Just curious if anyone has an insight onto the efficacy of self-set goals as opposed to explicit ones in regards to player retention.

Content requirements aside are there any anecdotal or quantitative results on which method provides a more immersive experience for a player, and thus is more likely to keep them around and playing?


Usually you want a bit of both. Dwarf Fortress and minecraft are popular for their emergent gameplay. however, World of Warcraft is almost 100% explicit drag-you-around-by-the-nose goals.

Both are quite popular.

Explicit Goals can be extremely boring if they're not tied to purpose, or good rewards.

Emergent Goals can be frustrating if the user isn't given enough tools or background information to formulate their own.

Games like Fallout 3 and Mass Effect offer a bit of both. They give you a completely immersive world, with explicit goals that feel like they are self-set. The illusion of player control and suspension of disbelief are key to any game that wants to retain players.

I don't know of a lot of research, but I did find this.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @downvoter, comments please on why? I provided anecdotal results on games which retain players on both sides of the fence. \$\endgroup\$ – Stephen Furlani Nov 15 '10 at 20:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you so much for the link. It provided a rather extensive reading list that I'm sure will keep me busy for some time to come. \$\endgroup\$ – Aerathis Nov 16 '10 at 3:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Aerathis, glad I could help. \$\endgroup\$ – Stephen Furlani Nov 16 '10 at 13:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Stephen: I downvoted because they're not anecdotes, they're statements, shallow and not backed by personal stories, professional experience, or academic research. \$\endgroup\$ – user744 Nov 20 '10 at 11:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Joe, fair enough. You should give comments if you're going to downvote. \$\endgroup\$ – Stephen Furlani Nov 22 '10 at 13:28

Players are not the same: some people are keen to establish their own goals, but others need a lot of hand-holding. And some people may be different at different times: maybe they want a casual game with explicit goals for their commute, but then are willing to put in more thought and effort on a solid weekend session.

A game with self-set goals tends to have more gameplay in the long run, but be harder to get into in the first place (you need to understand a lot about how the game works before you can start to set appropriate goals) and have a smaller audience. It's also more work for the developer to make a world with enough possibilities and flexibility for players to be creative.

So it all comes down to, what kind of game are you trying to make? What kind of players are you trying to appeal to? And what's your budget?


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