Late Arriving Players

From gdp3
Jump to: navigation, search

The designed support to allow players to join play sessions of a game independently of when other players' play sessions start.

It is not always possible to synchronize so that all players wishing to play a game can start simultaneously, most often because people are not willing to wait long enough. To avoid this problem, games can support Late Arriving Players to give players more flexibility in when they have to be present to be part of a game. For asynchronous games or games where you don't know all the people that are playing, it this may be necessary for gameplay to be able to begin at all.


Gambling games such as Poker and Roulette can quite easily accommodate Late Arriving Players since these consists of many rounds with only one resource changing between them. Similar games but with more complex structures, e.g. Texas Hold'em have difficulties doing so since the gameplay is designed to structure the flow of resources more precisely.

Roleplaying games such as Dungeons & Dragons, Basic Roleplaying, and the Storytelling System implicitly supports players joining the game late since game masters can easily write them into the fictive realities of the games. This is usually necessary for practical reasons since the games span play sessions with breaks of weeks or longer between, and the players willing to play change during periods.

Online games that strive for rather short rounds and many players support Late Arriving Players. Exactly when one can join varies as does the penalties for arriving late: the Left 4 Dead series allows players to join whenever while the Counter-Strike series only allows new players at the start of rounds, before then they can only chat with those players that have been killed; players in the Battlefield series have no penalties compared to existing players respawning while newly arriving players to Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory or Enemy Territory: Quake Wars can be penalized by not having amassed experience points).

For online games such as Ultima Online and World of Warcraft, which supporting persistent game world, Late Arriving Players is necessary since players need to be able to come and go from the gameplay. Even those with few players, e.g. multiplayer servers of Minecraft have this need. Games on social media sites, e.g. FarmVille and Mafia Wars on Facebook, need to provide the same functionality to support the movement from the game and other functionality provided on the sites.

Using the pattern

Considering to use of Late Arriving Players is only meaningful for Multiplayer Games for obvious reasons, and becomes more important in those with Teams or TvT gameplay since other players are more likely to have to wait in these. The pattern is for practical purposes needed in Massively Multiplayer Online Games or those with Persistent Game Worlds. It is also likely to be needed in Multiplayer Games with Parties, either due to wanting to join a Party late or due to missing the start of play sessions. For games with fully Asynchronous Gameplay, Late Arriving Players is also a required pattern since otherwise players would need to synchronize the beginning of the game (the first game update may occur only after all players have joined, but from the perspective of other players they have provided their first input and thereby started their play sessions). Massively Single-Player Online Games also needs players to be able to start at different times, but if this really means supporting Late Arriving Players depends on how much players can help each other, i.e. how much the games support Non-Player Help since all players see themselves as being the sole player and the other people present are playing their own game. Invites are a way to support players in playing together without forcing them to do so before the games begin. For games with Game Worlds, the actual Game Element Insertion of players' Focus Loci are usually done by Spawning.

The support of Late Arriving Players may be in conflict with Player Balance, Team Balance, and individual players sense of Value of Effort. The problems may be caused both because new players can have advantages, e.g. having a full set of Resources in games with Steadily Decreasing Resources, or disadvantages ,e.g. not having received New and Improved Abilities as part of Character Development or other Rewards existing players have received. While this can be mitigated by Balancing Effects or adjusting power level for Player-Created Characters it can simply be part of the game play to reward Player Time Investments. Tournaments offers another design solution to support Late Arriving Players through making a clearer separation of outcome between individual rounds, matches, deals, etc. and the overall outcome. Through this, Late Arriving Players can be able to begin on an equal level as other players for the individual gameplay moments and gradually gain equal footing on the overall level. Another solution consists of allowing Late Arriving Players to simply replace existing players. This is the least controversial for AI Players specially added to support this (see the Left 4 Dead series for an example), but may also be Penalties for human players for being too low in Ranking Systems.

Self-Facilitated Games and those using human Game Masters can often quite easily support Late Arriving Players by introducing or modifying rules slightly. Computer-based Dedicated Game Facilitators can support this as well if proper attention to the gameplay design (e.g. FarmVille and World of Warcraft) or technology (e.g. (the Left 4 Dead series) have been given.

The use of Private Game Spaces (as done in FarmVille but also for Roulette) can make it easier to support Late Arriving Players since other players will not directly be disadvantaged or threatened by newly arrived players.

Late Arriving Players can either modify or cancel Game Termination Penalties depending on when and how easy it is to enter ongoing games.

Diegetic Aspects

The introduction of Avatars, Characters, or Units by Late Arriving Players can of course break Thematic Consistency unless structures exists to explain these Game Element Insertion diegetically.

Interface Aspects

To not interrupt ongoing gameplay, the use of Late Arriving Players may need additional interfaces such as Game Lobbies to take care of them before they actually enter the game. This may also include supporting them as Spectators (as is for example done in the Counter-Strike series and the Team Fortress series) so they can get an overview of the current gameplay.

Narrative Aspects

Late Arriving Players can stress Predetermined Story Structures unless Game Masters can adopt them to incorporate the additional Characters they typically bring along.


Allowing Late Arriving Players causes Unsynchronized Game Sessions to occur and typically affects Startgame phases. Supporting Late Arriving Players provides one half of the necessary functionality to have Drop-In/Drop-Out in a game, the other being Early Leaving Players, Possibility of Graceful Surrender, or Surrendering. As mentioned in the previous section, the support of Late Arriving Players may cause problems concerning Player Balance, Team Balance, and Value of Effort unless countered by other means. The kicking of any player except AI Players to make room for Late Arriving Players are an example of Player Elimination.

Since the new players are most likely to not have the exact same conditions as the already present players, the pattern provides Asymmetric Starting Conditions. If the introduction of a new player adds new game elements, Late Arriving Players instantiates Game Element Insertion.

Late Arriving Players gives players a greater Freedom of Choice of when to start play sessions (e.g. players in Left 4 Dead 2 can vote when to begin a game and the game system automatically adds AI Players to fill the empty player slots). Letting players start play session before all players have arrived, Late Arriving Players thereby hinders Downtime before game instances have started. Removing the need to have all players present when play sessions should begin also makes it easier for game design to support Possibility of Anonymity.


Can Instantiate

Asymmetric Starting Conditions, Player Elimination, Freedom of Choice, Game Element Insertion, Unsynchronized Game Sessions

with Early Leaving Players, Possibility of Graceful Surrender, or Surrendering


with Multiplayer Games

Massively Multiplayer Online Games

Can Modulate

Asynchronous Gameplay, Game Termination Penalties, Massively Multiplayer Online Games, Massively Single-Player Online Games, Multiplayer Games, Parties, Persistent Game Worlds, Player Time Investments, Possibility of Anonymity, Startgame, Teams, TvT

Can Be Instantiated By

AI Players, Game Masters, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Self-Facilitated Games, Tournaments

Can Be Modulated By

Balancing Effects, Game Lobbies, Invites, Player-Created Characters, Private Game Spaces, Spawning, Spectators

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Downtime, Game Termination Penalties, Player Balance, Predetermined Story Structures, Team Balance, Thematic Consistency, Value of Effort


Updated version of the pattern Late Arriving Players first described in the report Game Design Patterns for Mobile Games[1].


  1. Davidsson, O., Peitz, J. & Björk, S. (2004). Game Design Patterns for Mobile Games. Project report to Nokia Research Center, Finland.