[Thought for the Day] Outcome based gaming

In my day job, there is an ongoing debate about management via outcomes. This is where you are given a set of goals, such as ‘reduce the number of homeless people in this area’, and your agency will be judged based on how well it does this. It’s controversial because the most efficient way to get to the outcome might not actually be the best overall (eg. in this example, you could ship all homeless people to another city, or refuse to add any new homeless people to your list) but at the same time, it is useful to focus people on a solid purpose and to let them all see the goals of their organisation.


Achievements in MMOs are also a form of outcome based goal. It doesn’t matter how or why you got the achievement – whether you looked it up on websites, did it by accident, spent ages figuring out how to do it, had an addon to help, organised your own group to get it  – the game merely records that the desired outcome was reached. So we could call Bartle’s ‘Achiever’ type player, an outcome focussed player.


And if the gaming community itself becomes outcome focussed, then they are throwing a lot of fun playing styles (eg. exploring) out of the window. I’m sure game devs are very much aware of this player tendency. In GW2, you can see this in the way vistas, zone completion, and daily quests are designed to fit around explorer and social playing styles as well as achiever ones.  In WoW …. you get people who look up all the Lorewalker Scroll locations on a website and then act superior because they got their reputation mount faster than people who decided to just explore.

10 thoughts on “[Thought for the Day] Outcome based gaming

    • For some people, figuring out to optimally get achievements in the fastest possible time is fun. I wouldn’t want to take that away from people.

      Just it’s not an actual optimal way for all players to play. And definitely not the most fun for everyone. I think because the UI supports listing achievements with points next to them, it implies that the devs back that interpretation.

      Part of the reason I think this is fascinating is because I can see how it relates to real world problems such as the one I described. So if game designers can figure out how to motivate players to explore the game and have fun in a way that doesn’t prioritise achievers, but involves having fun AND getting to the desired outcome it might be something we could also apply elsewhere.

  1. Given my day job in the call centre industry, I’ve learned all about the problems you get if you target the wrong outcome… tell a call centre that they have a target average call duration and you’ll see a lot of customer calls that are less-than-satisfactorily handled, for example. I prefer to think in terms of incentives – as in, what sort of behaviour am I encouraging if I reward people for achieving this outcome in the most efficient (for them) way. Then think whether you want to encourage that behaviour.

    WoW is replete with examples of outcomes that incentivise lousy behaviour. For example, the “kill Balinda and lose fast” attitude in Alterac Valley came about because the outcome (Honor Points farmed) was more easily achieved with a quick loss for your team than a hard-won victory.

    Also, it’s Bartle, damnit. “Bartlett” was the US President in The West Wing 🙂

    • Oops, my bad on the spelling. I’ll fix that, thanks.

      One of the practical issues with focussing on ‘better’ objectives (and I’m sure you know this) is that sometimes the objectives you’d like to reward are difficult to measure. Or difficult to measure fairly/objectively/ etc. So it’s simpler to hand out objectives that might not be ideal but are easily measurable.

      So in WoW, ‘play well with others’ or ‘be a good raid leader’ is pretty hard to monitor and measure automatically, whereas ‘turn up to battlegrounds and earn honor points’ is easy for the game to monitor. Also they don’t want to punish poor behaviours too badly because it’s not supposed to be as effective as rewarding good ones.

  2. This reminds me of the people who show up in BGs and really don’t do much of anything except reap the rewards and/or achievements. In a BG you can’t vote kick, so you’re stuck with people unless they’re AFK.

    I guess you could also make the argument that the outcome based people are the ones who yell “I’m bored!” when they race through an MMO to the level cap.

  3. Insightful.

    I wonder if this is partly why sandboxes have extremely creative and immersed communities. I’m not saying a game like WoW doesn’t, but it’s very different. In WoW, everything is figured out because all the goals are made very obvious and there’s no way to really deviate from them. The devs have made the goals the only way to play. Then you’ve got Terraria or Minecraft or Mount & Blade. The players create all the content, which is to say all the goals which takes a very long time to get stale and boring, but also requires a lot more energy than raiding in an MMO. I don’t know. I’m kind of rambling on the idea here.

    But I suppose the ideas that went off in my head related to outcomes based games and the drive toward efficiency, while sandbox based games (the opposite of outcomes) drive toward creativity. I wonder what the real correlation is here.

    • I think so. An environment where people have to find their own goals is going to end up with a lot more creative types of play — that’s one of the playing styles that is actually hard to measure and reward externally, but lots of people enjoy it when they don’t feel they ought to be doing something else. I wouldn’t say sandboxes always drive towards creativity for all players. You could end up in a big corps/guild which is every bit as prescriptive as WoW achievements (ie. in that they give you really focused objectives all the time), but yeah, it’s interesting to ponder.

      Without going too deep into psychology, it is also known that extrinsic motivations (ie. rewards, achievements, badges, etc) tend to overwhelm intrinsic motivations. So any game that is light on the external rewards is going to be more favourable to a community who can focus on the things they do just for fun, or because they get something else out of them (I dunno, personal growth, or the chance to make friends, or something).

      • I suspect the problem is that an intrinsic reward based, sandboxy game that requires players to create their own objectives and fun doesn’t so much drive players to be creative as drive out players who aren’t creative. This is why those games end up as niche products.

  4. Isn’t most MMO development pretty outcome based as well? It’s hard to measure whether people are having fun, so instead changes are based on trains of thought along the lines of: we want at least x% of players to participate in this activity, and if it’s less than that we’ll make changes to achieve the targeted number. I would think that players simply following the provided pointers is a natural outcome of that.

  5. re; GW2 and zone completion throwing exploring out the window, I’ll note in passing that there are quite a few interesting things I’ve found on the maps that are *not* icons on the zone completion map. The most obvious ones are the “puzzle” achievements that are one-per-zone, but there are quite a few hidden chests, nifty things to watch, etc. I had a good bit of fun watching a herd of centaurs, licking their wounds and pumping each other up after being tossed back from most of Queensdale.

    As an explorer, I’m pretty happy. But it took me a while to realize that there were so many things see. The icons lead you to think “this is all there is to do” instead of “this is a good sample of things to do.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s