about extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation. Even in real-life I do.

Intrinsic motivation is the motivation you take from within. You are not driven by expected reward or fear, but out of good-will or the likes. Extrinsic motivation on the other hand is just that. You are driven by external factors. Rewards you expect or your fear of something.

What we (science) found out is that apparently, intrinsic motivation is much stronger and longer lasting than extrinsic motivation.

Are you someone who likes to remember the good old days of computer gaming or video games? Now think about the shift in motivation current mainstream titles provide: A ton of achievements, unlocks and progression. You play, you work to get something. A score, a rank, an unlock, an achievement. In the past you played for the sake of playing.

This is a generalization of course. There have been high-score games in the past as well, and not all of todays games feature progression. Still, it is a wide-spread change in the gaming industry, and one you should keep in mind. Also, knowing intrinsic motivation is more fun than hunting achievements, you can try to balance playing for one or the other motivation.

Another thought, focusing not on the game but the community: When playing with friends, do you play for recognition or for the experience itself, the fun?

My most memorable gaming time was in my clan, W:ET, which had no persistent progression and unlocks. We played fair and fun matches, and I enjoyed playing as a team. Although I strived for winning with my team, it was not a necessity. I enjoyed the playing, so losing was an option.

With todays persistent progression games my main issue is mostly the unfair player starting point. As far as steam games go, I also like to hunt for achievements at times. But the important thing is I am aware of the two types of motivation, and try to not get stuck in the illusion of progress/acknowledgement. You can also play games that feature a lot of extrinsic motivation in a different manner. In Team Fortress 2 for example, if you take what you have as a given baseline, and don’t focus on getting achievements, but simply play for the sake of playing, IMO it gets more fun. I guess if you can keep that state of mind, and still get achievements, it’s a plus instead of a replacement for intrinsic motivation.

My first blog post on this topic was “Do Achievements hurt? – Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation”.

On Halloween 2012 Valve featured events in their games TF2 and Dota 2, which I also wrote down my thoughts about the aspects of motivation.

Klei at Pennys arcade on their first implementation of extrinsic motivation (achievements) into their game Don’t Starve, their findings – why they dropped it.

Further reference: An alternative to achievements