Rewards provide an excellent source of motivation. People will often do things they may otherwise ignore if completing the task will provide something they wish to have. This is frequently seen in games – they offer achievements, XP, special in-game items, and other things for completing tasks in and out of the game. Such rewards always have an intended motivation, and it is often a path one is meant to follow in the game, such as defeating a boss or supporting a teammate. However, it seems that we often fail to notice, consider, or just blatantly ignore the fact that various rewards also have unintended motivations attached to them.
In games, unintended motivations often result in players doing unusual, annoying, or unhelpful things because such behavior is rewarded in a satisfactory way. A shining example of this is Battlefield 4, in which players are handsomely rewarded with XP for long distance headshots. Doing so requires a player to sit in waiting at the edge of a map providing little to no benefit to their team in a very team-based game. With a couple well-placed (or lucky) shots, the player can top the leaderboard. One can easily argue the developers did not intend for this to be a common playstyle because the game is so team- and objective-oriented. Their original intent was to reward players for the added difficulty of headshots over range, thinking that such skills would be utilized in support of the team, rather than for self gratification while ignoring one’s team.
This can often be seen in one’s day-to-day life as well. A great example that has motivated me to discuss this briefly is a recent sponsorship event through the Freedom! network. I am a member of the network, which I will discuss in greater detail at another time. They recently launched a $100,000 year-long sponsorship program for small channels, in which they choose a member channel each day to whom they give a product from one of their sponsors (which generally consists of gaming gear, like headphones and mice). Their announcement of this indicated they would likely choose the more active members of the community for these sponsorships. I imagine there was at least some intention in this to get members a bit more active and push the community toward being the supportive foundation for small channels they wish it to be.
While this has motivated members to be much more active than before, the unintended part is that the quality of that activity is not what it was before. The forums and video comments have suddenly been spammed with members offering to do channel and video reviews, hoping to get noticed as an active and helpful community member. However, a quick look through some of these finds critiques that offer little more than, “Dude, ur awesome! ur banner is cool! u deserve ur subs.” I imagine most of this reviews are done with very little effort. If you look through the Freedom! forums in the reviews and critiques subforums, nearly every thread is someone offering reviews, where they used to be primarily threads asking for a review. Threads asking for reviews are still there, but they get buried and are largely ignored, which seems very strange considering there are 10’s, if not 100’s of people looking to do reviews, yet these same people seem to have no interest in doing reviews on someone else’s thread because they are less likely to be seen doing them. I can only imagine the original intention was much different than this result.
So it goes with rewards and motivations. We introduce rewards to elicit behavior, only to find the human mind can come up with many and more ways to get the same rewards with other than intended behavior. If there is anything to take from this discussion, it is to take an extra moment to think about how people of different minds may take various paths and whether or not the rewards or rules should be modified to safeguard from unwanted paths.