The Use of Player-centered Positive Reinforcement to Schedule In-game Rewards Increases Enjoyment and Performance in a Serious Game
Among the methods used to increase enjoyment and performance in serious games, reward schedules, i.e., determining when in-game rewards should be given, have not been sufficiently explored. In the present study, we designed a simple memory training serious game and compared two methods of scheduling rewards, both based on the paradigm of positive reinforcement: fixed ratio schedule, in which rewards were given after a fixed number of correct responses, and variable ratio schedule, in which rewards were given after an unpredictable number of correct responses. To account for the variability in player preference for rewards, a player-centered sub-mode was included in both schedules by adjusting the schedule ratio according to player preference for rewards. The effectiveness of this approach was tested by comparing it against two more sub-modes: one which used a predetermined ratio, and another which set the ratio to the opposite of player preference. The game was put online and tested with 210 participants. Enjoyment, performance, duration of gameplay, and likelihood to play again were significantly higher in the player-centered sub-mode than the other sub-modes. On average, the variable-ratio schedule was better in the outcome measures than the fixed-ratio schedule. The results highlight the importance of in-game rewards, and indicate that giving rewards according to a player-centered variable-ratio schedule has the potential to make serious games more effective.
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