Reward Systems and Instant Gratification

Imagine a world where everyone was on time and fully prepared to do their job to the absolute peak of their ability each and every day.  Imagine a world where people made excuses to their friends and family to get out of social activities just so they would not miss a day of work.  Imagine a world where people worked countless hours of overtime, seven days a week, just so they could do their job better.  Imagine a world where all of your co-workers help you, no matter what, to better yourself.

Instant Gratification
Instant Gratification

Now lets try the opposite.  Imagine a world where people stay up so late watching TV and playing games that they barely make it to work on time.  Imagine a world where people will use any excuse they can get to take a day off of work.  Imagine a world where people do the bare minimum at work each day just so they don’t get fired.  Imagine a world where your co-workers throw you under the bus at any opportunity to make themselves look better.

Which of these two worlds sounds closest to the world you actually live in?  Hopefully neither, to be honest, but I suppose if you were forced to choose it would depend on which world you live in, the real world, or the world of an MMORPG.

I recently starting messing around in World of Warcraft again, except in a much more limited capacity.  I don’t play it that much and I do not forgo anything else in my life such that it provides me more time to play.  The odd thing is though, that I am now tagged in one of the top 5 best guilds in the entire world.  I won’t say the name here just so they don’t get upset about this post, but it probably wouldn’t be that hard to narrow down.

I got tagged in this guild because my girlfriend happens to know the leader and half of the officers from her home town.  Since joining I have taken the role of a sort of silent observer, and it has given me much insight into the inner workings of one of these so-called “uber-guilds”.

As it turns out, the players in this guild treat the guild like it is a job in the world described in the first scenario above.  It is a perfect communism, in a way.  Everyone works hard toward the betterment of the guild with very little sense of self.  Loot drops go to the person who would turn that item into the maximum guild benefit.  The players spend countless hours working toward making themselves and the guild better.  When a raid is scheduled, everyone logs on, early.  When a first kill is on the line, everyone stays late.  All for no pay.  All for virtual nothingness.

How do you convince a person, a real human being, in the real world, to spend such large amounts of time in a fake world, working toward fake goals?  How come these very same people are far and wide the greatest bunch of under-achievers the world has ever seen?  Could you imagine if the real world had such a robust system which combines the best aspects of a reward system with a sense of instant gratification?  What if you spent 6 hours this evening playing a guitar and became a “level 2” guitarist, instantly becoming slightly, but noticeably better?  What if you stayed late at work today, and got a promotion tomorrow?  Would you?


The problem is probably just that, gratification.  If I work late today will I see any benefit from it?  If I work extra hard every day, and my company ultimately does better because of my hard work, will I ever receive any recognition?  If I show up late to work, and never get in trouble for it, why should I show up on time?  If I take the day off to relax, and stand to lose nothing because of it, then why not just take the day off?

This is the real world.  The world where you spend your entire life, dying.  The world where everything good in your life takes vast amounts of time to achieve.  The world where nothing is a sure thing.  The world where no one cares about how hard you work, or how smart you are.

This is where the allure of gaming lies, for me, and probably everyone else playing them.  If I spend 6 hours playing WoW today, I might get a better item, I might gain a level, or I might simply win a few arena matches.  No matter what though, something, even if it is a very small thing, will occur which will make my character in the game slightly better then he was before I logged in that day.  If I went to bed each night a better person then I was when I woke up, I might be a lot more excited about waking up each day.  If a week of hard work and overtime gave me some sort of global recognition, I might be a lot more apt to work a lot harder.  In the game, if you work your ass off toward that world first kill, and you get that incredible item that only you have.  The entire population of the game (in the case of WoW, over 10 Million people) are in awe of your accomplishments.

If you aren’t on time for that raid, you might not get a spot ever again.  If you take the night off from raiding, you might miss out on getting that item you really want.  If you talk back to your guild leader, you might get kicked out.

How can one recognize the small incremental improvements in themselves on a day to day basis?  How could such a reward system become a part of the real world?

People obviously work the best, and the hardest when not only rewarded, but when time spent instantly equals personal gain, even if that gain is virtual.  What if we could somehow recognize our own real life gains in the same way a game presents them.  What kind of world would we live in then?

2 thoughts on “Reward Systems and Instant Gratification

  1. This is excellent – and I note written back in 2008. Probably back about the time I played WoW. Funny enough I came across this post as I explore some of the gold making ideas I so actively executed that I want to implement with real world ‘gold’. Perhaps in addition to instant gratefication I’m thinking Fear of failure stops us in our real world. In game we try and try again, and if we fail it can be fobbed off as just a game. Real life it can be hard to try just once. Cheers for a thought provoking post.

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