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Like just about every other person with a mobile phone this week, I downloaded Pokémon Go, the new augmented reality game allowing players to capture, battle, train, and trade virtual Pokémon who appear throughout the real world. The goal of the game is stated clearly in the franchise's slogan: Gotta catch 'em all! And as I travelled about this weekend, I would open up the game app and search for Pokémon in the vicinity, pursuing the game's goal of catching as many Pokémon as I could.
All games have goals, or objectives. The goal might be to capture all the Pokémon, outrace an opponent, destroy an invading army, explore a realm, build a city, solve a puzzle, align falling blocks, escape from a locked room, complete a task before a timer counts down, beat the odds, outwit an opponent, reach the conclusion of a story, or rescue the prince. Without a goal, an activity is simply a pastime, without any resolution or sense of accomplishment.
Goals give something for the player to strive for. They define what players are expected to accomplish within the rules that define the structure and boundaries of the game. Game might have many smaller goals that are short term ("catch the closest Pokémon to you.") and a number of intermediate long term goals ("catch all the Pokémon of a given type) in addition to an ultimate goal ("catch 'em all!").
Goals need not all be of the same type nor demand the same skills from the player. Skills can broadly be classified into three categories:
Most games involve some combination of these types of goals, although a good game designer will be careful to use just enough randomness to add variety and uncertainty in the game. Too much randomness, and players will feel like their actions and decisions won't matter. One good way to keep your skill level balanced is to ask playtester's how much physical, mental and randomness skills, on a scale from one to five, are required to succeed in your game, and if the results are different from what you expected, you have some tweaking to do.
Goals need to be properly adjusted even at the individual level. Ideally, each goal should have the following qualities:
All of these qualities are essential in keeping the player in a state of flow, the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. When players experience flow, time stops, nothing else matters and when they finally come out of it, they have no concept of how long they have been playing. This flow state is what makes games engaging, and the proper handling of the presentation and rewards for goals are essential for maintaining it. Remember that your own goal as a game designer is to catch as many players as your can, and to keep them engaged for as long as possible.
I originally published this article on my blog site.