Player-Defined Goals

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

Not all goals in games are created by game designers. Player can easily create their own goals in a game making use of possible game states and actions available to themselves, and thereby add Player-Defined Goals to any game. However, games can encourage this through their design and even have rules on how such goals can be set up as well as check when they have been completed (although this of course does not hinder players from adding other Player-Defined Goals that ignore these rules).


Player-Defined Goals are employed generally in Diplomacy as players can set their own secret goals and strategies, but the impact of the patterns is more evident when some players agree to form (often secret) pacts against other players. However, the goals are only agreements between players and they are not explicitly stated in the game mechanics or rules.

The SimCity series and most of other Simulation Games (for example Minecraft) are good examples of games where Player-Defined Goals are not only possible but also integral to the rewarding gameplay. This since the gameplay often is open to the point where there are no winning conditions and interacting with the games without your own goals easily becomes perceived as meaningless.

Using the pattern

Games can provide support for defining the Player-Defined Goals so the game system can automatically detect successes and failure as well as applying Penalties or Rewards. However, this is not necessary for Player-Defined Goals to be part of a game design. In fact, players can add their own goals to any game so the pattern can exist in any game, and is for that reason a possible Subjective Pattern in any game. However, it can be encouraged by providing players with information so they can see that certain series of actions and activities can result in specific outcomes and can therefore be potential Player-Defined Goals. These Player-Defined Goals can also Mutual Goals in that several players agree to have them; In contrast, goals that are both Mutual and Player-Defined and are created through game rules require players to engage in Negotiation — especially when a game forces players to create such goals.

High Score Lists is an example of a pattern that can help players defined their own goals since it provides players with the information they need to set up a goal of their own (beating a certain score or getting onto the list). Likewise, a Game State Overview can provide players with sufficient information for them to create their own goals but in this case the overviews can also provides players with continuous information about how close they are to reaching their Player-Defined Goals. These two patterns help players create their own goals by providing them with information about the current or past game instances, other patterns support the creation of Player-Defined Goals through the actions they provide. Examples of such patterns include Betting, Bidding, Collecting, and Construction (the latter when coupled with Creative Control). They do this by providing actions that relate to various game elements but in ways which make thinking of varying amount of these game elements, and this provides opportunities to create goals. Another type of encouragement for Player-Defined Goals comes through Player-Planned Development. Here the action of planned for future development is in principle setting up goals and while they are perhaps more restricted than the other type of examples they are still defined by players.

Other patterns typically do not conflict with Player-Defined Goals. Even Predefined Goals does not need to be a problem since they can form a basis upon which other Player-Defined Goals can be created. One of the few that can be seen as conflicting is Goal Indicators since these draw players' attention to Predefined Goals during gameplay and can therefore draw their attention away from defining goals of their own.


Player-Defined Goals let players have Creative Control in games and can add Freedom of Choice regarding which goals are available. While any goal can provide Anticipation and Emotional Engrossment, Player-Defined Goals have additional possibilities to do so because players can choose them to fit what they find most interesting as well as the fact that the goals can be perceived as their goals. If the goals can be changed during gameplay then the goals have Dynamic Goal Characteristics (and Player-Defined Goals supports this unless the game has a mechanized system in which players need define the goals in relation to the game state).

The goals defined by players are typically Optional Goals and, in many cases, also Ephemeral Goals. When defined based on the existence of other players' goals they can inject Preventing Goals into a game and since players can add Rewards or Penalties outside the game system they can also provide Extra-Game Consequences.

One effect of Player-Defined Goals is that they can allow players to have closures in Unwinnable Games. This can in practice let players have winning conditions for a game of their own built upon the game or can simply add structure to what otherwise may be perceived as one long continuous experience without variation.


Can Instantiate

Anticipation, Creative Control, Dynamic Goal Characteristics, Emotional Engrossment, Ephemeral Goals, Extra-Game Consequences, Freedom of Choice, Optional Goals, Preventing Goals

with Mutual Goals


Can Modulate

Mutual Goals, Penalties, Rewards, Unwinnable Games

Can Be Instantiated By

Betting, Bidding, Collecting, Game State Overview, High Score Lists, Player-Planned Development

Construction with Creative Control

Can Be Modulated By


Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Goal Indicators


An updated version of the pattern Player Defined Goals that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.