<a novref=true text=@key href=pattern-tradeoffs.html>Tradeoffs</a>


That players must choose between several different options and compare values against each other.

For choices to be interesting in games, they need to be challenging. One way choices can be difficult to do is if they have different sorts of advantages or the advantages are coupled with disadvantages. In this case, there does not have to be one choice that is easily identifiable as the best, and players have to do Tradeoffs instead.

Example: The various technologies that can be gained in the computer game Civilization not only have different advantages but also are prerequisites for different, more advanced, technologies. When playing the game, players must make Tradeoffs between what technologies they need, often depending on the local surroundings and the goal of gaining certain advanced technologies.

Example: All roleplaying games where players can distribute values for statistics or skills require players to do tradeoffs, such as whether they want characters that are strong and dumb or weak and smart, clumsy but charming or agile but unpleasant, and so on.

Using the pattern

There are several ways to create Tradeoffs in games, but all rely on a Freedom of Choice for players: if various areas in the game have different properties, players have to do Tradeoffs concerning Area Control; the Perceived Chance to Succeed may differ between different actions and force Tradeoffs between the Risk/Rewards choices; Cameras may force players to do Tradeoffs on what to view or how to perform Attention Swapping; Player-Decided Distribution of Reward & Penalties forces players to give advantages to some players and disadvantages to others; Time Limit and Budgeted Action Points let players choose between many actions but force them to do Tradeoffs between which to perform, and similar analysis needs to be done for Resource Management; Bidding forces players to make Tradeoffs between the cost of the bid and what can be gained from the bid; and Supporting Goals can make the main goals easier but may deplete Resources or take time.

All these forms of Tradeoffs can be modulated with Risk/Reward when they are linked to goals by making these Committed Goals. Especially Resource Management requires many different types of Tradeoffs and commitments: most commonly which Resources to use in a variety of Consumers and what Renewable Resources to produce from a variety of Producers or Converters. Incompatible Goals can also make the Tradeoff choices more important and can be used to create Tradeoff situations of choosing which goals players should strive for.

Tradeoffs can also be between what goal in a Selectable Sets of Goals to pursue, especially if other players can complete the other goals. This gives Tension and a sort of Balancing Effect, since one player cannot fulfill all the goals.

Common activities that require players to do Tradeoffs between different actions at the spur of the moment include Stealth and Combat.


Tradeoffs make games contain Stimulated Planning and Cognitive Immersion, and knowing the values of different Tradeoffs may be Strategic Knowledge that offers the opportunity for Game Mastery. However, as with any activity that gives Cognitive Immersion, it may also encourage Analysis Paralysis. Providing players with choices between challenges with different Tradeoffs can allow them to select the Right Level of Difficulty.

Having to make Tradeoffs can cause Tension if the results of the Tradeoffs have Delayed Effects. It also increases the Tension regarding the use of Limited Resources, with the amount of Tension proportional to the scarcity of the Limited Resources.


Instantiates: Strategic Knowledge, Stimulated Planning, Balancing Effects, Game Mastery, Analysis Paralysis, Tension

Modulates: Cognitive Immersion, Stealth, Committed Goals, Perceived Chance to Succeed, Right Level of Difficulty

Instantiated by: Combat, Bidding, Time Limits, Consumers, Converters, Producers, Resources, Budgeted Action Points, Selectable Sets of Goals, Renewable Resources, Freedom of Choice, Resource Management, Risk/Reward, Player-Decided Distribution of Rewards & Penalties, Area Control, Delayed Effects

Modulated by: Attention Swapping, Cameras, Producers, Limited Resources, Supporting Goals

Potentially conflicting with: