Whenever players cannot actively work towards achieving a goal, they experience Downtime. This does not mean they cannot do anything in the game; one may be able to move within a limited area without being able to affect the outcome. Neither does it have to automatically occur because players cannot affect the game state; as long as one is planning future actions, one is not having Downtime.
Example: Waiting for one's opponent to move a piece in Chess when one has finished one's own planning.
Example: Players that have Avatars killed in a Counter-Strike game do not have them respawned and have to wait as spectators until the next match begins.
Example: Many team-based multiplayer first-person shooters, for example Team Fortress Classic or Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territories, have a certain amount of time where players can move their Avatar in the game environment before the game begins. This time, which allows more players to be logged on at the beginning of the actual game, cannot be used to affect the outcome of the game with the exception of minor differences in starting position.
Downtime is a difficult pattern to explicitly design for since the cause of Downtime depends heavily on the players doing action in the game, the current game state, and the subjective opinion of the players experiencing the Downtime. However, the amount of Downtime in a game can usually be restricted by achieving the Right Level of Difficulty or giving players Limited Planning Ability, for example limiting Analysis Paralysis through Limited Resources. Dedicated Game Facilitators, especially Game Masters, can observe Downtime among players and stop it by giving players opportunities---or forcing them---to act. However, these game facilitators can also force Downtime upon players. When the right level of Downtime is achieved, the pattern can support several other patterns, for example, Anticipation or Penalties.
There are a number of ways to cause intentional Downtime for players. Both Turn-Based Games and Real-Time Games use the pattern to create Penalties ---more specifically, Individual Penalties ---often as an effect of Damage. In the first case, this usually consists of having to skip a turn, while in the second case, it can consist of having to wait a certain time, possibly as a Spectator, until Spawning occurs or having to wait until the game is finished. In games where all actions are of the same type, any limitations of actions or Ability Losses can cause Downtime, for example, Movement Limitations in racing games. Cut Scenes cause Downtime, which allows for directed parts of the Narrative Structure to be unfolded, and may be combined to release Tension after Closure Points. Ultra-Powerful Events can cause Downtime, but only when they completely hinder players from making any form of actions.
Downtime can also be caused by the game system. Examples include the time caused by the saving and loading in Save-Load Cycles and other system initiated Game Pauses. Tick-Based Games with long tick times can also have Downtime, and sometimes this it is also intentionally designed into the game.
Downtime does not necessarily mean that players cannot affect the game state but that the changes are not perceived as meaningful for the players. Downtime can be lessened by promoting Negotiation or Stimulated Planning for all players, but if the Downtime is caused by a player, this can negatively affect Player Balance. This is because the player has an advantage since his planning is done from the current game state and does not have to take several possible game states as the starting point for the planning.
Downtime occurs primary in Multiplayer Games: either Asynchronous Games or Synchronous Games that are Turn-Based Games and where the Turn Taking takes time due to Cognitive Immersion and Analysis Paralysis of other players. However, any type of game with Player Elimination or Player Killing can have Downtime if they allow players to return to the game after a period of time. Downtime can be especially problematic in games with the possibility of Early Elimination. Downtime can also exist in Single-Player Games, but in those cases is mainly due to having to wait for Extended Actions to complete or the effect of Penalties.
Since players experiencing Downtime cannot choose what they do, it causes loss of Freedom of Choice, and experiencing Downtime can be perceived as an Individual Penalty. The pattern can also occur in Real-Time Games, typically because of players being in a section where no meaningful changes in game state occur, for example, in a moving elevator. When combined with views of Inaccessible Areas, these periods of Downtime can cause Tension, for example, if one can see that the elevator is moving towards a place filled with monsters. Downtime is usually enforced on the player after a Closure Point, either for technical reasons or for maintaining the Consistent Reality Logic through a Cut Scene.
Too large periods of Downtime make reasonable waiting times impossible and can ruin Immersion. However, acceptable levels of Downtime not only allow reasonable waiting times but may be required to build Anticipation for one's next action. Further, Downtime can be used to try and figure out Unknown Goals of other players by observing their actions.
Instantiated by: Early Elimination, Spectators, Extended Actions, Cognitive Immersion, Movement Limitations, Multiplayer Games, Turn-Based Games, Synchronous Games, Asynchronous Games, Analysis Paralysis, Ultra-Powerful Events, Save-Load Cycles, Cut Scenes, Ability Losses, Spawning, Turn Taking, Player Killing, Player Elimination, Game Pauses
(C) Æliens 04/09/2009You may not copy or print any of this material without explicit permission of the author or the publisher. In case of other copyright issues, contact the author.