Storytelling and Motivation in Mobile Games

Seven Knights 2 screenshot
Each spot represents the individual scenario of specified hero.

Ludogogy has entered into an agreement with Gamification Journal, based in Seoul, South Korea, for the mutual exchange of articles. This is the fifth of those articles we are publishing and it was in exchange for Terry Pearce’s article about unlocking behaviour change

The Expansion of Mobile Game Genres

Until now, many game companies have focused on PC and console platforms, but they have gradually increased the proportion of mobile games. Because almost everyone can easily access mobile games, it makes sense for game development companies to develop or convert games for mobile platforms.

Mobile games must be approached in a different way than PC and console games. Mobile games require a unique and different play style. This means that game companies have to plan to utilize the unique characteristics of mobile games, which is more than simply ‘translating’ an existing PC or console game to a different platform.

One genre of game which works well on mobile platforms is CCGs (Collectible Card Games). Players collect cards representing characters and actions, and compose their own decks from the possible choices. This kind of Collectible RPG comprises different game mechanisms such as quests, rewards, and motivation, etc.

The Core of Storytelling – Character

Combat in Seven Knights 2
Combat in Seven Knights 2

The Seven Knights 2 game, which I helped to develop, is played using characters. Each character brings different elements to the narrative, and the process of creating the character itself motivates the player. The core of this game is ‘character’, so each character is highly individual and comes with lots of backstory. Play expands from flat characters with simple and direct relationship to more complexity. Heroes don’t necessarily need to be ‘good’, and there are several villains who cannot exactly be hated.

Generally, in MMORPGs, quests are specified by Non-Player Characters (NPCs) and the player moves around the gameworld to attain that purpose and get rewarded. This process includes various quest types such as main, sub, breakout. However, there is only one quest in Seven Knights 2, the ‘Main quest’. So, it looks like a Collectible Card Game, but is more related to MMORPG. The game will come as a bit of a surprise, however, if the player is expecting the complex quest structure of MMORPGs.

Seven Knights 2 is a linear scenario game. The player doesn’t need to interact with several NPCs to accept various styles of quests. By just clicking ‘Auto Play’, the character accepts and performs quests and gets rewards. The purpose of this is so that the player doesn’t have to spend time finding their next quest but can focus instead on the stories in the game.

I tried to develop the Seven Knights 2 by introducing various quests, but I didn’t want to interrupt the player’s immersion. I wanted to make sure that the player does not become distracted by unexpected extra sub-quests and breakout quests once the player is immersed in the flow of the main scenario.

Reward in Collectible RPGs

The reward in mobile games does not mean just simple and physical rewards like items or goods. The player can experience both ‘material reward’ and ‘psychological reward’, both of which are currently used in the game.

For example, NPCs offers no rewards or just a reward of small value when the player finishes certain quests. Instead of a small reward, the gamer can save the character’s current play state to a public ranking.

Seven Knights 2 Leaderboard

Therefore, although there is no direct reward or just a trivial one, the player gains the ‘psychological reward’ of gaining recognition and appreciation from others.

The gamer can check his or her own combat power, but rewards such as ‘power-ups’ which can be used in-game are not gained. Instead, the player can get psychological reward such as ‘Self-satisfaction’.

Try first

Seven Knight 2 offers opportunities for players to experience deeper stories. Because the heroes cover many stories, the main quest is provided to access these stories and collect them as play proceeds.

The ‘sneak peek’ content, ‘The Memory of the Hero’, includes aspects which are usually used as sub-quests in MMORPGs. ‘The Memory of the Hero’ is content which covers the individual stories of heroes which are not addressed in the main scenario. And even though the player hasn’t collected the specified hero in their own deck yet, it can be freely used without any restrictions.

Heros in Seven Knights 2
After the choice of specified hero’s scenario, that hero will be fixed in the deck.
Seven Knights 2 Memory of the Hero screenshot
Seven Knights 2 – Memory of the Hero screenshot
Seven Knights 2 screenshot
Each spot represents the individual scenario of the specified hero.

Pleasure through randomness

The concept of ‘collectible’, being fairly new in mobile platform, introduces another form of pleasure in play – the scarcity of certain characters and the uncertainty about obtaining them. ‘Things which cannot be easily taken’ is the core motivation in mobile collectible RPG.

The original game on PC and console platforms has the same story and character relationship, but the collectible RPG shows different areas of experience, depending on what kind of characters the player has. The process of getting the skills and growing through quests is condensed into each character card. The player gets experience of these all processes and efforts, simply by gaining one character.

And of course, the player wants to get more characters, and to get the rarer ones, and accepts the randomized gamble as sort of play and fun to test his or her luck. So, scarcity and testing one’s luck are applied as forms of motivation.

Cutscene from Seven Knights 2
Each character has lots of story. To understand the character better, cutscenes are presented.

Player Participation – ‘Black hat’ and ‘White hat’

To attract, and keep, the player’s participation, I used the concepts of ‘Black Hat’ and ‘White Hat’ from Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis Framework. These motivation factors help to explain how the player’s motivation is changed in mobile platforms and how collectible RPGs utilize this.

At first, ‘White Hat’ motivation encourages the player to participate to ‘get better’. It’s the original purpose in the PC and console games. Strengthening their character, mastering skills, and exercising creativity by making their own deck leads the player to feel directly involved in the game. Like ‘Elden Ring’, it stimulates a sense of challenge, nature or calling, etc. It’s a often-used way to make the player feel like a hero, and to want to participate in overcoming adversity and challenge.

Seven Knight 2 requires time to set up the deck or make different compositions of characters in every stage beyond the simplest quests. And to achieve growth of their character, the player needs to find entrance tickets and various items to access content. Usually, in game or gamification design, there may be some expected characteristics such as side quests. However, I concentrated on the scenario of the main quest, to help the player keep the flow. Also, the content not included in the main quest were covered by other content. ‘The Memory of the Hero’ above and content for repetitive quests are examples of this. Through this, other types of ‘White Hat’ motivation can be derived.

‘Black Hat’ motivation attracts the gamer’s participation in a more manipulative way. Because of different motivation, it is hard for gamer to recognize and control. Also, the duration is short.

For example, to collect desired character cards, the player collects items and good, and uses them as fees in cahllenges involving uncertainty like randomized gambling. But, ‘Black Hat’ does not necessarily mean ’bad’ or necessarily mean that that player is negatively affected. This short process of testing luck leads to strong (but usually short-lasting) motivation. They may experience feelings of failure, disappointment and loss, but the mobile RPG player enjoys this and relishes scarcity because they accept it as part of the ‘necessary process’ to collect the game story and get the character they want in their own deck.

‘White Hat’ motivation will be effective in the long term, but it can be felt as ‘bothersome’ or ‘boring’ in a mobile game with relatively short period of play time. So, the mobile game uses strong stimulus, such as urgency or luck which can be ‘Black Hat’. There is an expectation that there will be urgency, with new characters being released, restriction in time periods and availability, the necessity of having a specific character in order to be able to use certain effects, and the partial frustration of being able to use but not being able to possess. This is why the life cycle of a mobile game is not that long, and new characters and events need to be constantly added.

In the future, mobile game developers will find new and potentially more complex ways to keep player’s involved. The content and mechanics in which gamers find immersion and pleasure will be varied by ‘material’ or ‘psychological’ factors, etc. It is a trend which will constantly move forward, and we can expect new mechanics to be invented all the time for our pleasure.

Director at Netmarble
In 2008, SUNGU CHO started his career as game planner at HanbitSoft and developed the 'Warcry', third-person shooter game. In 2011, he managed the live service of 'Lineage' MMORPG, and became team leader for planning Lineage at NCSoft. After acting as Project Director for 'Seven Knights' at Netmarble in 2017, he currently works as a director at Netmarble.
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