Understand Player Motivation

Original artwork by Michal Kus

Designing blockbusters and financially successful games can be quite a task. I’ll help you break everything into small pieces to easily understand game business fundamentals. First, I will talk about game design, where you must consider your player’s motivations. Understanding what players want and how you will provide it may allow you to maximize your returns.

Here are some questions you have to keep in mind throughout this post!

  • What motivates users to play games?
  • How does player motivation impact game design?
  • How does motivation affect monetization?
  • How do I keep players motivated over time?

Why do we have to understand players’ motivation?

Essentially, games are a form of entertainment, with “providing players with a fun experience and making money” as the goal. If you got a deep understanding of what players consider “fun,” you will be able to make a game design that can interact with the players most engagingly and enjoyably.

Knowing why someone playing the game will tell you what they value in a game. Understanding what users appreciate the most will lead to a better game and monetization design. When considering motivation, keep these four things in mind:

  • What player values in your game may change over time.
  • A single player may value multiple things.
  • A different player may love different things in the exact same match. Consider all of these other motivators.
  • Focus on what players enjoy, not what you think they should want.

What motivates someone to play mobile games?

Nick Yee – CEO and co-founder of Quantic Foundry, talking about gamer motivation at #GamesUR US conference 2016. He conducted a comprehensive survey and collected data from two hundred thousand gamers worldwide to determine why they play certain games.

As a result, they created a Gamer Motivation framework that groups gamer motivations into motivation clusters. They discovered 12 unique reasons that are clustered into six pairs.


Destruction: Guns, explosives, chaos, mayhem.

Excitement: Fast-paced, action, surprises, thrills.

Players are interested in action value excitement, which can also be linked to the destruction motivator.


Competition: Duels, matches, high ranking.

Community: Being on teams, chatting, interacting.

Players motivated by social look for chatting, making friends, and winning contests!


Challenge: Practice, great difficulty, challenges.

Strategy: Thinking ahead, making decisions.

Players motivated by mastery look for long-term planning and thinking and tend to enjoy strategy.


Completion: Get all collectibles, complete all missions.

Power: Powerful character, powerful equipment.

Players motivated by achievement seek opportunities to collect and build a persistent inventory..


Fantasy: Being someone else, somewhere else.

Story: Elaborate plots, interesting characters.

Players motivated by immersion look for different ways of becoming embedded in the game world.


Design: Expression, customization.

Discovery: Explore, tinker, experiment.

Players motivated by creativity look for ways to make the game their own by donning a unique avatar or equipping specific items.

External factors that impact player motivation

Mobile gaming has two important considerations that affect a game’s ability to satisfy its players’ goals and motivations outside of gameplay itself. These context layers add additional design constraints around session length and meaningful gameplay. Players regularly consider the following topics when interacting with mobile games:

Swipe to learn more!

Build your game based on what players value

Understanding what players value in a game can help you identify what you can monetize in-game. From there, you can work out the best monetization strategy and how this decision impacts your game design.

Study Case: Familly farm adventure players

Why do people play this game?
  • Immersion: Players enjoy “owning and taking care” of their farm and have a fun adventure.
  • Achievement: Players join an event and unlock a significant gift.
What do players value in the game?
  • Authenticity
  • Beautiful graphic
  • The story narrative takes the player on an incredible adventure that they never experienced before.
What can we monetize?
  • Diamond
  • Energy
  • Exclusive items
What are the design implications?
  • Special event cadance
  • The reason to buy diamonds and energy
  • The number and cost of purchase
  • How to balance energy in the journey
  • How frequently energy refill overtime
What business model to monetize through?

In App Purchase (IAPs)

When determining what you can and should monetize in your game, you must remember that what a player values in your game may change over time. A single player may love multiple things, and different players may appreciate other items in the same game.

You should always try to understand what players are actually feeling. You shouldn’t focus on something other than what player enjoy. To help stay aligned with your users over time, regularly revisit this exercise.

Player motivations and life cycle map

One way to monitor how well you serve each motivation in terms of feature roadmap, game balance, and content strategy is to map your reasons by player lifecycle. Once you’ve identified how each feature or update caters to a specific motivation in early-game, mid-game, and late-game, you can find opportunities to improve your offering.

Lifecycle maps also ensure you keep your gamer biases in check by visually highlighting areas you might tend to ignore.


  • It’s essential to understand what motivates people to play games and what players value, and use that knowledge to understand if or how you can monetize. Continue to monitor the performance of your game to discover if there are additional items of value you need to monetize and whether there’s an opportunity to adjust your strategy accordingly.
  • If your game is in development, you must understand who you are building your game for and which motivations you serve to ensure you design the right experience for the right audience. 
  • If your game is live, consider whether your feature, event, and content roadmap address the core motivations for why people play your game, especially across the different lifecycle stages (early-, mid, and late-game).
  • To make your business more sustainable, consider diversifying your portfolio by monetizing through multiple models (in-app purchases, ads, and/or subscriptions) to ensure you drive strong monetization of each player’s motivation.

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