Game Design Thinking

Motivating Players Through Relatedness

What is Relatedness

Millions of users visit the Google landing page each day and I think that we gamers and game designers alike were pleased when we started to play Doodle Champion Island, a game that was surprisingly presented in the landing page of Google. The game is cute, fun and is full of exploration opportunities and quests. But one of the aspects that caught my eye immediately was that right of the bat, the game required me to choose to be part of one of four teams, each with different characteristics:

  • The Red team and its leader Karasu. They value knowledge above all.
  • The Blue team and its leader Ushi. They firmly believe that hard work is the only path to victory.
  • Then you have the Yellow team leader Inari, that prefer to be sneaky and crafty.
  • Finally, the player can choose the green team and its charming leader Kappa. They are like the Hodors of the games and their motto is “Kappa, Kappa, Kappa” Kappa twitch

Then, I discovered that I could check a global leaderboard where I can saw the points earned by each team. After I discovered this, I was completely hooked. I asked my friends which team they chose and talk about the differences between each team headquarters, leaders and more. I felt connected with other players, as I knew that we were all working towards a common goal, while having fun engaging in the different minigames and discovering the secrets that the game offered.

 

The game motivated me through relatedness.

Even with simple but meaningful designed groups, players can relate to one another

Then, I discovered that I could check a global leaderboard where I can saw the points earned by each team. After I discovered this, I was completely hooked. I asked my friends which team they chose and talk about the differences between each team headquarters, leaders and more. I felt connected with other players, as I knew that we were all working towards a common goal, while having fun engaging in the different minigames and discovering the secrets that the game offered.

 

The game motivated me through relatedness.

Why is Relatedness Important?

Relatedness is one of the three pillars of Self-Determination Theory. This theory proposed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan is concerned with the motivation behind choices that people make, when they are not externally influenced. In addition to Relatedness, Self-Determination Theory is composed by Competence and Autonomy, both very important to motivate your players to start playing your game, and more importantly, to keep playing it.

 

But of the three elements, Relatedness is the one that I feel we as game designers most often neglect, or at least, don’t consider in the main flow of the game unless we are forced by the nature of our games. We spend a lot of time balancing systems to allow players to feel competent and we usually go the extra mile to make players to feel autonomous while making meaningful decisions. But sometimes we forget to make players feel connected to one another, to feel that they are important to others inside the game to elicit a sense of belonging.

Self-Determination Theory graphic model (wikimedia commons)

What are the characteristics of Relatedness?

Including elements that enable Relatedness and social connection in your game is a massive boost of motivation for your players. They will be more forgiving with your game if it is a little out of balance or with other type of problems it may have if they feel like they belong to a larger group to which they feel connected. They will at least have the chance to whine about the balance of the game with other people that care for it as much as they do. But if they are alone, they are more prone to leave your game and never return. There is simply no motivation to come back.

 

Relatedness makes players bond and care for each other. Also, when players are in social groups, they accept that there are certain expectations and obligations as a member of a group, even if they are not enforced by your game mechanics.

3. Islands Economy

A list of the top 10 best-selling mobile games

You can see the importance of Relatedness on the best-selling charts. Most games on the top 10 or even the top 50 have a salient social element, whether it’s a multiplayer game or they have leaderboards or another way to connect with other players.

 

Multiplayer games are of course a great way to foster relatedness between your players, but for it alone it’s not enough. A good way to increase relatedness in your game is to allow players to chat with one another. You can limit your chat to predefined interactions or have a completely free chat or a combination of both. Just have in mind that the more action-oriented your game is, the simpler the chat options need to be. Make the predefined options useful regarding the main actions in your game and obviously, make them include and gather players instead of alienating them.

Can be relatedness be used in single player?

But Relatedness is not exclusive of multiplayer games. Many single player games make abundant use of social connections between players. Pokémon Go is an amazing example of a game that motivates players through relatedness.

 

  • First, players are forced to choose between one of three teams, each team having a specific focus like knowledge, rapid evolution, etcetera just like Doodle Champion Island does.
    • Later, players can help their team members by feeding berries to restore the hp of their Pokémon.
  • Moreover, players can connect with their friends and send them gifts. This mechanic encourages reciprocation, a very important aspect to feel cared by other people. Also, players that don’t reciprocate are usually alienated from the group, forcing them to reciprocate in the context of the game.
    • Another one that uses this amazingly well is Clash Royale. Players can enter guilds to, among other things, receive or give gifts to other players. They usually feel forced to reciprocate, as guild leaders usually remove members that are not active within the guild.
  • Finally, coming back to Pokémon Go, there are many events that require players’ global cooperation while players can see in real time the result of their actions and the completion percentage.

Each team have a distinctive focus on how to approach training. Which one will the player choose? Good UX and Research can give you the answer.

How can you include relatedness in your games?

Another good way to add relatedness in your games, specially if they are not inherently competitive is to use achievements. Most distribution platforms like Steam, GOG or Google Play include some way to add achievements to your game and as regards to relatedness, they show the percentage of your players that have completed them. It’s a great way to know how many other players have made similar decisions, or on the other way, that you are part of an elite that has found all Easter Eggs. Yay!

 

And finally, I think that one important element for your players to feel related to one another is to make your game interesting to watch and share. If streamers play your game and their audience find your game visually interesting, they will watch the video. If after that they found your game interesting enough, you may have a new player that will already feel connected to his or her favorite content creators and their broader community. It’s a little abstract, I know, but for some players, it’s interesting to know that they are playing what others, specially people they admire, are playing too. There is a reason why most brands pick celebrities for their commercials and presentations.