Goal Orientation in Gamification

This is an excerpt written by Lucas Blair from the book The Gamification of Learning and Instruction.


A player’s goal orientation must be considered when designing achievements, as it will influence how they experience gamification and games through goals they set for themselves. There are two types of goal orientation, which are commonly referred to as performance orientation and mastery orientation. Players who favor a performance orientation are concerned with other people’s assessment of their competence. Players who have a mastery orientation are concerned more with improving their proficiency.

Gamification tends to push players toward a performance orientation as they are constantly emphasizing direct goals like time and points earned. Unfortunately, players who gravitate toward this type of orientation take fewer in-game risks and spend less time exploring, because they are afraid that doing so might affect their score [1]. This occurs frequently in first person shooters where players use the same weapons and tactics over and over again because they think it is the best way to optimize their kill to death ratio. However, research has shown that when individuals are given performance oriented goals they typically perform better only with simple, non-complex tasks [2].

To balance out player predisposition towards performance orientation designers must actively try to instill mastery orientation in the goals and feedback they create. There are several benefits associated with having a mastery orientation. Players who have this mindset will accept errors and seek challenging tasks that provide them the opportunity to develop their competencies.

When given mastery goals players will have higher self-efficacy and utilize more effective strategies. Research has also shown that people given mastery-oriented goals perform better on complex tasks [2]. To help foster this type of orientation designers should create achievements that acknowledge the effort players are putting forth and support them during challenges. Games should treat errors and mistakes the players make as an opportunity to provide diagnostic feedback and encouragement.

The names and wording of achievements are very important when trying to effectively communicate this. For example Heavy Rain’s “So Close…” trophy, which is given to players for reaching, yet failing, the completion of a difficult task, could be seen as encouragement and recognition of effort. In contrast, a similar achievement in Guitar Hero III, named “Blowing It” is worded in such a way that it could be perceived as discouraging.

Best practice:

For complex tasks requiring creativity or complicated strategies try to instill a mastery orientation. For simple or repetitive tasks instill a performance orientation. Try to keep new players, who are still learning how to play, in a mastery orientation.


[1] Dormann, T., & Frese, M. (1994). Error training: Replication and the function of exploratory behavior. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 6(4), 365-372.

[2] Winters, D., & Latham, G. P. (1996). The effect of learning versus outcome goals on a simple versus a complex task. Group & Organization Management, 21(2), 236-250.

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