Friday, January 9, 2015

Thoughts on Winning: Goals Besides Winning

“When playing a game, the goal is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning.”
― Reiner Knizia
This is one of my favorite game quotes, it encapsulates what designers need to keep in mind when thinking about what keeps a player engaged with a game long term. When playing a game, attempting to win that game will get a player to the end. Having a goal besides winning will bring the player back to the game again and again.
Players create goals in-game and out of game that affect players attitudes towards a game. They can be categorized in two major ways.

Game Created Goals

These are goals that are created by the game itself. These goals are created by the major mechanic of the game. When planning a game around a mechanic, keep in mind the challenges you are presenting to the player to overcome on the way to winning.

For example, in a dexterity games and sports, the players attempt to increase their skill in playing the game. By honing in on physical skills involved with playing the game, the players can keep a competitive edge over opponents and have a better chance of winning. At the same time the desire to overcome physical limitations and acquire new skills will keep players interested and returning to the game.

Mental challenges to the player is far more predominantly in board games. Puzzle elements in games need to walk a fine line between being challenging, and solvable. In an attempt to win players will learn to solve the puzzle faster. The design challenge is if the puzzle is too complex, no one will solve it, or want to, and if it’s too easy, then experienced players lose interest when the perceived difficulty is removed.

For games that create an engine of some sort, economic or otherwise, the players goal to win the game becomes optimizing the system. Designers challenge the player to find every way possible to make their engine as efficient as possible. Where the reward of efficiency is winning the game. Experienced players find continued challenges with the system through conflict with other players attempting to do the same thing.

Player Created Goals

These are goals that are created by the players, but facilitated through the game. In these games the interactions between players is the major determiner as to who wins the game. Players need to having knowledge of the gaming group to outperform each other within the scope of the game. For example, negotiation games create an extra layer between players to play off each other strengths and weaknesses. Knowing the other players can create better deals over the course of the game to bring victory. Players remember how they treat each other in trading games, creating expectation for future trades that affects play-styles along with altering the conditions they need to end the game on favorable terms.

Games that allow for a heavy ‘take-that’ element rely on players desire to cause grief to their fellow players which allow them to win the game. One note of caution though, these external motivations can find their way into game that tries not to have them. A designer needs to imagine a player coming to the table with the strict goal of making someone miserable. Or to try and exploit a non-game winning loophole just to see if they can get away with it. Because if we don’t want players doing it, we have to make sure they can’t. Because if they can, some one will.

These goals besides winning exist, being aware of them and crafting those experiences create richer experiences for the player.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting point! However, the examples you give all feel like skills to improve in order to win the game, making them more like optional subgoals of the main goal (winning) rather than separate goals in of themselves.

    Some goals that I can think of that stand on their own include:

    - Aesthetic / completist goals ("I want to complete this set of cards!", "I want to have the longest road!", "I want the prettiest castle layout"), where a player prioritizes their attachment to in-game actions over attempting to win the game.

    - Vindictive goals ("I want to get there before you!", "I want to steal your item!", "I want to knock you out of the game!"), where players prioritize disrupting another player's goals over improving their own standing.

    Great food for thought!

    By the way, your comment system seems a little janky... When I hit 'Publish' the first time, my comment simply disappeared. I had to hit 'Preview' twice before I was prompted to log into my account to actually post a message.