Finding of the week #252

Optional Goals

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the way how optional goals are implemented and advertised inside of a computer game.

Computer games often provide additional goals to encourage players to carefully explore the game world instead of simply following the main story line. The optional goals can range from simple collection goals requiring players to find special tokens in the game world to fully fledged side missions telling a unique story. Non-mandatory goals additionally increase a game’s replayability as players might have missed some of them thus experiencing a different story or discovering new and special places during a second playthrough.

However, optional goals are difficult to implement from a game design perspective as they are intended to surprise a player and inspire them to thoroughly explore the game world. On the other hand, optional goals also have a high chance of being overlooked by players even during a second playthrough as they need to be hidden in the game world. As a result, some hidden goals are rarely seen by players or players are not aware that a particular non-mandatory goal exists.

Optional goals (photos to take) in „Life Is Strange“

Therefore, game designers often implement achievements or other summary screens indicating a player’s progress towards having discovered all hidden game elements. While this approach guides players and motivates them to revisit specific parts of the game, it also reduces a bit the optional aspect of those goals as they suddenly receive a higher value. In addition, players might feel discouraged when they realize that they overlooked something and can not complete the game to 100 percent. Moreover, by implementing a collection screen a player can unlock over time, the surprising aspect of discovering something unexpected might be lost as well.

In the end, it is very difficult to find the right balance between indicating the existence of potential goals and simply surprising players. Personally, I would prefer to have the chance to be surprised instead of being aware of optional gameplay elements as this makes them more special and turns them into true secrets.