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[TiGD] Player goals 1: Motivating players' goals

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jwarrend
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Ok, time for a new series in the TiGD. These next few weeks, we'll be discussing different categories of "player goals"; what are the players supposed to be doing? Winning some sort of race? Acquiring the most cash? Something else?

What I want to kick off with is a discussion about how we, as designers, go about selecting a good set of goals for our players. For myself, I find it's not too hard to create themed mechanics, but then I'm always left with the question "yeah, but what are the players trying to accomplish while using these great mechanics?"

What I don't want so much is a superficial discussion where everyone gives their process, which I bet for 90% of us sounds like this: "First I think of a theme. Then I make [a goal/some mechanics] based on the theme and then [some mechanics/a goal]." What I want the conversation to focus on more is how we go about setting up goals for the players; does it flow from the theme? Does it flow from the mechanics? Does it depend on the game? Or the kind of player experience we're trying to create? How important are the goals to the enjoyment of the game? How much can the goals change during the development of the game?

These, or any other questions, are open for discussion. I'll chime in with my own thoughts on the subject at some point, but for now, the floor is yours!

-Jeff

Anonymous
[TiGD] Player goals 1: Motivating players' goals

Great topic, and one that is currently high on my list of priorities since I am developing a game that includes player goals.

jwarrend wrote:
What I want the conversation to focus on more is how we go about setting up goals for the players; does it flow from the theme? Does it flow from the mechanics? Does it depend on the game? Or the kind of player experience we're trying to create?

Wow! Great question and one without an easy and direct answer. My first response is to think that it wouldn't make sense for the goals of a game to not be a reflection of the theme of the game. After all, it is only intuitive that a game about gold mining should have a goal that players accumulate gold. But then the more I think about it, there are plenty of possibilities that the goals of the game have nothing to do with the theme of the game itself.

I'll use my most recent game, Ghost Hunters, as an example. One of the goals is to hunt ghosts and other preternatural creatures, however, that only accounts for about one-fifth or so of the players' final scores. As a designer, I wanted players to have multiple paths to victory so I created a series of goals for each player. For example, a player with a warrior character will gain bonus VP if their strength ability score progresses higher than all the other players.

In this game, the selection of the goals was done with the player experience in mind. The variety of goals were dictated either by the theme of the game (destroying creatures) or by the mechanics of the game (since players have abilities, some goals are based on those abilities).

There are probably games where the goals are dependant strictly on the theme, especially games with only a single goal. With that in mind, I would answer your question as follows:

The number and variety of player goals would depend mainly on the game and the designer's intent for the players' experience. From there, the goals would flow as a natural and intuitive extension of the theme and the mechanics of the game--though goals don't need to reflect both aspects of the game.

sedjtroll
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[TiGD] Player goals 1: Motivating players' goals

SiskNY wrote:
Great topic, and one that is currently high on my list of priorities since I am developing a game that includes player goals.

I haven't worked on a game with player goals yet, but I plan to in the future...

But seriously, I think the goal comes directly from the theme. For the most part mechanics are some system, some process which doesn't necessarily have a beginning or an end. I suppose some mechanics can have an implied starting point and ending point, those could be the exception to the rule. Wheather you design your game theme-first or mechanics-first, the goal of the game is directly related to the theme.

Or rather, it's not at all related...

Let me explain.

Look at the player goals in Settlers (expand and build settlements, upgrade to cities), Puerto Rico (develop production of goods and build buildings), and for a local example All For One (complete missions for the King or Cardinal)

Now look atgain at player goals in Settlers (accumulate VPs), Puerto Rico (accumulate VPs), and All For One (accumulate VPs).

I'm not sure what I'm saying here- maybe that player goals are (or at least can be) pasted onto any game and then justified by the theme. In some cases this is clearly not true. In Formula De or any other racing game- first accross the line wins, and it pretty much has to be that way because of the theme. In Magic the player goals seem to be based on mechanics more than anything else, elements of the game "deal damage," and when you take enough damage you lose. The idea that you're "beating someone up" in some way fits that mechanic pretty well.
I'm not sure if the way to go is to figure out the game system, then see what makes sense for win conditions, or if the win conditions dictate the other mechanics. I'm sure it's a mix.

An interesting question might be less which influences what and more "Are win conditions the same as player goals?"

- Seth

jwarrend
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[TiGD] Player goals 1: Motivating players' goals

sedjtroll wrote:
SiskNY wrote:
Great topic, and one that is currently high on my list of priorities since I am developing a game that includes player goals.

I haven't worked on a game with player goals yet, but I plan to in the future...

Minor clarification; this series isn't just about "little g goals", as in each player gets a goal card with things he has to do by the game end in order to get VPs; rather we're talking about "Big G Goals", ie, how does a player win the game in the first place. I think you guys get that, (Seth obviously does!) just want to clarify so no one else gets confused...

Anonymous
[TiGD] Player goals 1: Motivating players' goals

Sorry if I caused any confusion, my reply was geared towards both little-g goals and big-g Goals in a game, being that both are similar (one being a common shared goal or goals, the other being more character-specific goals). In the end, my comments should apply semi-well to both aspects of goals in a game.

Zzzzz
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Re: [TiGD] Player goals 1: Motivating players' goals

Ok in order to get my thought process in the right place, I will try to direct my input toward jwarrend's stated questions....

jwarrend wrote:
Does it flow from the theme?

Sometimes

jwarrend wrote:
Does it flow from the mechanics?

Sometimes

jwarrend wrote:
Does it depend on the game?

Maybe

jwarrend wrote:
Or the kind of player experience we're trying to create?

That works also

jwarrend wrote:
How important are the goals to the enjoyment of the game?

Very

jwarrend wrote:

How much can the goals change during the development of the game?

Sometimes too much.

Ok before I really look like a jerk(since I am not trying to be one), I guess what I am saying is that I think everything jwarrend stated (and even more) can influence the creation of player goals for a game.

But with that stated, I tend to tackle goals in a direction that allow the player to assess their participation and enjoyment level of a game. Have some goals that allow a player to feel success and failure. You many want to have goals that allow a player to determine what position/how well they are going in the game.

I tend to also consider player goals that will interact with "human emotions". Put a goal that allows a player to get excited and trash talk when they are "in the lead", etc.

Another related question (I think), how do you attempt to create player goals, so various games you create, dont seem to have the same basic goal feel to them? (ie, game foo I created uses VP, but so do games X, Y, and Z). How do you help force goal variation between games you create?

(after proofing my post before submitting, I feel I might be way off track and rambling... but I still posted, in hopes that I stated something useful)

Anonymous
[TiGD] Player goals 1: Motivating players' goals

Hmm... Interesting question, and a good one too. I think that one thing that will have a profound effect on player Goals is game type. Specifically, is this an Abstract game or is it a Simulation (or Themed) game? Take for example Cheapass Game's Very Clever Pipe Game. Why would you put these pipes together? No reason, just abstract fun. Thus the player Goal can be pretty much whatever you want it to be because there is no illusion or Theme that your Goal might break.

Most games however, are a combination of Abstract and Theme (Settlers has an expansion theme, but is highly abstracted) and in these cases you can (and often do) generally get away with simple VP goals where VP accumulation is tied to the primary activity of the game. Sticking with Settlers, the main goal of the game is to Expand, so you are awarded VPs for Expanding.

Which brings me to the idea that Goals are one of the single most powerful tools a designer is able to bring to bear on player behavior. If you want to get players to Expand, then the victory condition should be tied to Expansion. This is extremely elementary, and probably obvious to everyone. The flip side of this is that as a designer you should avoid the inclusion of elements that do not in some way contribute to accomplishing Goals.

Since i tend to fall on the Abstract end of the design scale ("But why am i moving these little guys around the board?" "Because that's how you win, now hurry up and move!") my goals tend to be rather abstract as well. This usually boils down to: what goal provides a reasonable level of challenge and a the desired play time.

So while i do not know if it will necessarily apply to all games, often Goals are an outgrowth of how long a game should take. Imagine how much shorter a game of Settlers would be if you only needed 8 (or even 6) points to win... There are other factors, but i know that time is one of them.

Thomas

Scurra
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[TiGD] Player goals 1: Motivating players' goals

In the thread that kicked this debate off, Jeff was trying to identify what different sorts of player goals there might be.
Fundamentally, I think there are probably only two types of game in terms of identifying " player goals": the race-game and the optimising game.

The race-game is one in which the first player to reach the "finishing line" wins. This can often be well disguised (the classic and hugely underrated mid-50s game* "Careers" is a terrific example of this) in that the finishing line may well not be marked on the board, but essentially what is driving the players is the desire to reach that finish line first.

The optimising game is the other basic way of driving the players - how to make best use of resources so that when the finish line is reached it is the player who made best use of them that wins, regardless of how that game-end was triggered.

And my guess is that the distinction is that in the first case the game drives the players and in the second the players drive the game. However, I'm not suggesting that race-games don't have their fair share of optimisation (or vice-versa) because this is an absurdly broad generalisation.
In a race-game such as Settlers, there are certainly optimisation elements (that's why the trading is there, after all), but you can't change those dice rolls. In an optimisation game such as Puerto Rico, the player has to adapt to everything that the other players do - they can't rely on an outside random element to help them (well, that's not entirely true: the other players are a perfectly good random factor ;-)

I don't know where exactly my argument is going here (beyond saying that I find designing "race" games much tougher than "optimising" ones because creating that illusion of control doesn't come easily to me) so I'll stop before I come over all pretentious.

[*no, I couldn't believe that either :-) But apparently the first version of Careers appeared in 1956.]

Anonymous
experience...

The goal should be the experience. Do I have fun playing the game (win or lose)?

There are gret mechanics and goals and such but if they don't add up to fun, why bother? (not to go off on dissecting fun...)

Overall the goal should be something the people are interested in doing. Expand my roads, towns and cities? Yeah, I can do that, and better than you! (settlers)

Win the race? Yeah, I can do that, and better than you! (race game of your choice)

Collect cubes, and the lowest colored cube is the one you score? Ummm... I get to place tiles and cause conflicts, right? Okay, I can do that better than you! (Tigris & Euphrates)

The goal must engage the people to compete against each other. The olympic saying, faster, stronger, higher translates to: faster, smarter, luckier(?) in our case.

I think the theme of the game can really help this, as people can often see the end result easier, and is one of the reasons abstract games are often lost on people.

Plus I think it must be said that when VPs are the result of actions its easier to understand. IE I build the most towns and biggest roads so I'm rewarded with VPs, instead of how do I get the most VPs? I build the most roads... Or maybe that's just an issue of symantics?

But I don't think so, and that's why "easy/elegant" scoring is important, so that people realize the connection between what they do in the game, and who wins and why. (I just played Amun Re and felt that my playing was defeated by the scoring; 1. because I didn't score right away for doing something [no instant feedback gratification], 2. my efforts in the first half are wiped out to start again, 3. the scoring was difficult to understand at first compared to the long term payout. While I realize this game will be easier to understand w/more playings the goal of build the most pyramids wasn't all that clear vs. get the most farmers or collect the most special cards because they all got scored later...)

Sorry for going a bit off tangent but I think the goals have to be clear for the game to be fun, and it seems now that with designers putting such an emphasis on multiply ways of winning the point of the game can get muddled.

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