That the chance for receiving a Reward in the game is linked to some risk of receiving a Penalty if the player fails to acquire the Reward.

Interesting choices in games must have the potential for both advantageous and disadvantageous effects. Although players do not normally strive to have the disadvantageous effects, these may be unavoidable, and performing the actions at all can depend heavily on the chance of gaining the Reward and the risk of gaining the Penalty. This kind of decision-making is based on Risk/Reward choices.

Example: Choosing to fold, follow, or raise in Poker is a classic example of Risk/Reward: what is the chance of winning compared to the size of the pot?

Example: Lotteries present simple Risk/Reward choices where often a small investment gives a small chance of winning a large Reward but the only risk lies in losing the initial investment. That the sum of small investments are more that the large Reward seldom discourages players to feel tension or luck influence, and this may be the only way for the players to have any chance of getting the large Reward.

Using the pattern

Risk/Reward requires that the game does not have completely Predictable Consequences regarding a certain part of gameplay. Thus, the prime variables a game designer has when designing Risk/Reward are the probabilities of getting the reward and receiving the penalty. These, together with the actual Penalties and Rewards, produce the final basis for players to make choices. The basis can only in rare or simple cases be evaluated regardless of player situation and game context. Note that players may not be in direct control of the actions leading to the Rewards and Penalties: letting another player perform actions is a Risk/Reward choice in itself. Meta Games can modulate Risk/Reward choices beyond the current game state, as for example is the effect of introducing Betting on the outcome of a game.

The three main ways of introducing risk of failing to gain the Reward is through Randomness, performing the wrong action, and the possibility of other players to affect the outcomes. Randomness can provide the simplest forms of Risk/Reward choices since players may know distributions and exact chances to succeed with actions, for example, through Skills. Randomness in these choices allows for players to feel Luck, where doing Leaps of Faith is one such example. The possibility of performing the wrong actions depends on players having Imperfect Information or Freedom of Choice, and commonly exists in Experimenting and Combat activities, as well as goals requiring Stealth. Supporting Goals and Incompatible Goals allow players to make choices that give them Rewards, but these may not be as coveted as other Rewards when they finally are received. Common ways to allow other players to affect the outcome are through Player Killing, Interruptible Actions, Player-Decided Distribution of Rewards & Penalties, or Social Dilemmas such as Betrayal. Uncommitted Alliances, especially with Individual Penalties, increase the risk of participating in such activities, as Penalties do not necessarily exist for negatively affecting other players by Betrayal.

The possibility for Risk/Reward choices in games is infinite, but examples include: risking Damage to gain Rewards or perform actions; choosing which New Ability to get; using Resources to perform actions even if this will lead to future Decreased Abilities, especially when Limited Resources are involved; how to do Resource Management in general, for example, what Investments to make, what area of several to Guard, whether to stay on Chargers, whether to enter areas with Movement Limitation, selecting the location for Spawning, choosing what part of the Game World to try and achieve Area Control over, trying to orchestrate Role Reversals, and deciding for how long to use a Mule.

Risk/Rewards can be modulated in several ways to make the choices have long-term effects. Having a Selectable Sets of Goals forces players to choose the order in which to complete the goals; Bluffing, Betting, and other Extended Actions that are part of Committed Goals make players initiate actions and not reveal the result until later; Committed Goals not only may force players to make Risk/Reward choices but make them estimate the Risk/Reward of the choices after a while of gameplay. The Risk/Rewards of having to place Resources in Investments is lessened by Arithmetic Rewards for Investments, as the Investments can be split into several without losing efficiency while Geometric Rewards for Investments are increased for the opposite reason.


Risk/Reward choices automatically cause Tradeoffs to exist in games: either between actions or between performing actions or not. They cause Stimulated Planning in games and affect Cognitive Immersion by adding additional aspects that have to be considered regarding actions. Being good at correctly judging Perceived Chance to Succeed in actions that contain Risk/Rewards is often a part of Game Mastery, and especially being able to do so in games where one is under Emotional Immersion.

The presence of Risk/Reward in games naturally creates Tension, as players may fail to gain the Rewards they want. Reversability, however, has a negative effect on this kind of Tension.


Instantiates: Stimulated Planning, Tradeoffs, Game Mastery, Tension

Modulates: Cognitive Immersion, Committed Goals, Investments, Stealth, Mule, Perceived Chance to Succeed, Chargers, Player Killing, Geometric Rewards for Investments

Instantiated by: Combat, Extended Actions, Leaps of Faith, Movement Limitations, Resource Management, Interruptible Actions, Experimenting, Limited Resources, Selectable Sets of Goals, Role Reversal, Betrayal, Freedom of Choice, Player-Decided Distribution of Rewards & Penalties, Area Control, Betting, Randomness, Luck, Bluffing, Uncommitted Alliances, Guard, Imperfect Information

Modulated by: Damage, Meta Games, Individual Penalties, Penalties, Committed Goals, Emotional Immersion, Social Dilemmas, Decreased Abilities, Supporting Goals, Rewards, New Abilities, Skills, Spawning, Geometric Rewards for Investments, Arithmetic Rewards for Investments, Reversability

Potentially conflicting with: Predictable Consequences