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Player Defined Goals

Player Defined Goals

Goals and subgoals that players can create or customize within the game itself.

Structured Player Defined Goals are possible by providing mechanics to let players determine the requirements, rewards, and punishments of the goals by having explicit game rules that govern these goals. By specifying the end conditions and evaluation functions within the game as conditions of the game state, these Player Defined Goals can then be monitored by the game system similarly to other goals.

Example: Player Defined Goals are employed in Diplomacy in a way that the players can set their own secret goals and strategies, but the impact of the Player Defined Goals is more evident when some players agree on acting together against another player. However, the goals are only an agreement between the players and they are not explicitly stated in the game mechanics or rules.

Example: SimCity and most of the other Sim -games are good examples of games where Player Defined Goals are possible and also integral to the resulting gameplay. The gameplay is open as there are no winning conditions provided by the game itself and the game system is complex enough to allow huge amounts of different outcomes. The player is free to choose and pursue as a goal almost any possible game state from building the biggest city to making a strong police state to having fun in bulldozing the suburban areas when they are flourishing.

Using the pattern

Players can always decide why they are playing the game, so that in one sense all games have Player Defined Goals. One category of goals that can be particularly easily constructed independently of the game state is Preventing Goals; players may simply decide that hindering other players from gaining Rewards by completing goals are Rewards in themselves.

Game designs can encourage Player Defined Goals by providing additional forms of Rewards in the game that are not explicitly tied to winning or completing the game. Examples of such Rewards are Easter Eggs and Illusionary Rewards, allowing players to perform Collecting or Construction actions for their own sakes. Creating a Character can give players Player Defined Goals already before actual gameplay begins and can be continued by allowing the Character Development to be Planned Character Development.

When creating support for Player Defined Goals, game designers can choose not to explicitly encode the goals in the game or to provide mechanics for allowing players to explicitly define their goals together with Rewards and Penalties. The former case is typically made possible by having a dynamic system governing the flow of the game that is sufficiently complex enough to allow huge amounts of different outcomes. In the latter case, this often means providing many clearly defined closures to choose from and providing Game State Overviews. If the goals can be changed during gameplay through Dynamic Goal Characteristics, these can offer Freedom of Choice but at the same time affect Player Balance.

However, the evaluation function of rewards and penalties does not need to be constrained by the game. The digital roleplaying games, be they single player or massively multiplayer, use Player Defined Goals in this way. For example, in Dark Age of Camelot the players can agree on attacking a powerful monster together, creating a new Mutual Goal for the players through a Negotiation phase.


Player Defined Goals allow players to set their own reasons for feeling Anticipation and Tension.

The use of Player Defined Goals allows players not only to have Creative Control of how they play a game, or what they create in a game, but also why they play the game. In all these cases, Player Defined Goals support Constructive Play as well as Freedom of Choice. If the goals are not directly enforced by the game, Player Defined Goals can provide Optional Goals. A typical example of such an Optional Goal that players can define for themselves is if they want to participate in Bidding or Betting.

Player Defined Goals that are not controlled through the game mechanics are a form of Extra-Game Consequences, that is, they are not expressed explicitly within the game system itself. These kinds of goal cannot have Penalties for failing to reach the goal besides the already present consequences of failing actions in the game and as the goals are not encoded in the game system there cannot be explicit Goal Indicators. The definitions of the goals are expressed as a player's intention (that other players may or may not be aware of) or as two or more players' agreement to reach a certain game state. There is no in-game end condition or evaluation function for the goal, and the possible Rewards and Penalties are only perceived by the players. These extra-game Player Defined Goals are often volatile, as players can during gameplay choose to pursue totally different goals without any in-game punishment. However, Player Defined Goals can be encoded into the game mechanics of a Meta Game, such as betting on the outcome of another game.

Many classic single-player arcade games, such as Pac-Man, Asteroids, and Tetris, canactually only have Player Defined Goals as high-level goals. Since all these games end in the same fashion ("game over") the games do not provide a way of winning the game within the game itself. High Score Lists provide a ranking to compare one's result against previous results, but this is outside the gameplay itself and how one decides to use the possible comparison for Player Defined Goals does not affect the actual gameplay from a game mechanical point of view. So, players can set their own goals, which can range from getting into the High Score List, beating the previous player, beating their own personal high score, reaching a new level, or just making their game last as long as possible.

Player Defined Goals provide a way of letting players create their own meaning within the game, and since they choose the goals that they subjectively perceive as most rewarding, Player Defined Goals can create more involvement and Emotional Immersion in the game. The pattern can be used as a subtle way of guiding gameplay; by providing a wide range of Player Defined Goals but making some slightly more attractive that others, the game designer can potentially direct the gameplay towards preferred game states. This use can provide the means for directing the players on a large scale without making them feel forced as they make all the decisions on a smaller scale, thus supporting a Narrative Structure without limiting the Freedom of Choice too much. However, strong Narrative Structures are difficult to combine with unrestricted Player Defined Goals since the telling of the Narrative Structure in these cases represents an opposing will from the game designer how the gameplay should develop.


Instantiates: Emotional Immersion, Anticipation, Optional Goals, Creative Control, Freedom of Choice, Preventing Goals, Extra-Game Consequences, Tension

Modulates: Rewards, Mutual Goals

Instantiated by: High Score Lists, Bidding, Character Development, Ephemeral Goals, Construction, Illusionary Rewards, Characters, Betting, Easter Eggs, Collecting, Planned Character Development

Modulated by: Player Balance, Rewards, Penalties, Game State Overview, Negotiation

Potentially conflicting with: Goal Indicators, Narrative Structures

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(C) Æliens 04/09/2009

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