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Waiting time players have to experience during game sessions.

Downtime occurs in games when players perceive themselves as playing, or wanting to play, but they cannot perform actions. This inability may be due to technological reasons, having to wait for other players, or enforced waiting periods due to game effects.


Having to wait for the other player to make his or her move in Chess or Go is an example of Downtime. So is waiting for a game like Counter-Strike or Oblivion to load. Counter-Strike also have small amounts of Downtime during gameplay when reloading weapons and longer when waiting for new rounds to start after one's avatar has died.

Using the pattern

Downtime can be used as Penalties (Individual or not), for example as part of Death Consequences. While Downtime can seem to be a negative effect place on players, it can be used for some other purposes also. The use of Downtime can make Closure Points more present for players by letting them have time when they can only perceive the outcome of their actions rather than trying to perform new actions. In games with Ammunition, the need to reload typically suggests the presence of Downtime and this can force players to engage in some Tactical Planning so they can reload at good point of time.

There are some patterns that mechanically cause Downtime to players while others can make players cause Downtime themselves. Cognitive Engrossment, Cutscenes, Early Elimination, Game Over, Helplessness or needing Rescue, Hotseating, Interruptibility, Save-Load Cycles, Synchronous Gameplay, Tiered Participation, and Ultra-Powerful Events are all examples of the first type of patterns, as are the effects of some Weapons. Asynchronous Gameplay and Meta Games together with Unsynchronized Game Sessions also do this but only when players need to wait for other players to finish their play sessions before their own can start. Spawning typically have some Downtime associated with it, if only to let players get their bearings (during which they typically cannot be attacked). Dedicated Game Facilitators and Game Masters doesn't in themselves cause Downtime but can enforce it easily in games. When all actions relate to movement, Movement Limitations can cause Downtime as can cases where the location players find themselves in while under Movement Limitations don't allow any (interesting) actions. Generally, lack of Resources can cause Downtime simply because the Resources are needed to perform actions.

Examples of the second category include Camping, Game Pauses, and Social Roles. Ability Losses, Cooldown, and Development Time can cause Downtime when they remove the possibility to do any actions or when multiple cases of them overlap so no actions remain to be made. Multiplayer Games can cause Downtime is when players can be removed from play due to Permadeath or Player Elimination, where they are presented with Summary Updates, or simply when having to wait for their turn in Turn-Based Games or games with Turn Taking. Stimulated Planning can cause other players to have Downtime waiting for the one planning to finish as can Analysis Paralysis together with Turn Taking or Turn-Based Games. Players can cause their own Downtime by activating No-Ops, especially as Extended Actions, while the designed support for No-Ops in general make it easy to enforce Downtime on players as well. Reserves is a special case since it depends on whether players themselves can choose to be removed from gameplay or if others, e.g. Coaches do so. This mean that Reserves can belong to either category.

There are many ways for players to avoid having Downtime. Real-Time Games make players have to act or at least perceive gameplay at the time and Time Limits forces players to at least plan actions since after the limit is met they cannot anymore. Some patterns avoid Downtime among players by hindering other players from blocking gameplay for too long. Late Arriving Players removes the need for some players to have Downtime before gameplay actually begins due to other players to being present. Limited Planning Ability is one way to achieve this but use of Negotiation makes other players active in one player's turn. While Dedicated Game Facilitators can easily enforce Downtime they can also be used, especially in Tabletop Roleplaying Games, to switch between players so that some balance between how much time each players gets can be achieved.

As a middle ground, some pattern can regulate how much Downtime players have. The precise design of Limited Resources naturally affect how much Resources can cause Downtime while the length of ticks can put a ceiling for how much Downtime on can have in Tick-Based Games (as well as cause the Downtime to begin with). The Downtime that occurs while loading parts of games in Computer Games can be made more interesting through Loading Hints.


Downtime makes players into temporary Spectators by removing their Player Agency and is an extreme form of a Lull Period. It can be used as a form of Damage which players can suffer, and can be effects of Critical Hits besides whatever Health reductions are applied. Players experiencing Downtime are less inclined to experience some other patterns related to experiences. These include Engrossment, Freedom of Choice, and Tension although the last pattern can be caused by Downtime if the player can anticipate bad things about to happen.

However, players will probably try to fill their Downtime with activities. In games with Roleplaying, this can be Gossip between the Player Characters. Anticipation and Tension may not be activities but players can often experience it during Downtime since they can in many cases observe how gameplay progresses during their Downtime. More actively, they can engage in Stimulated Planning (even in cases where the Downtime is caused by other players engaging in Stimulated Planning!) and have larger chances of predicting future game events, i.e. Downtime can make Predictable Consequences more likely.


Can Instantiate

Anticipation, Damage, Individual Penalties, Lull Periods, Penalties, Spectators, Stimulated Planning, Tension

with Ammunition

Tactical Planning

with Damage and Health

Critical Hits

with Roleplaying


Can Modulate

Ammunition, Closure Points, Death Consequences, Predictable Consequences

Can Be Instantiated By

Ability Losses, Asynchronous Gameplay, Camping, Cognitive Engrossment, Cooldown, Cutscenes, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Development Time, Early Elimination, Game Masters, Game Over, Game Pauses, Helplessness, Hotseating, Interruptibility, Movement Limitations, No-Ops, Rescue, Reserves, Resources, Save-Load Cycles, Social Roles, Spawning, Stimulated Planning, Synchronous Gameplay, Tick-Based Games, Tiered Participation, Ultra-Powerful Events, Weapons

Analysis Paralysis together with Turn Taking or Turn-Based Games

Meta Games together with Unsynchronized Game Sessions

Multiplayer Games together with Permadeath or Player Elimination

Multiplayer Games together with Summary Updates

Multiplayer Games together with Turn-Based Games or Turn Taking

Can Be Modulated By

Limited Resources, Loading Hints, Tick-Based Games

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Dedicated Game Facilitators, Engrossment, Freedom of Choice, Negotiation, Late Arriving Players, Limited Planning Ability, Player Agency, Real-Time Games, Tension, Time Limits


An updated version of the pattern Downtime 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.