Delayed Effects

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The effects of actions and events in games do not occur directly after the actions or events have started.

Delayed Effects are those effects that are explicitly dictated by the rules in the game but take place some noticeable time after the actions and events that caused them; effects that are the results of combined actions or are unexpected or unplanned do not qualify as Delayed Effects, even if the effects take place after some actions or events have taken place.


The effect of placing bets in Poker does not become apparent until a player folds or players show their card hands. The activation of the most powerful weapons in first-person shooters such as the Quake series often takes some time from activation to the time it fires, usually to balance them somewhat against the other weapons in the game.

Building manufactories in the Europa Universalis series take five years in game time where each turn or tick represents a day; in contrast, the amount of time between planting seeds in FarmVille until they can be harvested can take several real world days.

It is believed that there was a Delayed Effect before one could capture pieces in the ancient Roman game Ludus Latrunculorum.

Using the pattern

A simple way to create Delayed Effects with Predictable Consequences is to require Development Time for initiated actions or simply make them Extended Actions. Others ways to introduce Delayed Effects into games include Action Programming, Betting, Ultra-Powerful Events, Investments, or modulating how Destructible Objects or Traps function. While Collaborative Actions are usually done immediately they can be modulated to make use of Delayed Effects.

Besides the actual cause for the delay, primary design choices for Delayed Effects are if players should be aware of when the effects will occur and how the period of delay is determined. Showing when effects will take place is usually done through Progress Indicators, even when they are predetermined through Development Time. Randomness can be used to make information about when the Delayed Effects occur unknown, but so can other ways involving Uncertainty of Information.

Making actions have Delayed Effects opens up some additional design possibilities. One is to create Balancing Effects between different actions by having the more powerful actions take a longer time to perform. Another is to make them possible interrupt, that is making the actions into Interruptible Actions, or make it possible to avoid the effects - this is quite often applied to Traps. This is done in some cases of Capture, e.g. this is believed to be the case for Ludus Latrunculorum, to allow the other player a chance to respond. A third, which can be used to increase Tension, is to combine them to the structures of Social Dilemmas.

Delayed Effects can make people have Anticipation and feel that they have Luck without requiring any other aspects of the game, this makes the pattern useful for modulate Quick Games.


Delayed Effects often produce Time Limits for those aware of them, especially if they are part of Interruptible Actions. The more precise information about the Delayed Effects players have, e.g. by knowing when they take place due to being created through Development Time, the more Predictable Consequences they provide, and this encouraged Stimulated Planning. When Predictable Consequences are absent, it instead provides players the possibility to start feeling Luck before the outcome is shown. Although Predictable Consequences can influence Delayed Effects in these ways, having sufficiently long Delayed Effects may in return make Predictable Consequences be harder to have since the context for the outcome can have changed. Even so, understanding how Delayed Effects work is a form of Strategic Knowledge.

The wait for the effects to take place is a form of Hovering Closures once the events or actions that cause the Delayed Effects have been done, and waiting for them can create Anticipation or Tension, especially when combined with Uncertainty of Information or Social Dilemmas. Players may also be able to use Delayed Effects to create Combos by efficiently Timing actions. Fixed periods of delay give players the chance to use Memorizing to do better Tactical Planning. If the periods of delay are random, or if players do not have knowledge of the periods of delay, this can turn the use of other actions into Risk/Reward choices if their success depends on the Delayed Effects. Delayed Effects that can be interrupted also give rise to Risk/Reward situations.

When a part of the Delayed Effects is waiting for other players to do actions, as is the case when the pattern is use to change Collaborative Actions or Trading, it gives rise Complex Gameplay and Delayed Reciprocity (with Individual Rewards in the case of Collaborative Actions) and the possibility of Betrayal. For games with long enough waiting times and Drop-In/Drop-Out gameplay or Persistent Game Worlds, Delayed Effects gives Encouraged Return Visits.

Delayed Effects can somewhat mitigate that Save-Load Cycles make Irreversible Events impossible. However, the Delayed Effects make any potential Predictable Consequences of the Irreversible Events difficult to be aware of.


Can Instantiate

Anticipation, Balancing Effects, Hovering Closures, Interruptible Actions, Irreversible Events, Luck, Memorizing, Risk/Reward, Strategic Knowledge, Tactical Planning, Tension, Time Limits

with Collaborative Actions

Betrayal, Complex Gameplay, Delayed Reciprocity

with Collaborative Actions and Individual Rewards

Delayed Reciprocity

with Drop-In/Drop-Out or Persistent Game Worlds

Encouraged Return Visits

with Predictable Consequences

Stimulated Planning

with Timing


with Trading

Betrayal, Complex Gameplay, Delayed Reciprocity

Can Modulate

Capture, Collaborative Actions, Destructible Objects, Quick Games, Risk/Reward, Social Dilemmas, Traps

Can Be Instantiated By

Action Programming, Betting, Development Time, Extended Actions, Investments, Ultra-Powerful Events

Can Be Modulated By

Predictable Consequences, Progress Indicators, Randomness, Uncertainty of Information

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Predictable Consequences


An updated version of the pattern Delayed Effects that was part of the original collection 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.