What makes a game a game, and what purpose do points have in a game? A lot of games of my youth have points to give you placement on a high score leaderboard at the end of your session. Some games go a step farther and give you in-game bonuses (like an extra life or a better tool) when you pass some number of points. Others in truth have no “points” but instead treat the points like cash and let you spend them on ways to improve your ability to play further.
So, what are the possible game-relevant purposes that points could fulfill?
- Points measure excellence, relative to other players. In this way you can get leaderboards and competitive standings for a game. Points differ from calculated rank (or level, or status) in this way because you see exactly what the difference between two players is using the game metric.
- Points measure progress. By watching your points increase, you can see how far you have come in a game; by watching how much various late-game actions are worth in comparison to early-game actions, you can see numerically how far you have come. Points differ from achievements in this way because achievements are generally used to measure player-achieved goals that are bigger/different than just game progress, and they also don’t have the granularity of points to show you smaller steps in your progress.
- Points measure extremity. Actually, a points total doesn’t do this directly, but point multipliers can definitely give aspects of a game an extreme feel. The bigger the multiplier for the points you earn, the more charged the play experience becomes – points in this can actually generate excitement and immediacy. Points differ from visual indicators of “high stakes” regions of game play because the numerical nature of point accumulation means it is easy and seemless to show multipliers, well, multiplying.
It is interesting to note, despite these poignant uses for points, that other methods (ranking/levels, achievements, visual indicators) can fulfill these same functions, and may in fact end up feeling more innovative because points once accumulated, well, always feel like numbers. Sometimes it is more elegant and therefore more desirable in the sake of directness of purpose to use these other methods than to rely on the tried-and-true method of points. Points are a good tool for the above purposes, but like all tools, they can be dangerous to a game design.