Analysis Paralysis

From gdp3
Jump to: navigation, search

Halts to gameplay due to one or more players spending considerable amounts of time planning or understanding the consequences of different possible actions.

Players can spend considerable amounts of time planning their actions in some games. When this makes other players have to wait since gameplay cannot continue until the player has made up his or her mind, it is usually experienced as negative and referred to as Analysis Paralysis. The reason for Analysis Paralysis may be that the number of choices is overwhelming so one does know where to start ones planning but may also be that one most of the time can see the advantage of just a bit more planning.


Chess and Go have been used as prime examples of games where there is a possibility to almost endlessly analyze possible future actions. Both have decision trees, which grow exponentially over game time.

Diplomacy, even though the possible actions are quite limited, can cause Analysis Paralysis when the players start to think recursively about what the other players are trying to do and how the other players would perceive the players' actions.

Ricochet Robots manages to make all players simultaneously have Analysis Paralysis as they try to find the optimal solution for moving a robot from point a to point b.

Using the pattern

Analysis Paralysis can only occurs in Multiplayer Games that are also Turn-Based Games, and can then be more or less likely depending on the presence of other patterns. That being said, it's effect when it can occur at all is typically enhanced if Player Unpredictability or Complex Gameplay exists. It is a negative pattern in the sense that avoiding to have it in a game is more often a design goal than intentionally having it. Ricochet Robots is however an example where the pattern is not a problem since all players are causing the time-bound Analysis Paralysis and one player's action forces all other players to reconsider their plans. Gameplay complexity tends to increase in Middlegame phases of games and for this reason Analysis Paralysis is quite likely to occur then. It is also often likely to occur near the end of game instances, i.e. in Endgame, but for the different reasons that it might both be easier to analyze the game state then and that the stakes for making the right actions are more important.

Although Analysis Paralysis may occur in any game where a player has a choice and the game state is frozen until the choice is made, there are some design choices that can increase the likelihood of the pattern emerging. The primary of these are having Predictable Consequences since this lets players consider the effects of their actions. On a higher level of abstraction, Analysis Paralysis can be achieved by letting players have Tactical Planning in the form of a Freedom of Choice between several actions with Predictable Consequences, even if these are Limited Set of Actions or players have Limited Resources (and especially so if combined with Internal Conflicts). Action Programming can produce this effect also but may then not reveal the effects until much later. This forces players to consider Trade-Offs and if the value of the effects caused are difficult to judge it may further increase the risk of Analysis Paralysis occurring. Action Caps such as Budgeted Action Points provide means of expanding the number of decisions the players have to make in each decision point, in effect, broadening the scope of Freedom of Choice - this does however not need to be the case if the number of possible actions are kept low so these patterns can also counter the emergence of Analysis Paralysis. The use of Units is another possible source for Analysis Paralysis since it, besides typically adding to a Freedom of Choice, opens up for planning of Combos (this effect of Units is even stronger when it is combined with Privileged Abilities or Orthogonal Differentiation). To a lesser extent, Strategic Planning can cause Analysis Paralysis but this become less and less likely as players gain Gameplay Mastery since the mental work associated with Strategic Planning can be reused to a greater extent than that based on Tactical Planning.

The amount of information available to players can easily affect the presence of Analysis Paralysis. Perfect Information lets players have more information available for consideration while Symmetric Information helps players consider other players potential actions into the planning. Open Discard Piles in card games, giving players more complete Game State Overviews, allows players to easier calculate odds for future draws and plays of cards and may thereby also cause Analysis Paralysis. The use of End State Scoring can cause Analysis Paralysis in any game, but it is much more likely to do so in games with Perfect Information since then all players can - and may feel complied to try to as part of trying to win - analyze all players positions just before the end of gameplay. Games with Solution Uncertainty also causes Analysis Paralysis, in this case because players know there is a solution; see Ricochet Robots for a game where all players simultaneously have Analysis Paralysis but where this does not cause a problem since the first players to find a solution starts a bidding war by declaring that solution.

The likelihood can also be modulated by Irreversible Events and Limited Set of Actions of other players. This allows players to a greater degree to not only to consider the direct effects of their actions but plan a sequence of actions. Predefined Goals may affect the likelihood of Analysis Paralysis occurring differently depending on how distant the goal is: goals that may easily be reached may lessen it as may distant or strategic goals while the ones in between may increase it. The presence of Internal Conflicts for individual players easily rises the likelihood for Analysis Paralysis to occur since they need to make a choice and it is non-trivial.

There are several ways of reducing the risk for Analysis Paralysis. First Real-Time Games and Time Limits makes it impossible to maintain the Analysis Paralysis for longer than a certain period of time, but at the potential cost of introducing Time Pressure. One can also introduce Randomness to the consequences of actions and thereby giving players Limited Foresight and Limited Planning Abilities. Games with Private Game Spaces (e.g. Puerto Rico or Race for the Galaxy) can mitigate the causes of the pattern since other players can easier plan simultaneously plan when their actions do to a lesser degree affect each other.

The pattern can also occur when players need to choose between goals, e.g. having to choose which Committed Goal to choose from a Selectable Set of Goals.


Analysis Paralysis is usually a feature game designers try to avoid in Multiplayer Games. That players have Analysis Paralysis can be a sign that the game has too Complex Gameplay for those players but can also indicate a desire in the design to have Stimulated Planning and Cognitive Engrossment. The nature of Analysis Paralysis situations has a somewhat adverse effect on the Anticipation of the uncertain outcome during the play.

In games with Turn Taking, the presence of Analysis Paralysis can lead to excessive Downtime when players get stuck in planning their turns, and this can in turn lead to Guilting. While the Downtime can let other players interact with each other socially, the pattern cannot be said to create Minimized Social Weight but rather the opposite since the player engrossed in his or her planning cannot be interacted with and any social interaction may disturb him or her.


Can Instantiate


with Turn Taking or Turn-Based Games

Downtime, Guilting

Can Modulate


Can be Instantiated By

Endgame, End State Scoring, Middlegame, Selectable Set of Goals, Solution Uncertainty

Multiplayer Games and Turn-Based Games

in Multiplayer Games that are also Turn-Based Games

Action Caps, Action Programming, Budgeted Action Points, Cognitive Engrossment, Combos, Freedom of Choice, Game State Overviews, Internal Conflicts, Irreversible Events, Limited Set of Actions, Predictable Consequences, Stimulated Planning, Strategic Planning, Tactical Planning, Trade-Offs, Units

Can be Modulated By

Complex Gameplay, Discard Piles, Perfect Information, Player Unpredictability, Predefined Goals, Symmetric Information, Time Limits

Possible Closure Effects


Can be Potentially Conflicting With

Action Caps, Anticipation, Budgeted Action Points Limited Foresight, Limited Planning Ability, Limited Resources, Minimized Socila Weight, Private Game Spaces, Randomness, Real-Time Games, Time Limits


An rewrite of the original pattern named Analysis Paralysis in the book 'Patterns in Game Design'[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.