Klaus Teuber's Settlers of Catan, on the other hand, takes a very different approach. To win, a player must gain ten victory points. Victory points are awarded by building settlements, extending roads, and otherwise developing your territory. Here's the twist: The resources required to achieve your goal are added to the game through the whims of the dice. A player might have to wait ten agonizing turns to get the ore and bricks they need. If you want to grow quickly, you must agree to trade with your opponents. Settlers of Catan rewards this cooperation with fast development. Highly competitive players who refuse to trade either fall behind in victory points or slow gameplay to a crawl. Those who horde their resources for future use are punished when a seven is rolled, forcing players to give up half of their undeveloped materials. After a few bad turns, players associate cooperation with ease of play and learn to behave accordingly.
In games that offer a great deal of player agency, the ability to determine your own victory has infinite importance.
So what difference does all this make? If games require victory conditions, clearly developers are required to build them into games, aren't they? Not necessarily. Games require victory conditions, but it is not always the job of developers to tell us what they are. Expansions for Zombies!!! make this point explicitly clear by adding bonus scenarios and alternative victory conditions, then encouraging players to make up their own. Team-based rules, rescuing NPC humans, and even player-designed event cards are all optional additions to the game. Tabletop roleplaying games are generally designed without set victory conditions, but allow potential goals to emerge over the course of play. In the Call of Cthulhu RPG players are practically expected to fail at their task, and the fun comes not from succeeding but from making the attempt. In the electronic gaming world, Minecraft has taken players by storm without offering a single victory condition. What makes Minecraft so engaging is that it allows anyone to set their own goal to achieve while the system and game world present a balance of obstacles and rewards to make the attempt challenging.
Victory conditions are very important because their presence defines so much of what we choose to experience in a game. Even when we don't notice their presence, they alter our habits and change our in-game behavior to an unrecognizable degree. Sometimes, that's perfectly fine. It's a great experience to rise to the challenge that someone else picked for you. But in games that offer a great deal of player agency, the ability to determine your own victory has infinite importance.
Marshall Lemon is a Masters of Library and Information Science Graduate who plays lots of videogames in his spare time. Occasionally he'll write something about them at http://machinima.starfoxweb.com