GameDev Protips: How To Use Goals Effectively In Game Design

Goals, goals, goals. In game design, make sure your players always have some kind of goal to accomplish and that they can always reference back to something if they lose focus on the task. Nothing is worse that when you get a task from an NPC but do not pay attention because there are other things going on around you. Game flow will break down when a player does not know their goals are. When this happens, your game will lose the engagement of your player and they will be ever more likely to walk away from the game. Humans do not process all of the information coming from a screen or out of speakers at the same time and because of this, game design has to be done in a way where the important information reaches the player perhaps multiple times so that they can retain it easier to progress through your game.

You must also keep in mind that there must be a balance between the player’s skill and the difficulty of task. That is where the deeper design comes in. You want your tasks to be hard but not impossible. The harder your tasks become, the bigger the reward you should give. Understanding the skill limits of your player base and teaching player skill is extremely important. If your goals are too hard to accomplish, even if they are clear to the player, the player might find the experience far too frustrating and they will probably give up. Certain game mechanics must be slowly introduced to player so they can learn and adjust accordingly. Have ‘training’ areas in your game’s design where you introduce a concept in a controlled environment instead of on the fly in a high stress environment. You want your players to be used to your controls so that they can increase their skill level over time to accomplish harder and harder tasks.

Have your tasks increase in difficulty on a curve, not a vertical. What is meant by this is by ramping up the difficulty gradually instead of instantly. You don’t want your players to get angry at your game because you have thrown them into a situation they were not prepared for. You want them to be comfortable enough to meet a new challenge with the learned skills they should already have.

Important Takeaways: Goals are great, but don’t get too crazy with with them. Drip-feed these goals — when information is presented too quickly or when there are multiple sources of information that compete for our attention, task performance can drop dramatically. This causes people to become anxious and inhibit the flow state. Concrete goals and manageable rules are what you should strive to achieve in your game design — the act of a player achieving a goal is intrinsically rewarding to them and it reinforces actions that will promote the individual to continue to complete more goals.

Remember to scale the goals with the player’s skill as well. Playtest with real players often to find out if the game’s goals are too easy or too difficult. Remember, accomplishing something, whatever it may be, keeps up the desire to keep accomplishing more goals. The cycle of goal, achievement, and reward is absolutely key to a well-designed game.