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Reward structure in Axe of Kings

Posted by Rowan Powell on October 16, 2016 at 4:30 PM

When working their way through a game, the player generally wants some form of payoff for their time and effort investment which can come in a range of forms depending on the game and the player;


  • Resources (Health, Strength, Currency)
  • Options (Abilities, unlocking something, combinations of effects)
  • Non-Mechanic rewards (Character outfits, story content, cool view)
  • Novelty (New abilities, enemies, area)


Axe Of Kings primarily draws from Novelty, Options and to a small extent Resources. This is because the core engagement of Axe Of Kings is Mastery of the system - knowing how to beat the monsters, maximise the effectiveness of the abilities and 'beating' the game. So the game needs plenty of fresh concepts to master fighting against (Enemy mechanics) and using (Items, Abilities) and constraints to consider (Debuffs, terrain, resources).


The player also wants the reward to be roughly proportional to the time or effort invested into getting the reward (The classic example being getting common loot from a raid is rather poor design), but at the same time is trying to maximise reward for investment and will attempt to identify which elements of your game have the highest ratio. One issue with this, as roguelikes and MMOs have shown repeatedly, is that players will do content they really don't enjoy just because they have the highest ratio. So the trick is having the fun content being the rewarding content, or reducing the 'price' (Time/effort) for the less fun parts.


The other issue I've been working on is the reward structure overall; having a range of different rewards, sizes, durations and so on. Let's take a look at the game's reward curve from the start of development, just floors of the dungeon and enemies to kill with no particular mechanics to each enemy.

A standard engagement curve looks a bit like the image below, with cycling intensity building to a peak and then tailing off.

Whereas the curve for AxeOfKings near the start of development looked a lot more like this;



As you can see, it's fairly monotonous and after only a handful of enemies the game will get pretty dull. And so it was, players got bored very quickly and stopped playing, often before clearing a single floor. The issue is once they've seen the full set of rewards, there's not much to work towards and each reward is less meaningful. So let's take a look at what the player's theoretical reward curve looks like with varied enemy health, gem rewards based on that health and the ability to complete the dungeon.



Better, but not great. Players would now sit down and play maybe a floor (Lack of good introduction to the game contributed heavily to this issue), which is no where near enough to make any of the later-stage content worth building - if they're never going to get there. To help resolve this a bit better, I sat down and thought about the immediate, short, long and overall goals the player would have and broke those down into how they applied to my game.


* immediate - dealing with an individual monster or clearing a room

  • short - getting to the next visible reward objective (Chest, Exit, ect)
  • Medium - Clearing the floor, levelling up
  • Long - Getting the resources for the boss, clearing the boss, beating the dungeon
  • Overall - 'Beating' the game, unlocking all the novel content


Anywhere that the above reward structure didn't feel varied or was simply lacking, I designed new elements to keep the player engaged at these frequency intervals. To compliment this, the reward structure;


  • immediate - getting gems, killing a monster, healing
  • short - gaining gems/items, getting buffs, trap novelty, exploring the rooms
  • medium - new ability, powering up, dialogue, new dungeon floor
  • Long - Beating the boss, reward screen/gem bonus, next chapter & characters
  • Overall - New dungeons, new characters, game progression and completion


Now the curve looks a bit more like this;


Much much better! There's a lot of content now to be egaged with and a good mix of frequency and intensity and the way the 'alerted' mechanic works means that the player gets frequent rises and dips of challenge, which keep adding up untill ~50% of the monsters are engaged and then it starts to taper off and monsters are cleaned up and the loot that couldn't be delt with during the fight can grab the player's attention again, but in a relaxed setting.


Notice how the gameplay doesn't just feed into progressing through the dungeon (Healing, improving stats and such) but also tries to focus on the two key draws of AxeOfKings - Mastery and Improvement. The game doesn't give much mastery reward if all the content is obvious from the get go, so having lots of novelty is important - new enemy mechanics, new objects and level structure are vital for the player to feel like they have something left to 'beat'. As for improvement, the game actually doesn't really let the player improve their stats (Which is very unusual for a roguelike!) but instead gives them strength through the gameplay options and the knowledge they get about enemies makes them easier to defeat (Knowledge is power!). Having items that are all consumable allows the player to keep building up the power of their character and having that extra strength at a key moment, but also the AbilityLevel system allows for a more long term feeling of progression.


Reward structure and pacing is absolutely vital for keeping players interested in playing the game to get to the next element of the game, but it's really worth understanding that rewards are not just in-game rewards of numerical changes. Particle effects, story, exploration, domination of an opponent, the feeling of elitism of achievement are all other valid approaches to rewarding a player. You need to sit down and understand what draws the player to your game and what the core desires your game feeds into.

Categories: Autumn 2016

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