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thomastc

Psychology: making unobtained achievements visible, or not?

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There seems to be a trend in modern games to make unobtained items invisible. You can't look at the levels that you can't access; you can't see cars that you haven't unlocked yet; sometimes, you don't know how many are left; sometimes, you don't even know that the achievement even exists, and you have to unlock it more or less by accident.

Compare this to games which make everything visible (but not always accessible) right from the start. For example, good old Death Rally shows you all cars, and all tracks, and even lets you race on the higher levels right from the start (although you won't stand a chance). Everything is there, everything is transparent, everything is known.

In this topic, I would like to discuss the merits and drawbacks of each approach.

If you make everything visible right from the start, you work with the player's sense of desire. He can see what's there to achieve, making him want to play in order to get it.

If you make things hidden, you work with the player's sense of curiosity. He cannot see what's there to achieve, making him want to play in order to find out what is next.

I'm wondering if anyone knows of any studies (scientific or otherwise) comparing the two approaches. And, of course, I'm curious about everyone's opinion on this!

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I think it's well-established that there's more psychological incentive to work for achievements if it's clear what they are. If you hide them, the player either won't give a damn or will look them up online.

Where opacity is a little more useful is when you have unlockables and want there to be a surprise, akin to how you wouldn't tell the ending before the player gets there (although, given that nearly every other medium doesn't restrict you, i.e. books let you skip ahead and films let you fast forward, I suppose there's something to be argued for opening that up, but I recall my first time playing Mario Kart Double Dash and being so thrilled when I unlocked Mirror Mode, which I had no clue existed before.

But even in that case, there's still transparency as to what you need to do to unlock said unlockables. There's no secrets like "jump off a ramp and land on a koopa," you just have to win races a lot.

So, opacity of rewards, fine. Transparency of goals, better. Combined, excellent.

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I think a lot of the design consideration in this comes from how much information a new player can handle all at once. If you show a player all possible car selections with all upgrades for each car and all tracks at all difficulty levels, then it becomes very difficult if not impossible to keep a player from quitting out of frustration with so many selections.

The reverse of this is not showing the player enough information. If only one car is made available with only one set of tires and one track, the player may very well quit the game before giving it a chance.

So, what designers have done is given players the option of 4-5 cars, blacked out future possible car choices, only shown upgrades for the current car you have, and only show a handful of tracks at beginner and novice difficulties. You then have to 'unlock' the rest. This technique has shown to be fairly effective at retaining new player attention and, frankly, makes sense.

The real question here is to see how much information a new player can handle without becoming frustrated and what is the lower limit of options before a player loses interest.

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The 2x3 Possibilities:

Dimension 1: Whether the game tells the player that the feature exists
a) Hidden: The game hides the feature from the player
b) Known: The game let the player know the feature

Dimension 2: Whether the player must do something to unlock the feature
a) Hidden: Game hides how to unlock the feature
b) KnownMethod: Game tells player what to do, player still need to execute
c) NoUnlock: No unlocking




Clarification:
Unlock implies that the action to make the feature available is different from the action that interacts or performs the unlocked feature. If the two actions are the same, then there is no lock--the player just doesn't know how to perform/use the feature.

Comparison:
Given that the player doesn't know that double jump is allowed in the game:
x To double jump, the player must hit jump two times -> There is no lock
x To double jump, the player must first beat BossA, afterward, hitting jump two times gives double jump -> Has a lock



Reasons for [ *, * ]
o Immersion
o Realism
o Story/Plot constraint
o ...

Reasons for [Hidden, * ]
o Not to overwhelm the player
o Not to make the player frustrated
o Make completion of the game look closer
o Reward creative gameplay without posing it as a challenge
o ...

Reasons for [Hidden, Hidden]:
o To surprise the player
o To motivate the player to explore (after the player is surprised the first time.)
o ...

Reasons for [Hidden, KnownMethod]:
x Example: Treasure chest. The player can expect reward, but doesn't know what the reward is.
o Give motivation and surprise
o ...

Reasons for [Hidden, NoUnlock]:
x Example: A feature that the player could always perform, but the game never told the player he could. (e.g. a secret button, secret combo)
o Hides control complexity from the beginner players
o There are simply too many combos and possibilities if the game would to explain them one by one
o ...

Reasons for [Known, Hidden]:
o To challenge the player
o To motivate exploration
o ...

Reasons for [Known, KnownMethod]:
o To challenge the player
o To show the scope of the game (e.g. let the player know what he will get if he pays)
o ...

Reasons for [Known, NoUnlock]:
o Visitor players (no time to unlock)
o No assumption of player skill (The game does not assume that the player is a newbie even if the program is run the first time.)
o The game has multiple starting point
o Focus on the execution of the features
o ...

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Quote:
Original post by Wai
The 2x3 Possibilities:

Dimension 1: Whether the game tells the player that the feature exists
a) Hidden: The game hides the feature from the player
b) Known: The game let the player know the feature


That's a bit too binary. In a breeding game or monster collecting game, what I would find the most fun is to know how many total items there are to collect, divided into subsets where completing each subset would be an achievement that earned a reward. I DON'T want to know the monsters' names or appearances before I collect them, a silhouette or a question mark should be used to represent each. However if the object is found in a particular area, I'd like to know where to look. If the object has a non-intuitive prerequisite, for example can't be found without accomplishing some other game objective like obtaining night-vision goggles, I want to know I can't get it at all yet so I don't waste time and get frustrated.

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Re: Sunandshadow

I guess to parallel the second dimension, Dimension 1 should have an in-between descriptor: KnownExistence

Dimension 1:
o Known: The player knows what the feature/information is
o KnownExistence: The player knows that the feature/information exists, but doesn't know its actual value/quality
o Hidden: The player doesn't know that the feature/information exists

So now it is a 3x3.

Another way to think about it, is that the same action can unlock two things. In your example, collecting the items unlocks the player's access to the monster, and also the name of the monster. The Access was known to the player, while the Name was hidden. If you treat that as two things, then Dimension 1 can just be binary.

Perhaps this is the more precise way of describing it. When the player sees the silhouette of the monster, the player has two threads of motivations, one is to unlock the Access to the monster, the other is to unlock its Name. It just happens that the same action would unlock both.

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Quote:
Original post by Wai
Re: Sunandshadow

I guess to parallel the second dimension, Dimension 1 should have an in-between descriptor: KnownExistence

Dimension 1:
o Known: The player knows what the feature/information is
o KnownExistence: The player knows that the feature/information exists, but doesn't know its actual value/quality
o Hidden: The player doesn't know that the feature/information exists

So now it is a 3x3.

Another way to think about it, is that the same action can unlock two things. In your example, collecting the items unlocks the player's access to the monster, and also the name of the monster. The Access was known to the player, while the Name was hidden. If you treat that as two things, then Dimension 1 can just be binary.

Perhaps this is the more precise way of describing it. When the player sees the silhouette of the monster, the player has two threads of motivations, one is to unlock the Access to the monster, the other is to unlock its Name. It just happens that the same action would unlock both.


Yes that's better, I like that way of thinking about in. [smile]

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Wow, those are some excellent and very thorough replies.

I had not realized that I was, in fact, asking two different questions at the same time, but Wai managed to break the issue up into little pieces very cleanly. Great work, especially on the motivations for each possible choice!

Cygnus_X makes a good point about overwhelming/underwhelming the player. Not much of an issue in my particular game, but definitely worthy of consideration in general.

I also like Portugal Stew's summary: "So, opacity of rewards, fine. Transparency of goals, better. Combined, excellent." It may be generalizing a little, but it's the way my game seems to be going, so that's encouraging :)

This has given me much food for thought. Thank you all!

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