Gamification Expert &

Behavioral Designer

yukai chou gamification

The Power of Milestone Unlocks in Gamification Design

Today, we’re going to delve into a Game Design Technique known as a “Milestone unlock” (#19). It’s one of the many Game Design Techniques discussed in my book. At its core, a Milestone Unlock is a method where reaching a milestone in the game unfolds new avenues for gameplay. This process involves several key elements.

Milestone Unlock in Gamification Design

Firstly, there must be a defined milestone. Players need to reach this milestone through Desired Actions. Upon achieving the milestone, something new becomes available, expanding the gameplay possibilities. This addition often enables you to play the game in a slightly different manner.

This technique is primarily included in Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback. Most game design techniques draw power from multiple Core Drives, and the Milestone Unlock involves other Core Drives like Scarcity (CD6), Unpredictability (CD7), and Accomplishment (CD2). Often the more Core Drives a Game Design Technique involves, the more intricate the effects.

Plants vs Zombies and Diablo 3 as examples

A popular example that showcases the impact of Milestone Unlocks is the game “Plants vs Zombies.” It’s a delightful game enjoyed by a wide demographic, from children to adults. Players use plants with unique abilities to defend their homes from incoming zombies.

Players have to make strategic choices throughout, including deciding on the balance of cheap and abundant plants vs. more powerful and expensive ones. Players encounter different types of zombies, each requiring a unique strategy to defeat. Reaching certain milestones in the game can unlock a new plant, which allows for new strategies and gives players an edge against specific types of zombies.

Often, when we play a game, we set a personal milestone. For instance, you might decide to stop playing after reaching a certain level or completing a stage. But games like ‘Plants vs Zombies’ cleverly disrupt this plan by introducing a new element right after a milestone. It compels you to explore the new feature, thus extending your gameplay. This affect makes people who previously wanted to go to bed when they reach the milestone supercharged and wanting to play more instead.

I’ve had similar experiences with games like Diablo 3. I would aim to reach a milestone before ending the game, but upon reaching that milestone and gaining a new skill, I couldn’t resist testing out the new ability. This desire would lead me deeper into the game, creating a cycle of anticipation and reward.

The Structure of Milestone Unlocks

The structure of milestone unlocks often involves a fixed action reward system linked to a booster. However, various variations can make it effective too.

It’s sometimes compared to another game design technique called the “grownup lock” (GT #122). This technique involves having an object in your possession that you can’t use until you reach a particular level, creating anticipation and a sense of scarcity.

The best results usually occur when the reward is unpredictable – somewhat like a Mystery Box or an Easter Egg. The player is aware of the milestone but doesn’t know what the reward will be. Upon reaching the milestone, the player unlocks something unexpected and exciting.

Another important element is that the reward should act as a booster, which adds dynamism to your gameplay. It allows more strategy, like getting a new chess piece with unique movements or a new color of paint as an artist. This unpredictability and excitement keep the player engaged and motivated to reach the next milestone.

You can also incorporate Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness into Milestone Unlocks by creating Group Milestone Unlocks. When a group achieves an activity, they all unlock a new skill, which can make the gameplay more dynamic and exciting.

Milestone unlocks employ a mix of Core Drives. The milestone itself signifies Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience. The unpredictability of the reward ties into Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity. Sometimes there’s even an element of Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance, where players feel they may miss out on opportunities if they don’t reach the milestone.

Remember, a milestone unlock doesn’t just offer a physical reward or a virtual badge. The goal is to enhance the gameplay. The unlock should be a new component or a tool that enhances the gameplay, and that’s what makes a good milestone unlock design.

If you have any ideas about implementing the Milestone Unlock technique in your product or platform, sharing that would be interesting for everyone learning about this game design technique. Remember, the key is to make the gameplay more dynamic, exciting, and engaging.

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