Gaming Motivations: Discovery


Embrace the potential of things unknown and expect revelation from what comes next. It is only by seeking that we unearth the things most worthy of discovery. – us, on a thing we made


The word itself conjures a special kind of excitement. An awe-inspiring thrill associated with that unique moment something happens for the first time. The moment the lid pulls back from the mysterious chest, the other side of a hill reveals unexpected sights, or things click together in unanticipated fashions. Our sense for discovery compels us in powerful ways. It’s the reason Percy Fawcett disappeared into the Amazon, that generations of scientists have reached for the furthest limits of thought, and that children everywhere can’t resist creeping into off-limit basements and bedrooms when no one is looking.

It also happens to be a significant motivating factor in what many of us enjoy about tabletop gaming.

When preparing the Kickstarter for Vindication®: Leaders & Alliances we wanted to better clarify who the game was for. One of the lessons we learned with the original Vindication campaign was that the game presents itself in a way that suggests an experience different from the actual one. People see creatures and magic in a fantasy setting and prior experience sets them up to anticipate something other than what Vindication actually is. We wanted to head this off at the pass the second time around and say plainly – “this is what Vindication is and what type of gamer will enjoy it.”12 Gaming Inspirations

From these conversations, we came up with a list of gaming inspirations: twelve different motivators for people who play games that decide whether a game is fun or rewarding for them. We determined that most games have all twelve of these in varying degrees and that the best way to quantify each motivator’s presence in a title is with a descriptive word. A numerical score implies a binary has vs doesn’t have a relationship which we don’t see as accurate.

For example, we described the competition of Vindication as “gentle.” It is a competitive game in which one player wins and the others lose. It is not, however, a nail-biting cut-throat knives-in-a-phone-booth type of experience that some head-to-head competitive titles provide. A “gentle” competition rating says that this game is a good fit for people who like to outplay their opponents and achieve victory but that it’s not going to ruin relationships. It also says that if you’re someone who wants to devastate and destroy your opponents – this may not be the right fit for you.

What was intended to be a quick and helpful little “thing” we did at the top of the Kickstarter page quickly consumed us and became the subject of much deeper conversations. We found this silly conversation about gaming spilling over into reflections on our personalities, histories, and life in general.

So — because we can’t help but have our conversations lead to creations — a new design series was born. The Gamer Motivation Series is set to explore these various concepts; what they mean, why they matter, and how we should use that information.

First on the list: DISCOVERY.

When we started seriously digging into this idea of gamer motivations we discovered there is already an amazing group of super-smart people doing something very similar (and smarter-er) in the video game industry.

Quantic Foundry is a team of wicked sharp folks investigating the “science of gamer motivation.” The world of video and board games are definitely different but the concept and audiences overlap enough that we found their work fascinating. You can scope that work HERE.

Discovery, it turns out, is one of their proposed motivators as well, and they have lots of interesting data the subject. They have surveyed something-something-thousands of gamers and published some of the results on what people indicate as their “primary” motivator for playing games. Here are some of their findings:


A graphic like this exists for each of the following data sets. We’re only going to show one. You get the idea.

  • Young Gamers (25-) Discovery is 12th out of 12.
    (Meaning it was the least frequently selected of the 12 motivators as the reason they play games.)
  • Older Gamers (36+) Discovery is 6th of 12.
  • Female Gamers: Discovery is 7th of 12.
  • Male Gamers: 11th of 12
  • Non-Binary Gamers: 7th of 12.

This data is for the frequency in which discovery was marked as the number one motivating factor. Not shown here is where discovery fell across the overall gamut. Perhaps every single person surveyed listed it as their #2 motivator. Data – its very number-y.

So many fascinating questions come out of this. Why do older gamers crave discovery more than younger ones? Why are men apparently least motivated by it? Are women more likely to come to gaming later in life and that’s skewing the numbers or are all younger people just more interested in exploring power and dominant strategy than discovering new things? Why do women find more appeal in discovery than other motivators? When in the **** did 36 become a threshold for “old”?!

Perhaps even more interesting to us though is this consideration:

What is discovery?

In our chart, we call it “exploration and revealing new things.”

Quantic Foundry lists it under the “creative” set of motivators and bullet it with “explore, tinker, experiment.”

When you think of discovery do you think of it in these terms? If you’re a board gamer do you think of discovery as exploring the map in 7th Continent or opening the next box in a Legacy game and do you think of those experiences as scratching the same itch as experimenting and tinkering with deck builds in an LCG? Do you think of discovery as being, at its heart, a creative pursuit?

We’re excited to get into these conversations with you and explore these concepts in the gaming space but also as they relate to life in general. What does discovery mean and why are we motivated by it? How does discovery as a motivator influence our lives, our relationships, and our decisions? Is it the reason we love pushing the limits of what’s possible with science fiction? How does it factor into your other hobbies? And, perhaps most importantly, is the lost City of Z real, and will we ever find it?

  • Joe F

    When I first think about discovery in games, I immediately think of everything to do with geographical exploration. After thinking about it in greater detail I started to see just how many things can be connected to discovery in games. I continued to dive deeper into the topic and stumbled across a wonderful video by Extra Credits called “Exploration in Games”. In the video they break down four ways players discover joy in games. After hearing a few ways players explore in games, I was able to connect a boardgame or video game that contained some of these elements and it made me really appreciate how much time was spent by designers giving players the opportunity to “Discover” in their games. They define discovery as the joy of finding something new. We all love the feeling of discovering something new, whether we are playing a game, hiking through nature, or a way we can do our jobs more efficient.

    The first type of discovery discussed is geographic exploration. As I mentioned before this is exactly what I was thinking of when I think of discovery in games. I want to explore every inch of the map in The 7th Continent or figure out what part of the Gloomhaven map I want to visit next. We also see this in open world video games like Red Dead Redemption 2, I loved wandering around the map regardless of my mission just to discover new places like a booming new town all the way to an abandoned home in the middle of nowhere or a quiet place near a lake. I feel like every step of the way you would uncover something new and exciting giving players joy from the beautiful world they explore.

    Next, they touch on mechanical discovery. I didn’t even think of this being part of exploration but more of its own unique category. A game that comes to mind that demonstrates mechanical discovery well is Spirit Island. I remember learning the game my first few plays and getting crushed. As I started to understand the game mechanics, I would edge closer to victory. When I finally won, I felt such a great feeling of accomplishment as I discovered ways to combo certain cards and powers together. We can see CCG’s like Magic with a big focus around the discovery of card combinations and how they interact with each other. It’s hard to not feel great when we have that lightbulb go off in our head, when we discover a new strategy and things just start clicking together giving us a new advantage in game.

    The third type of discovery discussed is content exploration. This is like geographic discovery, but it involves finding new stuff in games rather than finding new places. We see this kind of discovery in many legacy style games. When you reach a point in the game and you are instructed to open a sealed envelope or read a new passage in the book unlocking additional content to players that they previously did not have access to. This is also true in many RPG’s, when we can choose to do something and either have or lack the required skill resulting in a different outcome. It’s for this reason we enjoy going back and playing the game multiple times to see what content we missed out on.

    Lastly is Narrative discovery. The most recent game I played that pulled me in with its strong narrative was a board game called The Awakening. In the game you play as the father of a daughter who has mysteriously fallen into a coma. I was instantly hooked by its wonderful narrative and could not put it down as I searched for a way to wake my daughter. We all love a great story especially when we can’t stop and must know what happens next, other great examples of this narrative expression would be Legacy of Dragonholt or Mansions of Madness.

    As you can see with just a few ways we discover in games, this can lead to hours of discussion around the topic and how games express each of these. I also discovered nearly all my favorite games include many or all these elements. The more I think about these I see how important they are to the success of a game and the excitement it gives the players to explore every bit of the game. Giving the player so many ways to feel joy hooks them into wanting to play these games more. Thanks for the post and I look forward to the next entry in this series!


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