Game Development Reference
In-Depth Information
The third problem with extrinsic rewards is that they often create
perverse incentives that harm the project. When everyone is focused on
maximizing his own personal rewards, game development becomes a
political game. Politics and gossip lead to destructive competition among
developers. Fear of punishment makes people hide work and avoid risk.
Developers might form cliques and deny information to outsiders to stay
safe or to gain respect. This pattern is borne out in research. Amabile
found that competition hinders creativity by suppressing the movement of
ideas and preventing people from helping one another. Dan Ariely found
that participants in a scrambled-sentence test are much less likely to help
others when unscrambling words about money. Priming the mind with
dollar signs makes us risk-averse and selfish—the worst behaviors for
group creativity.
The last reason extrinsic incentives harm game development is be-
cause they're distracting. They pull people's minds away from the work,
filling up their valuable headspace with calculations of how to maximize
rewards instead of how to help the game. Every moment thinking about
how to game the extrinsic rewards system, even in innocuous ways, is a
moment that wasn't devoted to solving development problems.
Even worse is when the extrinsic incentive is a threatened punish-
ment. A boss can threaten to fire someone, cut his pay, yell at him, or even
disrespect him with subtle eye rolls and guffaws. These threats might
create immediate activity, but activity alone isn't enough to make a great
game. Game design demands open discussion and deep thought, both
of which impossible under threat. Remember how fear and anger were
shown to inhibit the aSTG—the brain's center of creativity? As Frank
Herbert wrote in Dune , fear is the mind killer—when we're afraid, we're
neurologically unable to work at our creative best. That's why Amabile
found that people were most likely to make a breakthrough when they
were happy the day before. Happy work lets the mind relax into a power-
ful after-hours rumination process. Fear driven by extrinsic threats may
motivate, but it also destroys our ability to do the work by consuming our
ability to think.
All of these effects can hit at once. For example, consider a system I
once heard of where developers got online shopping vouchers when they
presented something cool in the team's show-and-tell meetings. This
system is an almost unmitigated evil. People start feeling like they're
working for vouchers instead of for the work, so they lose interest in what
they're making. The people who happen to have visually appealing work
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