A sense of purpose in mobile games

I feel most engaged with a game when I have a clear sense of purpose: when there’s one clear thing I’m trying to achieve and I know how to achieve it, and I’m doing that work. In fact this sense of purpose is one of the key characteristics of being engaged with a game. You don’t get that from a good novel or movie. It’s only games that engage your agency and make you feel like you’re putting it to good use.

As game designers, I believe it’s our job to design for sense of purpose. The player should always have a strong sense of purpose towards some immediate objective, and as much as possible that immediate purpose should be backed up by and in service of some larger goal.

For example, in Clash Royale, in a given match I have a very clear purpose: play my hand in such a way that I destroy more towers than my enemy does. This purpose might be in service of a larger purpose — to earn 10 crowns towards my Crown Chest. And that again may be in service of a still larger purpose: increase my trophy count so that I can get to Arena 6.

Within each moment of a player’s experience, a game designer should be thinking about the strength of the user’s sense of purpose. And the designer should be working to grow and sustain that sense of purpose.

But I don’t think it’s correct to say that more purpose is always better. It might be that two purposes conflict, and by strengthening one you’ll put the player in a choice paralysis situation, weakening the felt sense of purpose.

I think what you want is something like a harmony of purposes — maybe a resonance, even. You want each action the player performs to feed into a cluster of motivation loops which reinforce one another.

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