Motivational Design

Lenses and Patterns for Motivational Game Design

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Goal-setting is a double-edged tool. Players set their own goals to work towards personal objectives, and developers set goals to inform players of what is expected of them. A game designer sets goals to limit a player's focus.

Setting goals affects outcomes in four ways:

  • Choice: Goals narrow attention and direct efforts to goal-relevant activities.
  • Effort: Players may work more intensely towards the goal than one would otherwise.
  • Persistence: Players become more prone to work through setbacks if pursuing a goal.
  • Cognition: Goals can lead players to develop and change their behavior.

The picture above shows a method of structuring goals in your game. At the top you have an overarching primary goal, the purpose of the game. Secondary goals can be seen as acts in a story that offer a push forward as they are completed. At the bottom there are short-term goals, and if designed well they are inter-weaved so the player can choose one to complete.

Focusing Questions

  • How do your goals allow players to modulate the difficulty?
  • What tools do players have to track their goals?
  • How much goal variety does the game offer? Would more or less help the experience?
  • Does the game allow players to set their own goals?

Can be instantiated by





In Minecraft, goal-setting is an important tool for players to enjoy their experience. Collect wood, build tools, mine, build house, find dungeons, all these things are always there waiting for the player to do. From the developer perspective, achievements are listed as a guide for players who need a helping hand.


In Skyrim the designers used a very fluid system to allow players to formulate goals and to create goals for the players to take. The game presented both Quests that progressed the story and “miscellaneous” quests that were just actions to take within the world. Generally, the miscellaneous quests were received from overhearing the conversation of NPCs or through the reading of books in game. This system in Skyrim allowed players autonomy in deciding how their personal play through developed, but also provided a sense of world, or a feeling as though they were playing in a real world and not just a series of scripted events, within the game. The practice the designers used here is very powerful for goal-setting as it allows for both designer and player goal setting, maximizes choice and exploration, allows the player to put forth what effort they see fit into the game, and still plays on the cognition aspect of goal-setting. Designers can expose the players to new ideas from behind a veil in this practice, generating new actions and beliefs in the player without removing autonomy.


Performance vs. Mastery

If a player is completing performance goals, they are checking their skill against the game or other players. A player doing mastery goals is rewarded by competing against themselves, becoming better as they complete tasks and challenges. Performance players will be put off by negative feedback, whereas mastery players will interpret it as helpful (in moderate amounts).




Goal-setting is considered to be an “open” theory, so as new discoveries are made the theory is modified.



Koppes, L. L., Thayer, P. W., Vinchur, A. J., & Salas, E. (2007). Historical perspectives in industrial and organizational psychology. Mahwah, N.J.: Erlbaum.


motivations/goal-setting.txt · Last modified: 2014/05/19 00:10 by danieljost