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Discussion on the modern idea of "win conditions" and their presence in a variety of game genres.

Kevin Lesniak, Blogger

October 10, 2013

4 Min Read

Everyone loves winning.  It is part of human nature to pursue the sense of accomplishment that comes with winning a competition or completing a personal challenge.  In competitive gaming it is very easy to see, either you defeat your opponent, or they defeat you.  While the win condition in competitive games is very clear, it provides the opportunity for spectators to enjoy the competition.  It is easy for the audience to see who won the game, who destroyed the base in a game like League of Legends or Starcraft, the team with the most kills in a match of Call of Duty or Counter Strike, which allows more people than just the players to enjoy the game.  The recent League of Legends World Champsionship was the most watched E-Sports event to date, while the game has millions of players from around the world playing every month.  This shows how having a fixed, structured win condition is appealing to both players and fans.


If we look outside the competitive scene we see a different kind of win condition.  The games that don't fit into the competitive scene have a much wider variety of "win conditions", if they can even be called that.  Take Skyrim for example.  It offers the player a huge world full of people, places, events, and stories.  But is it really possible to say "I won at Skyrim"?  Sure, you can finish the main quest line, or find every place on the map, but that doesn't end the game.  There is no big "VICTORY" sign that comes up to tell you that the game is over.  Yet, Skyrim was hailed as a terrific game by critics and players alike.  Does this mean that win conditions aren't part of what makes a game great? Modern MMO's present this same question by offering environments, quests, and stories, but no grand victory to achieve.  Can you win World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2?  These games have a competitive aspect that you can win in, but for the game as a whole, what are the "win conditions"?  To answer this we have to change our view on "win conditions".  


"Winning" in a game like Skyrim or a MMO takes on a whole different meaning.  When you finally achieve the skill rank to obtain the ability you've been waiting for, or you find the last piece of armor to complete a legendary set, these are the smaller "wins" that you can achieve in a game that doesn't present a structured "win condition".  Developers include achievements and trophies for completing certain actions, quests, or events in the game, and these have their own rewards.  Players will seek out these items, quests, and events so that they can earn that trophy, or show off that new armor set, and the players will be able to say "Yeah, I did that!  I beat that boss, and got that gear!"  The win conditions in these games are there, but they exist on a more personal level for the player.  This is one of the big distinctions between the competitive scene and casual gaming.


When designing a game this idea of what the "win conditions" will be is very important.  It is easy to decide between making a highly competitive game, where you have structured matches and discrete conditions to determine a winner.  It gets much more complicated when you're designing an open-world game.  When there is no other team on the other side of the map trying to destroy your base, how do you engage the player and entice them to progress?  You give them a story to follow.  One that presents them with challenges to undertake, enemies to vanquish, and personal goals to achieve.  You give them lore about lost relics, hidden locations, and famous people to make them want to explore the world you've built.  A system where they can explore, build, and interact will have it's own set of "win conditions" emerge.  While these conditions won't be neatly laid out to the player from the start, the drive to win present in all people will direct the players to seek out and accomplish these tasks.

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