Motivational Models and MMOs

I recently read a wonderful book about motivation called DRiVE by Daniel Pink. For myself, the truth of motivation is not new, but I would hate to make assumptions about everyone. Psychology has identified three motivational models: Biological (food, sleep, water, sex, etc.), Extrinsic (a simple if-then structure like hourly wages, performance bonuses, or reward system for chores), and Intrinsic (satisfaction for accomplishment, fulfillment of enjoyable work). Based on my understanding and experience, most people are aware of the power of intrinsic motivation, and many have felt or seen the deep sense of satisfaction that it can lead to. However, businesses and schools still subscribe to extrinsic motivators (grades, gold stars, hourly wages, performance bonuses) to drive behavior (completed homework, studying for tests, meeting sales goals, increasing productivity). The great joy of mine in this book is that it explores how some schools and businesses have successfully moved to a intrinsic motivational environment, and some tools for doing it yourself.

After finishing the book I explored how it impacted my personal life.

1. I am underpaid at work, which makes it impossible to do as much as I am capable of, or allow myself the time to be creative. Even though I listed pay as an extrinsic motivator, research has concluded that it is a threshold motivator – in other words, once you feel you are being compensated relative to your worth, it no longer becomes an issue. I feel I am worth $20,000/year, and my current salary is $6,300. This is a blameless problem. I have the capacity to coach college basketball, but until the right opportunity arises I am coaching high school basketball. It doesn’t change the fact that I am motivated to limit my time in the off-season since I don’t feel adequately compensated.

2. I have to change some of my parenting tricks. I had a chore chart. Do chores, get stuff – ice cream, small toy, watch a movie at home, etc. It worked for three weeks, and then my kids stopped doing chores. You only chase the carrot at the end of the stick for so long, and the research indicates extrinsic motivators DECREASE desired behavior and punishment INCREASES it.

3. I left teaching to raise my kids at home while my wife works as a pediatric hospitalist. I haven’t even considered a return because I hated the culture, and I could never put my finger on it. This book helped me sort through the tangle of emotions teaching left me with. I REALLY hope schools get their act together, because the worker bee assembly line frustrates the shit out of me, especially with a child entering kindergarten this year. Man, I am going to be a pain in the ass parent.

4. I haven’t been playing Warcraft at all lately. I really love how beautiful Pandaria is. The music is incredibly good. I think the story is original and reasonably enjoyable. Pet Battles are fun, and I can lose myself in them. Something else is keeping me from finding the joy and satisfaction I used to experience playing the game. The guild I belong to is not raiding 10 mans due to roster problems, and instead they run LFR. I had some fun with heroic scenarios, especially running them with guild members, but have lost my taste for random groups. I haven’t found a happy place leveling alts, because I often think about how fast I can get to 90, then I get slightly depressed about what will happen when I get there. After reading this book I looked through what was causing my WoW time to be unpleasant, and the trend was stunning and embarrassingly simple. I wasn’t satisfied chasing Blizzard’s extrinsic rewards anymore.

I can’t bring myself to play the game for the rewards provided anymore (gear, pets, etc.) because I’m looking for a more meaningful connection to the ‘Why?” of what I am doing. Things start to get sticky here.

  • Playing WoW with friends for the achievement and the fun can be satisfying.
  • Completing current content requires a certain amount of carrot and stick effort to prepare for.
  • I can’t bring myself to chase the carrot so that I can enjoy the content the I used to enjoy.

Oh shit.

I was ready to cancel my subscription at this point, since it was clear to me that I wasn’t willing to make certain sacrifices to my gaming time. In a moment of clarity I hesitated. If the extrinsic rewards that were distasteful to me were obvious, maybe the intrinsic rewards were harder to see. So I set out finding things that I wanted to do for the sake of doing them, regardless of the rewards, or maybe because the rewards meant more to me on a deeper level. What I found was that there were lots of things I still wanted to do in the World of Warcraft, on my own time and terms. Pet Battles for instance are really cool. I desperately want to complete my Shadowmourne, with my experience in Wrath being significantly informed by my love of the Warcraft RTS series. I haven’t done The Black Temple, or The Sunwell – and I’d really like to.

Suddenly, I had plenty of reasons to play WoW, and curiously, they were the same reasons that led me to fall in love with playing the game the first time. I then explored all my other gaming interests, and found that MMOs in particular are stuck on this model of extrinsic rewards to increase the enjoyment of the game. I wonder if this goes into the design process though, because it seems that other MMOs have ways to engross yourself so that you aren’t stuck in a cycle of quest/reward, kill/reward. Neverwinter has The Foundry and SWTOR has some exceptionally deep character development.

The final question is whether you can even create an MMO that doesn’t fit the if-then reward system. The staple of these games is questing and leveling, the rewards of which is gear, money, and new abilities. Is it possible to design a system in which mastery of your character, development of their story, and creation of new stories take a front seat to questing and leveling? I don’t know what the answer is, but I think it’s a question worth asking.


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