How to design a good completion bonus

A few weeks back I had finally took it upon myself to complete Kingdom Hearts 3. This meant doing every gummi mission, every flan mini-game, finding every hidden Mickey, and so on. I scoured every inch of the game until I squeezed every last bit of content out of it. What did I get for my troubles?

The Ultima Weapon keyblade, the best keyblade in the game. It comes fully upgraded, gives you an incredible boost in strength and magic, has absolutely broken forms that let you teleport around the battlefield, has a shotlock that nukes the screen, and it just plain looks awesome! I have never had more fun with any of the keyblades the game had to offer.

…and I barely ever used it.

Not so ultimate weapon

The Ultima Weapon is a prime example of a bad completion bonus. While you’ll probably be able to figure it out via context clues, a completion bonus is the reward you get for finally doing everything the game has to offer. This makes them tricky to design, because the game is over by its very nature by the time you obtain the completion bonus.

To be fair, the Ultima Weapon is actually sort of a pseudo completion bonus. You still have a bunch of achievements to unlock and you can go out of your way to find every treasure in the game, but you will still have seen most of the game’s content. In fact, due to achievements and trophies most “completion bonuses” are pseudo completion bonuses these days.

So why was the Ultima Weapon such a bad completion bonus if it was a genuinely cool weapon? Simply put, there was nothing to use it on. I had already beaten the biggest challenges the game had to throw my way without the Ultima Weapon. All I could do was either grind on random enemies, or defeat the final boss again.

It’s a shame because it could have been an amazing completion bonus if…

Suggestion #1: Include a New Game +

This is a rule that is so easy to follow and makes such a difference. The Ultima Weapon could have been an amazing completion bonus if I was able to restart the game with it in my inventory. I likely would have jacked up the difficulty and taken on the game again with my new arsenal. I would have had an amazing time taking this weapon into fights with the games many bosses and hug set pieces. Suddenly you’ve turned a useless completion bonus into an incredible one.

The recently released Devil May Cry 5 does a phenomenal job with its New Game + modes. By the time you have unlocked every weapon, item, and skill in the game, there are still higher difficulty levels to unlock. After you unlock them, there are still SSS ranks to earn. After you earn them there are still trophies to earn. There’s even secret endings to see when you use your late game abilities on early bosses. Not only that, but you’ll unlock a bunch of extra weapons that can make the game easier or harder at your liking. Everything you earn during the game can be used from the very first mission to the very last. This should be the norm for any completion bonus.

Suggestion #2: Make the bonus mechanical

Since we are talking about how to design a good completion bonus, here’s another good rule. You are designing a video game. Your bonus should be something you can use in the game.

Many games decide to lock away concept art, music players, or other sorts of assets as their completion bonus. These never feel good. While yes, looking at concept art is always a treat, it never feels like a worthy reward for doing everything the game has to offer. Many designers decide to use these as completion bonuses simply because it sidesteps the problem of having nothing to use in game mechanical bonuses on.

Going back to Kingdom Hearts for a second, it was common practice to include a teaser for the next game as a completion bonus. This is as close as anyone has gotten to defying this rule, but it still has its own issues. Most notably, YouTube exists. Any sort of music, assets, or videos that you get from completing the game can be found just as easily by plugging a few terms into a search engine. Look at that, now there’s no reason to actually complete your game.

Suggestion #3: Break the rules of the game

So a major issue with creating mechanical completion bonuses is that your players will have already experienced your game. So you can’t just give them something that makes them more powerful, since they will have already encountered the toughest challenges your game has to throw at them.

What do you do? Think outside the box! Let them break the rules of your game in ways they never should have been able to.

Sonic Mania is a great example of this philosophy. By earning enough medals through Get Blue Spheres stages, you will unlock debug mode. While, yes, debug mode does let you become super powerful whenever you want, it also lets you screw with level design, place power-ups and enemies everywhere, and generally mess with the game’s mechanics. It turns a platformer into a sandbox! That’s brilliant. It doesn’t matter that all the game’s challenges have been conquered because players can now make their own fun!

GTA and Red Dead Redemption also broke their own rules by letting you be above the law once you have successfully completed the game. This allowed you to turn a restrictive mission based open world into, once again, a sandbox for your crime whims.

Suggestion #4: Ask yourself, is this something I’d want to invest hundreds of hours obtaining

(In Devil May Cry 5 you can unlock live action test footage for every cutscene)

There are lots of other ways to make a good completion bonuses. Creativity is the key. Just remember that players are going to spend a significant amount of time obtaining this bonus. A simple costume probably isn’t worth 100 hours of your time, but here are a few things that are.

  • A directors commentary track that plays context sensitive insights on game design as you go through the game
  • Weapons, items, or armor that were cut from the final design process due to tone or theme reasons
  • Additional modes that cater to the type of person who might want to squeeze every bit of content out of a game, like a speedrun mode.

Just remember, your completion bonus needs to make your players feel special. They have already played your game to the fullest extent. You don’t want them to just give up on it now. You want them to play just a few more hours with the shiny reward you just gave them.