Optional Goals

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Goals that players do not need to complete in order to win or finish a game.

Most games provides goals for players to work towards as a way of suggesting or informing about what intentions players should have. While many games have goals that make players win or goals that are required to fulfill in order to have a possibility to win, games often have goals that are optional in that players don't need to complete them. Reaching these Optional Goals may help players in reaching goals that let them win a game but can also simply exist to provide players with suggestions for activities that they may find interesting.


Collecting extra hearts in the Legend of Zelda series help players succeed with other goals in the games, including the ones required to complete the games. Similarly, the games in the Final Fantasy series provide many Quests that give experience points and objects when they are fulfilled but they are not necessary to solve to complete the game. While collection Power Stars in Super Mario 64 and the Super Mario Galaxy games are required to unlock new Levels and ultimately complete the game, players do not need to collect all Power Stars. This makes collecting some of them Optional Goals, namely those not collected when reaching enough collected Power Stars to unlock a new Level. The secret areas in the Wolfenstein series or Doom series offer several types of Rewards to players, but finding these areas are not required to complete the game. After accidentally finding one, or being informed by other players that they exist, players can suspect that others exist and set up goals for themselves to find all.

The Ultima series supports many type of activities, e.g. baking bread or changing diapers, that are not part of a series of goals that need to be completed to finish the game. However, they do provide players with many Optional Goals since they may be part of small Quests or can simply encourage the Optional Goals of succeeding with the actions. The game Day of the Tentacle contains the whole predecessor, Maniac Mansion, as part of a game console that is within the game. The whole inner game can be finished in Day of the Tentacle without providing any advantage to the outer game.

The Assassin's Creed series allow players to collect certain items, find certain places, or perform certain actions in certain places to reach Achievements. These offer players additional goals that they can choose to strive towards, thereby providing them with Optional Goals. Most games with Achievements have similar Optional Goals making this a very common way the pattern emerges, with carrying the gnome Chompski throughout a whole level as a particular example from the Left 4 Dead series.

Later instances in the Assassin's Creed series let players try to complete goals in more difficult ways. This provides an Optional Goal to another goal, which may be an Optional Goal in itself. Completing games in Ironman Mode, as is possible for example in the Europa Universalis series, can be seen as an example of this as well.

Using the pattern

One of the primary design choices when considering Optional Goals is if the game should keep track of these or if they should just be suggested to players as goals they can set for themselves without confirmations of success or failure from the game. Games can of course have both so it is a decision that needs to be taken for each Optional Goal.

There are many ways of creating Optional Goals, either as explicit goals within the game itself or as part of meta games.

Endgame Quests is another type of Optional Goals since they be definition is something players can do after they have finished what is considered either the main gameplay or the mandatory preparation phases one need to go through.

Looking at goals that are not defined within the framework of the actual game system, Achievements are one way of creating Optional Goals in that they are goals that players in many cases can choose to do more or less independently of the game goals of a game. This is particularly the case for Handicap Achievements as when setting their sight on these players have opted to do things in a more difficult way than necessary. Most Player-Defined Goals are this also as they most often are voluntarily to create and not part of the formal system of the game rules. Through this they are are optional, and encouraging players to make their own Player-Defined Goals is by extension a way of encouraging players to take on Optional Goals.

Optional Goals can be used to modify Ephemeral Goals so they do not have to be completed. They can also be used to provide more details to Factions by letting players have a multitude of goals that show the wishes, needs, and intentions that faction members have.

x of y goals make (y-x) goals optional

Implicit or explicit Optional Goals

Finding out about them after Levels have been completed (Level Summaries)

Can Be Instantiated By

Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences, Companion Quests, Easter Eggs, Environmental Storytelling, Information Passing, Loyalty, Minigames, Open Destiny, Secret Areas, Sidequests, Speedruns

Game Items together with Sets

Rewards with Time Limits

Optional Objectives Iron Man

Can Be Modulated By

Strategic Knowledge, Trading

Interface Aspects

In games with Levels, the presence of Optional Goals tracked by the game can be indicated by Level Summaries. This allows players to become aware of them, letting them know that similar goals may appear in future Levels as well as encouraging Replayability if not all of these goals were completed.


Optional Goals can serve many purposes in a game. They can be Supporting Goals to the main goals of a game, create Selectable Set of Goals, populate otherwise sparsely filled Goal Hierarchies, and provide Challenging Gameplay not only from what they contain but from requiring players to choose what goals to pursue. More generally, they can provide players with a Freedom of Choice and offer Replayability between game instances since players may wish to try and complete more or all goals. The former can also be created through a combination of Optional and Ephemeral Goals in which case players do not need to plan for them but may have to interrupt other plans when they emerge.

While Achievements and Handicap Achievements can create Optional Goals, Optional Goals that are created as part of the goal structures of a game can easily be made into Achievements and Handicap Achievements and the patterns can instantiate each other. Optional Goals can also be made into Goal Achievements, which provide an extra meta game encouragement for players to attempt those Optional Goals. Another types of Achievements, Grind Achievements, can easily be constructed from Optional Goals related to acquiring Collections.


Can Instantiate

Achievements, Challenging Gameplay, Freedom of Choice, Goal Achievements, Goal Hierarchies, Handicap Achievements, Replayability, Selectable Set of Goals, Supporting Goals

with Collections

Grind Achievements

with Ephemeral Goals

Freedom of Choice

Can Modulate

Ephemeral Goals, Factions

Can Be Instantiated By

Achievements, Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences, Companion Quests, Easter Eggs, Endgame Quests, Environmental Storytelling, Handicap Achievements, Information Passing, Iron Man, Loyalty, Minigames, Open Destiny, Optional Objectives, Player-Defined Goals, Secret Areas, Sidequests, Speedruns

Game Items together with Sets

Rewards with Time Limits

Can Be Modulated By

Level Summaries, Strategic Knowledge, Trading

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



An updated version of the pattern Optional 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.