Use rewards to encourage continuation or introduction of wanted behavior
Rewards is a mechanism for telling users that they have done well – that their actions have been judged favorably.
Fixed rewards are given out at a set time, amount, and type and are opposed to variable rewards, which feel more like random rewards.
In computer games, fixed rewards are given out when you complete a level or achieve some other kind of clearly defined goal. Variable rewards are usually given out when killing monsters.
In web applications fixed rewards are the most commonly used type of reward as they provide clear goals for users to strive for. At Hacker News, features such as voting on comments, or changing template colors are unlocked as you collect Karma points for your activities. At Stackoverflow.com, you receive a badge as you engage more and more in the community. Both provide clear set goals that users can strive for in order to climb up the ladder of status in the community.
Everyone likes to be told they are doing a good job, but it is essential for rewards to work that they are given out at the right time, in the right amount, and that it is the right rewards that is being given. Ask these questions for each opportune moment to determine what is right1:
There is only one way to find out the right balance of time, amount, and kind of reward: through trial and error. Balancing rewards is often a question of “good enough”1.
There are several types of rewards that games and web applications can give. These are the most common1.
Use rewards to encourage continuation or introduction of wanted behavior in your users.
In behaviorism, the rate or probability of a behavior (“response”) is tried increased through stimulus (e.g. candy). The quality, or response strength, is assessed by measuring frequency, duration, latency, and accuracy2.
There are two ways to strengthen behavior through rewards: bring pleasure or excuse from pain – positive or negative rewards (also called reinforcements). Opposite of rewards are punishments, which does not necessarily remove what was first rewarded behavior3.
Positive rewards and punishments introduce stimuli to modify behavior where negative rewards and punishments take away stimuli to modify behavior. Rewards increase possibility of behavior while punishments decrease possibility of behavior.
A secondary reward are the stimuli we have come to associate with the primary reward. When we see the message number notification appear on facebook, we associate that number with the feeling of receiving a message from our friends, which is the primary reward.