When Exploring has its rewards

Provided an Open world Design is somehow driven by certain constraints that keeps the player engaged as well as in the mood for not losing his attention on the main events prepared on the game, seems quite unfair that the rest of polished, toughly developed rest of the scenario could be so much left alone at expense of such fixed guidelines.

And there’s where some titles can afford a little effort by shaping a few things in order to tackle those players who weren’t able to resign and let his hand guided by a pre-established set of actions.Further than the simple fact of following orders powered by indirect control, the willing of the player for reaching far away from the pre-established scheme is sometimes rewarded, creating a positive outcome for those forbearing adventurers who wished for more than the average rushing ones.

Why reward the player if he stays out from the hard times the designers went through for empowering the feeling of freedom with such tough constraints? Because everything inside the game is enough compelling for providing an experience, and desginers needs to re-thought the game as a system for multiple minds, which extract their own principle of fun from a series of possible but somehow unexpected(at least in the early titles) reasons. Here are the main thoughts I believe to be the most determinant when it comes to the mix of reward and exploration:

Explorers are a possible nor fixed player type: even if it falls into a cliché if we rely only on Bartle’s taxonomy for delimiting the players’ purpose and acting on a game (provided that now most players develop other more complex roles), it’s still a powerful weapon for framing them in this particular case. The “explorer” ambition inside the player makes him willing to reach to those parts that are still hidden, in which relies a powerful boundary between the player and the system that makes him satisfied.


The reality of explorers is there, and growing substantially. Even if somebody does not argue with the class itself, somehow has had something to do with it one way or another.

And every unknown space is meaningful for them: A barn yard in an MMORPG can hold 4 non player characters, dressed as farmers, which are nothing but idle meshes with a default animation that repeats constantly after each 30 seconds. Sometimes, perhaps, a band of critters will appear and have a small fight (in which hardly any NPC will fall), but that’s it. The barn yard can be named with every non relevant title, but still it’s there.

Even though there is a humongous set of tools we described before on how to guide players through the illness that such worlds provides, for those players it has a purpose¸ may it be related to a small part of the history? Some forgotten lore that can make the player feel part of an small relationship between non player characters? Or maybe an early design that was left there for filling some gaps on the map? It doesn’t matter  because even a simple barrel can make a player ask why is supposed to be there, in such a godforsaken place.

 “Why not reward the players for just doing what they’re not supposed to do?”

So, from an adequate perspective, discovering the power such exploration was capable of giving to the community of gamers was turned paradoxically into a main quest for designers. If we created an incredible and huge world, where the effort of a lot of people made it possible, it’s hard to undermine sections of the game by just avoiding them in terms of blinded-quest-walking. Then a hand was raised, and yelled “rewards”. Why not reward the character for just doing what it’s not supposed to do? Why not tell him that curiosity is already a blessing rather than a curse? And that’s where each game had it’s own strategy to empower such behaviours, but looking more closely, the most standarized forms that could be found are the following ones:

Easter Eggs: meta-references, designer and developer’s jokes, and everything that can make the player smile for a short period of time is enough for rewarding him for reaching a hiding spot, and letting him yell all over the chat that he has found superman in a crusader armor suit fighting a shark with moustache. Pop culture plays a decisive role in tons of Easter eggs founded on games, they can be about previous releases by the developer, movies, cult games and a large etcetera that makes the world a place with small, sometimes impossible to detect, funny moments.

marco para fotos

Ezio in Assasin’s creed 2 had his own time to, if waiting enough inside a hidden place, watch an intriguing giant octopus trying to say him “hi”(in the way giant octopuses do)

As well the so called Meta references, the placing of external game references inside a title, play also a significant role inside the pool of easter eggs, bringing a valuabl moment for those players who found them without expecting nothing and that can refer instantaneaously to what is being shown (if the reference is enough clear and/or popular for being guessed).


Collectibles! (And of course achievements): The easy way to reward players for his performance on the exploration role is to create a series of collectibles and rewards, which act in a pyramidal way, tending to a bigger reward for its completion. The collectibles are strategically display around the critical points of the world, for such reuniting them the player would have to search on basically every spot of the map, discovering hidden spots with meaningful or not content. Collectibles have been somehow a master guideline for heavy and dense map games, and even more intense on single player ones. Letters, statuettes, coins, every single recipient holds the power of increasing the hunger of those players willing to take it to the top.


In most recent MMORPGS the exploration of the areas have turned into rewarding achievements for its full completion

In order to successfully manage this, there has to be, as beforehand described, a bigger outcome beyond the simple gathering of stuff from everywhere: there has to be a bigger reward, game tangible (such an asset) or intangible (an achievement, a distinction, a title, etc.), and it has to be placed in order the player sees that this gathering will led to something bigger. A well-used technique is by adding a reward on the halfway of its completion that makes the player think that fulfilling his purpose will lead to a more positive outcome.


GTA series have provided the value of exploring with a clever move: adding collectibles everywhere in certain spots. The most the player collects, the bigger the rewards are, up to having a military helicopter always-ready on the backyard.

Lore, our beloved lore: Small pieces of lore can be discovered if the player goes on a trip outside the main guidelines, and reaches certain parts where non player characters play a significant role about the scenario. It doesn’t mean that it is necessary to complement the actual history line, can be side-jokes between a bunch of hunters, or a simple argument by a couple when someone forgot to take care of the roses. But still they provide a valuable time for those players who already discovered how well detailed the game is and how carefully such details have been taken.

marco para fotos

From inns up to lost houses, everything is capable of holding valuable sub-stories that may help to increase the player’s immersion into the whole lore of the game

Moreover, it brings inside the tabletop other class of players that enjoy taking part in such an immersive way in the history, feeling themselves as an important piece of the puzzle that the entire lore provides: “my character visited this place and sat on a chair, watched two characters dancing, I clapped to them and even though nothing happened outside, inside my mind I feel a little bit more completed, I showed my gratitude to a human behaved family that has allowed me to stay inside his house and has let me take a peek at an kind of realistic activity. Try to do this outside the bits and bytes, and tell me about how tasty those iron bars and the gentle policeman words are.”

 – Explore the forbidden: Quoting Mark Twain “There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable” this is how I called for those players who are hungry for getting far away from the boundaries the open world gives them. Why should the map add a zone if it is not developed yet? Well, I’ll take a fly to that place and see how far I can get. Have the developers a secret zone? This practice is directly related to the urge the humans have for unraveling everything forbidden beforehand and the curiosity when something is told to exist but nobody ever has been there before.

Wow hidden places

World of Warcraft hidden places collage, showing the developers island where just a few lucky players (by code or other techniques) broke the usual boundaries for an standard player.

A pretty good example can be World of Warcraft secret zones, and more particularly the French movement called “The Essplorers”:  a collective of players that unlocks the ways and paths to the mysterious Game Master Islands (an island which has inside a player jail for those banned) and the Programmers Island (where developers tested new functionalities inside the game). What they discovered inside, were a surprising set of multiple existing in game assets, but merged together in some sort of a mishmash that at first sight doesn’t make much sense (some castle parts from a city, an undead cemetery on above, etc.). But still is a mystery why it was created and that feeling charms the players hunger for playing detectives in an open world with tangible boundaries, a living Matrix where some god users have the power to shape as its own, but the standard ones have to get used to the mainframe that tells them what not to do.

So adding valuable rewards for those players who wants an extended play of a long-sized map (even though some of them are even found in every single kind of game scenario) is as useful as it may get. Exploration is an advantage and an enjoyable activity, both virtual and physical. The sense of a living world, the encourage of unlocking every single prize or the fact of unraveling the mysteries hidden below the mainframe are a few, but powerful, rewards that empowers the activity of seeking for more. But behave, this ain’t a imposition, just an offering for a segment that seems to grow up in certain environments and, if developers care enough, will reward them consequently. Go game Indys!

Useful links!:

Wanderings of an Essplorer video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59TSfc6IQMQ

Top easter eggs of all time on GamesRadar: http://www.gamesradar.com/100-best-easter-eggs-all-time/

Secret areas of World Of Warcraft, Where the developers go to play: http://wow.joystiq.com/2013/02/28/where-developers-go-to-play/

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