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I am essentially making deathrace the game. How do I give players incentive to finish or participate in the race instead of strictly deathmatching on the race track.

Edit More Detail:

General Race Rules:

  1. Death during the race knocks you out of the race
  2. Weapons and defensive tools are picked by player at the start of the race where they are limited by the amount of "space" on the weapon and defensive system
  3. Using a weapon increases the heat of the weapon system. certain weapons within a cars weapon system can only be used if the weapon systems temperature is below a certain threshold
  4. Defensive systems are power based, where certain defensive tools can only be used if a cars power if above a certain threshold
  5. Killing other players is fun but not required to win the race
  6. Finishing the race or completing a lap or making progress around the track grants X

Where X is something I can't make appealing enough to dissuade player from just deathmatching on the race track.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you tell us more about your game mechanics? How does the player score points? Is there any kind of race-to-race profession system? How do players engage with each other now? \$\endgroup\$ – Josh Feb 13 '18 at 16:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ There are a million answers to this. \$\endgroup\$ – Almo Feb 13 '18 at 16:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've added more specifics. while typing I was thinking about making forward speed charge the defensive system and cool off the weapons system. where power is slowly drained and weapons system heat is gained when the car moves slowly \$\endgroup\$ – DNS_Jeezus Feb 13 '18 at 16:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to clarify: is this a problem you've observed during play testing? If so, please share some of the info / feedback you've gotten about the problem. If you haven't actually had this problem, you may be attempting to fix things that aren't actually broken... \$\endgroup\$ – Pikalek Feb 13 '18 at 16:37
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An economy system or unlock progression could be a good way to motivate this.

Here, you'd have a wide variety of parts - weapon & defensive tools with differing style & effectiveness, or vehicles with more or different arrangements of weapon & defensive system space, or additional characteristics like cooling rate perks. You'd gate some of these parts so that the player can't use them all in their very first race.

The gate could be a cost you need to pay or point threshold you need to hit to unlock a part type for use, or even a modest installation fee you pay every time you want to equip a part.

Killing all of the other players gets you a win and lets you advance to the next race, but is not the most effective way to earn the points or currency used to get new gear.

Instead, every time the player completes a lap (or even better, at every checkpoint) they earn a batch of this currency.

The value can increase from lap to lap (so I want to get to the late laps for maximum earning), or even award a bonus for the number of competitors still in the race (fictionally: your audience likes watching a more dramatic, contested race) - this encourages the player to play like a race and get ahead early, rather than thin the competition first before picking up an easy few laps with fewer opponents to fight.

Winning the race by crossing the finish line can grant the biggest pot of currency, making it a clear carrot to draw players forward.

So players who want to race with better and better equipment (or at least, more customized to their style) want to get far in the race to build up their points/currency for the next race.

Of course, at some point you'll run out of new & interesting gear to offer, so you can keep the motivation going with things like...

  • "Prestige" levels the player can advertise on their name/profile for others to see ("I've earned enough points to unlock everything three times over!"

  • Leaderboards for the top-scoring/earning players today / this week / this month

  • Vanity customizations purchased / unlocked with the same points or currency (colour changing, decals)

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Time

You could make the main race partly against the users own time. For example money for upgrades is given for winning, but achievements are for beating records.

Peanlty

You could have a referee that punishes you for unnecessary violence. It would potentially be unfair and would be hard to code, but a simple implementation could be slowing down to attack targets or not accelerating when you are clearly able to adds to an invisible penalty point counter. As the penalty points rise the crowd starts booing you. The penalty points are then used to punish the player with a low score or less money.

"Magic trick"

Or hide a trick that the enemies get harder to kill and more dangerous the fewer of them there are. Set it so a player can easily kill one or two opponents but as the pack thins the player is up against opponents beyond their skill. A 'deathmatching' player will probably not notice anything other than that their strategy isn't working and try to race through getting only a few kills where necessary, the big flaw here is players finding out and that ruing the game or making a meta strategy of not letting players through.

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I liked both answers already given, but wanted another idea:

What if, players that do not run through the race are punished for it?

Maybe the last player is the "Grim Reaper" who runs very slowly through the stage, but anytime it catches another player, it kills them. This is a Death Race after all.

Also, if a player manages to run so fast, to catch the Grim Reaper with a lap difference, they can either be forced to stay back and battle other players (By making the Grim kill players behind it as well - encourages fighting) or you can reward the player with something like "You just passed the Grim Reaper, you get a reward (upgraded weapons/armor?) but now the Grim is directly behind you!

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