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Things received in games which are perceived as positive.

Players typically need some type of encouragement to engage in gameplay. Rewards provide one type of encouragement which is tied to changes in the game state or game progression.


Practically all Games provide some type of Reward, be it that they are winnable, they give scores or other things to recognize players' actions or give them positive experiences.

Using the pattern

Rewards are typically given out to players to indicate they have achieved something worthwhile. This can be that they have completed some part of a game with Challenging Gameplay — for example a Quest — or have proven some kind of Gameplay Mastery. They may also be added to balance Risk/Reward situations, motivate continues engagement where Red Queen Dilemmas exist, or to cause Attention Swapping. Player-Defined Goals can let players choose with Rewards should be available to them.

More specific reasons can be that one has gained Area Control, won Bidding contests, or found Secret Areas. Gaining Ownership or engaging in Trading may be its own Reward but can be strengthened by other Rewards; the same goes for Player Killing and Repeat Combos (the latter which can be recreate through combining Rewards and Time Limits). Favorable results of Betting and Investments are Rewards as is Delayed Reciprocity when it occurs. Related to Investments, Rewards can be the result of Arithmetic Progression, Geometric Progression, or Discontinuous Progression of player effort in comparison to the size of the Rewards. Completing Minigames typically provide Rewards unless they are only meant to be truly optional activities. Further, Rewards can also be used to recognize that players have complied with the fact that Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences by behaving appropriately. Finally, they can be used to motivate players to perform activities which otherwise would not give gameplay progression, e.g. Invites or Grinding.

Most Rewards can be given out as Individual Rewards or Shared Rewards when they finally are given out. They can also be modulated by being the effects of Mutual Goals between players (even in the case when they are not Shared Rewards) or by being the effects of Continuous Goals - which in the latter case modulate the use of Rewards (and Penalties) by threatening with Penalties as soon as the player fails some action while waiting with Rewards until some additional requirement is met. They can also be applied to Shared Resources, potentially letting other players take advantage of them (and becoming Shared Rewards). A somewhat exotic option is to provide players with Unknown Goals but let them know what the Rewards are; another way to combine these patterns is simply that the much more common version of letting players have hidden goals for winning a game that other players don't know. Rewards for things done within certain Time Limits is one way to create Optional Goals.

There is a wide variety of what Rewards actually can consist of. Four different types of categories of Rewards are Access Rewards, Facilitating Rewards, Social Rewards, and Sustenance Rewards but Rewards can of course be combined to provide several of these at the same time. Providing Improved or New Abilities are common parts of Rewards (especially for Access Rewards and Facilitating Rewards); being able to do Game Time Manipulation in Single-Player Games is one such possible example. Gaining Experience Points, Resources, Scores, or Money are also often part of Rewards (and may be a Sustenance Reward). Another very common type of Rewards the combination of Game Items and Money in the form of Loot; improvements of Game Items is another form of Rewards when they are modified rather than given. Other, less common, Rewards include receiving Extra Chances (for example in the form of Lives) or Fudged Results, gaining new Companions, having Resource Caps increased or removed, gaining entry or higher ranks in Factions, being presented with the possibility of Quick Returns, and being given access to Quick Travel (the three last are Access Rewards). Most of these can take be described as being Rewards for Characters as much as players, so Character Development tends to be a form of Reward although losing Abilities, etc. are also a form of Character Development. Free Gift Inventories shows how Rewards can let players help other players but not directly themselves as a consequence of receiving Rewards. Most types of Rewards can actually be split in two halves, Unlocking the ability to receive or choose them and actually getting them. In this way, Unlocking shows how a Reward does not have to be an improvement directly related to players' gameplay but can also be the potential to improve it. Achievements goes on step further and shows that Rewards can be heavily dependent on game states and player actions without having to affect the game state when players gain them. The existences of Goal Achievements, Grind Achievements, Handicap Achievements, and Testing Achievements show how different types of actions can be rewarded. Finally, Illusionary Rewards are misperceptions that things are Rewards that aren't.

Besides general categories of Rewards such as what types of goals or what type of progression they depend on, Rewards can be modified in a great number of different ways. First, Randomness can be used to bring uncertainty to what the Rewards exactly consist of. Second, they can be combined with Penalties to balance them or make the overall effect more complex (and Penalties can in the same way be mitigate to a certain degree by Rewards, so the two patterns can modulate each other). Third, they can have Diminishing Returns or be Increasing Rewards to suit balancing needs or the wanted gameplay arc. Fourth, they can be combined with Extra-Game Consequences (typically positive ones). Fifth, they can be affected by Player-Decided Distributions - while this perhaps makes most sense when applied to Shared Rewards and only to those sharing the Rewards one can consider players not receiving the Rewards having influence one them. Penultimately, Cutscenes, primarily in Single-Player Games but also in the beginning or end of game instances or Levels in Multiplayer Games, can be used to bring extra attention or to tie narration to the handling out of Rewards. Finally, Extra-Game Broadcasting and Outcome Indicators can be used to modify which players (and others) are informed about the Rewards and what information they are provided with.

Less commonly, Free Gift Inventories can be provided as extra Rewards that is not for the players that received the main Rewards.

Diegetic Aspects

Besides their effect on gameplay, the design of Rewards need to take into consideration if they break Thematic Consistency if this is important to the game design.

Interface Aspects

Through the use of Geospatial Game Widgets, Rewards can be placed spatially in Game Worlds are Reward Widgets. This can necessitate movement to pick up the Rewards as well as open up for Ninja Looting.


Rewards are important in many ways for players to have Emotional Engrossment in games, they can for example provide Anticipation, Surprises, and Tension depending on when they are given and how certain players can be that they will receive them. The presence of them can increase Competition and create Collecting activities, especially if the Rewards exist as many small separate parts. When players need to wait for them to be accessible they can cause Encouraged Return Visits and when they are only available for short time periods they qualify as Ephemeral Events (combined with Time Limits they can be Optional Goals).

Receiving them can indicate that players have succeeded with Gain Competence goals or Player-Planned Development, but can also provide them with Game-Based Social Statuses.


Can Instantiate

Anticipation, Collecting, Competition, Emotional Engrossment, Encouraged Return Visits, Ephemeral Events, Game-Based Social Statuses, Gain Competence, Player-Planned Development, Surprises, Tension

with Geospatial Game Widgets

Reward Widgets

with Time Limits

Optional Goals, Repeat Combos

Can Modulate

Attention Swapping, Challenging Gameplay, Game Items, Gameplay Mastery, Penalties, Player Killing, Red Queen Dilemmas, Reward Widgets, Risk/Reward, Quests

Can Be Instantiated By

Access Rewards, Achievements, Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences, Area Control, Arithmetic Progression, Betting, Bidding, Character Development, Companions, Delayed Reciprocity, Discontinuous Progression, Extra Chances, Experience Points, Factions, Facilitating Rewards, Free Gift Inventories, Fudged Results, Handicap Achievements, Game Items, Geometric Progression, Goal Achievements, Grind Achievements, Grinding, Improved Abilities, Individual Rewards, Investments, Invites, Loot, Minigames, Money, New Abilities, Ownership, Quick Returns, Quick Travel, Repeat Combos, Resource Caps, Resources, Scores, Secret Areas, Shared Rewards, Social Rewards, Sustenance Rewards, Testing Achievements, Trading, Unlocking

Game Time Manipulation in Single-Player Games

Can Be Modulated By

Characters, Continuous Goals, Diminishing Returns, Extra-Game Broadcasting, Extra-Game Consequences, Free Gift Inventories, Increasing Rewards, Mutual Goals, Outcome Indicators, Penalties, Player-Decided Distributions, Player-Defined Goals, Randomness, Reward Widgets, Shared Resources, Unknown Goals

Cutscenes in Single-Player Games

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Illusionary Rewards, Thematic Consistency


An updated version of the pattern Rewards that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.