Optional Goals

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

Most games provide 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 fulfil 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

Optional Goals are typically include in games to provide players with a Freedom of Choice although another reason can be that combining the option of taking on a goal with Penalties for failing that goal makes the goal into a Committed Goal.

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. Another design choice - which is independent of the previous choice - is it the Optional Goals should be part of the games themselves or as parts of Meta Games; the latter is in a sense unavoidable since players can decide to make Meta Games through adding some Optional Goals to a game to create another game for themselves, but designers can also encourage players to experience the pursuit of Optional Goals as more or less parts of the game itself.

Typical examples of Optional Goals include Sidequests, Companion Quests, and finding Secret Areas or Easter Eggs. Environmental Storytelling may be part of these or provide indication of that they exist, but Environmental Storytelling can also be Optional Goals in themselves through providing mysteries of what has happened in the Game World. Other common examples include Rewards with Time Limits for how long they can be collected or optional Minigames; these design patterns are not inherently Optional Goals but simply once that can easily be the basis for Optional Goals. Endgame Quests is also 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. Any game where players have a choice of showing Loyalty to an agreement, another player, or an NPC provides an Optional Goal.

An activity in games that nearly always provides Optional Goals is Trading. This is since Trading very rarely is a required action (although it may be very difficult to win a game without doing it, as for example is the case with Advanced Civilization).

Any goals in a game can be made to provide Optional Goals through adding Optional Objectives to them - that is, providing additional requirements to players that are not needed to complete a particular goal but can let players complete the goal in a more limited way. Such Optional Objectives can even provide Optional Goals to Optional Goals.

Any game which have goals consisting of players needing to complete Sets of Game Items but not requiring all possible Game Items can provide Optional Goals, e.g. the Power Stars in Super Mario 64. This since the collection of the remaining Game Items can be done but is not necessary. Cases where the use of Sets and Game Items combinations do not result in Optional Goals is when games remove the surplus Game Items or automatically remove players possibility from performing the collecting actions, e.g. by ending a Level.

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 optional, and encouraging players to make their own Player-Defined Goals is by extension a way of encouraging players to take on Optional Goals. Another way of creating Optional Goals outside the game system itself is through providing an Ironman Mode, as for example the Europa Universalis series and the newer instances of the X-COM series provide. Speedruns is another type of Optional Goal that works outside the game system itself; designers can encourage this through keeping track of how much time players have used but players can take upon themselves to do this for many games even if the designers have not supported it.

For some Optional Goals it is self-evident that they exist simply because they are created by providing certain actions, e.g. Trading or collecting a subset of a Set of Game Items. In other case game designers need to consider how players should become aware of the Optional Goals. Environmental Storytelling and Level Summaries are two away discussed briefly below, but a general way is through Information Passing - often through NPCs (which may be as simple that they are Self-Service Kiosks).

Optional Goals can be used to modify Ephemeral Goals so these do not have to be completed.

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.

Narration Aspects

As mentioned above, Environmental Storytelling can be used both to support Optional Goals or be Optional Goals in themselves. Games with an Open Destiny for Characters or Abstract Player Constructs (such as countries or civilizations) provide Optional Goals in achieving one of the more specific destinies possible. Similarly, Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences offers players Optional Goals in the form of avoiding actions socially frowned upon or being able to handle the responses to performing such actions.

Optional Goals can 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.


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 type of Achievements, Grind Achievements, can easily be constructed from Optional Goals related to acquiring Collections.

Knowledge of what Optional Goals exist naturally affect players possibility to plan what they wish to do in a game. This means that games where players can know specifics about the Optional Goals may constitute Strategic Knowledge which in itself affects how players will relate to the Optional Goals.


Can Instantiate

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

with Collections

Grind Achievements

with Ephemeral Goals

Freedom of Choice

with Penalties

Committed Goals

Can Modulate

Ephemeral Goals, Factions, Goal Hierarchies

Can Be Instantiated By

Achievements, Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences, Companion Quests, Easter Eggs, Endgame Quests, Environmental Storytelling, Handicap Achievements, Information Passing, [[Ironman Mode ]], Loyalty, Meta Games, 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.