Player-Planned Development

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The possibility for players to plan how game state values and entities should be able to develop.

The game elements that are under players control in many games develop over time. Some games let players influence this development through explicit choices and planning besides the direct short-term consequences of their gameplay actions. These games have Player-Planned Development.


Part of creating one's characters in Roleplaying Games such as Dungeons & Dragons, Hârnmaster, Fiasco, and the Elder Scrolls series typically consist of giving them long-term goals, even if they may primarily be long-term in the diegesis. This also applies for Live Action Roleplaying Games, especially for those that span several events, e.g College of Wizardry, Krigshjärta, and campaigns using the Mind's Eye Theatre.

Strategy Games such as Master of Orion and the Civilization series encourage players to put together long-term plans for how their civilizations should develop. Multiplayer Online Battle Arena Games such as the Defense of the Ancients series and League of Legends show how planned development can be important even in games where each game instance last for less than an hour typically.

Using the pattern

Player-Planned Development is typically introduced in games to let players have control over some game elements, e.g. Player Characters, Player Created Game Elements, or Teams.

More concretely, Player-Planned Development requires players to be given control over the development of some part of the game state overtime. This makes Freedom of Choice an important supporting pattern for Player-Planned Development to be possible. The development can in its simplest form relate just to Gain Competence goals or how players can get Improved or New Abilities. However, richer planning can be allowed by supporting Abstract Player Construct Development or Character Development (which naturally require the presence of Abstract Player Constructs or Characters also). A less common alternative is to allow players to plan the development of Factions. The actual development typically takes place as effects of Rewards or Unlocking or Abilities. The actual gameplay actions resulting of these depend on the type of game and the type of development, but Character Defining Actions are a class of actions that can signify Player-Planned Development. As omnipotent controllers of games, Game Masters can make all these options possible in games but can also be the ones that cause gameplay events that directly cause Player-Planned Development.

A number of patterns can modify how Player-Planned Development can occur given it is possible. Persistent Game Worlds typically lets the scale for Player-Planned Development be larger than otherwise and can more clearly make work regarding this into Investments. Predefined Goals removes the freedom from players to choose what goals to plan for but not necessarily their ability to plan for it. Dynamic Goal Characteristics can require players to change their plans as the game context changes and Unknown Goals make it a challenge simply to figure out what the goals are so one can start the planning. Linking particular developments to goals that are Incompatible Goals in relation to each other forces players to choose between these.

Interface Aspects

The use of Player-Planned Development often requires that players can access information about what development is possible. This may be provided both from within Game Worlds and through Secondary Interface Screens.

Narrative Aspects

Allowing Player-Planned Development is a way for letting players modify Narration Structures. However, the presence of Narration Structures can also hinder the freedom players have regarding this, so the patterns can work against each other also.


Letting players have Player-Planned Development have several consequences on game designs. It lets players have Creative Control, aim for specific Competence Areas, choose their own Player-Defined Goals, and can strengthen their Identification with the game elements they can develop. Working toward these are Continuous Goals with can provide Anticipation and motivate Stimulated Planning, potentially in the form of pure Extra-Game Actions. While Player-Planned Development can cause players to have Exaggerated Perception of Influence they have, i.e. they may be under an Illusion of Influence, it can support the perception that they game elements under their control have an Open Destiny.

Player-Planned Development can cause players to view other parts of the game design differently. Privileged Abilities can become goals to achieve, especially if one aims at particular Competence Areas but can also steer the development towards these so the patterns affect each other. It may motivate players to adjust their Roleplaying so it diegetically fits the planned development. Further, Player-Planned Development] modifies how Team Development functions when they pattern affects members of Teams.

Having Player-Planned Development may cause Enforced Agent Behavior in order to achieve the planned development, but the presence of Enforced Agent Behavior unrelated to such planning works against it. It can also cause Internal Conflicts since gameplay options provide may set different parts of the planned development against each other or may work against what is best from a short-term perspective or one related to winning a game.

In games where the game instances go on for long period of times, e.g. in games with Persistent Game Worlds, the work players to both in planning and actual gameplay actions performed towards having Player-Planned Development can be seen as Investments and provide players with a clear measure of Value of Effort for them. However, Persistent Game Worlds is not the only way for Player-Planned Development to support Value of Effort, it can equally validly be provided through having Characters for which players can plan their development.


Can Instantiate

Anticipation, Competence Areas, Continuous Goals, Creative Control, Enforced Agent Behavior, Exaggerated Perception of Influence, Extra-Game Actions, Identification, Illusion of Influence, Internal Conflicts, Open Destiny, Player-Defined Goals, Stimulated Planning

with Characters

Value of Effort

with Persistent Game Worlds

Investments, Value of Effort

Can Modulate

Narration Structures, Player Characters, Player Created Game Elements, Privileged Abilities, Roleplaying, Team Development

Can Be Instantiated By

Character Defining Actions, Factions, Game Masters, Rewards, Unlocking

Abstract Player Constructs together with Abstract Player Construct Development and Freedom of Choice

Characters together with Character Development and Freedom of Choice

Freedom of Choice together with Gain Competence, Improved Abilities, or New Abilities

Can Be Modulated By

Dynamic Goal Characteristics, Incompatible Goals, Persistent Game Worlds, Predefined Goals, Privileged Abilities, Secondary Interface Screens, Unknown Goals

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Enforced Agent Behavior, Narration Structures


An updated version of the pattern Planned Character Development 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.