Games are meant to be played liberally, and the more often people play a game, they more engaged they are. Having players spend a lot of time on a game is very important. Thus, an important question you must answer as a developer is how to keep players consistently at a high rate of activity. This is a function of how soon the participant expects a reward to occur. The more certain they are that something good or interesting will happen soon, the more they’ll play. When the player knows a reward is a long way off, such as when the player has just leveled up and needs a long period of time before they can do it again, their motivation and activity are correspondingly reduced.
In order to keep player activity and engagement high, you must make sure they remain interested in your game. In this case, a variable ratio schedule is a useful feature. A variable ratio schedule is a mechanism in which the player is rewarded at unpredictable intervals, meaning that anything can happen during a given play session. A variable ratio schedule thus provides rewards for repetitive behaviors, since players are encouraged to continue until they are rewarded. Another good idea for increasing player activity is creating an avoidance schedule. This can be done through mini-games where the player must act quickly in order to prevent negative events from occurring. This can be effective in breaking up the monotony of gameplay, especially if the core loop tends to be somewhat dull.
Now at what point do players become so disinterested in your game, that they just give up entirely? Every player may do so eventually, but it is important to know when and why they leave permanently. Player motivation is relative to their perceived achievement. If they think they have achieved a lot and have nothing left, then their enthusiasm will be dampened and their only motivation if will be to finish the game. However, if they feel they have only accomplished a little, with many more milestones to go, then their activity rate will be higher. One possible solution to this problem is to have multiple activities going on at the same time. However, having too much extra can cause the game to deviate from your core mechanics and storyline and ultimately confuse your player. Remember that the other activities are still part of the game and they should still be treated as part of the whole.
Like motivation, rewards should be kept relative. There should be lots of rewards, in the beginning, to entice your player to keep playing. However, as more time goes on, the rewards should start to become less frequent, especially for activities which require fewer skills and should be harder to obtain. Keep in mind that this change in the rewards system should be as gradual and as subtle as possible. If a player is leveling up once every 15 minutes in the early parts of the game, don’t slow progression down so suddenly that by the time player reaches the middle of the game it’ll take four hours to level up. Slow rewards down gradually while mixing in new ones to avoid the “crash” that occurs when rewards are too far away for a particular player’s liking and they end up quitting as a result. No matter what, though, never go against your player’s expectations when it comes to the reward they are expecting. Don’t give them a “rare item crate” or other loot on level up that amounts to something they could just find randomly on the ground, and don’t have levels that don’t provide any bonuses for reaching them. This may disappoint your players and therefore they will lose interest in playing your game.
Important Takeaways: Your game isn’t accomplishing much if people aren’t playing it. As a result, it’s important to make sure players remain interested. This is especially important for free to play or ad-driven games since these games rely on players spending time in the game in order to be successful. One key way to keep players interested is to use a variable ratio schedule to reward the player. This means that in-game rewards happen in a somewhat random manner, giving the player the possibility of receiving a reward in any given play session. Players will pick up on this system and therefore keep playing in pursuit of more rewards.
A consistent reward schedule still works, but sometimes the time frame directly after receiving a reward will act as a stopping point for sessions, creating a possibility of players stopping permanently when they realize that their next reward is quite far away. Also, make sure to reward your players in a manner consistent with their progression in the game. As they get used to playing, slowly decrease the rate at which they get rewards while adding new ones in to keep them curious. If you slow progression down too quickly you can create a wall of sorts that will stop some players from playing in the future.