Synchronous Gameplay

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Games in which all players' game and play sessions overlap with each other in time.

Many games are designed to have several players playing them together. When they are designed so the time spent playing takes places simultaneously, they have Synchronous Gameplay. Since planning what to do can be considered playing, this can be subjective to how interested players are in planning and predicting future actions while not being able to actually perform actions in a game.


Board Games that are also Co-Op Games, e.g. Forbidden Island, Space Alert, and XCOM: The Board Game, are built so that all players play together through the whole game instances.

Team-based Games such as Counter-Strike and Defense of the Ancients are designed around Synchronous Gameplay but in a weaker form where players can be eliminated or quit before game instances are finished. Sports with teams, e.g. such as Soccer or Volleyball, also have Synchronous Gameplay except when using reserves which excludes practically all matches played professionally.

Chess and Go are typically played so they have a weak form of Synchronous Gameplay. That is, players are typically both engaged with the game at the same time but since only one person can perform actions they only have Synchronous Gameplay as long as the other player perceives him- or herself as engaged in the game through planning future moves.

Using the pattern

Synchronous Gameplay is typically either part of a game design to support Togetherness or simply a practical consequence of handling Excise in Self-Facilitated Games while at the same time letting players observe each other to mitigate risks of errors or cheating. While quite obviously Dedicated Game Facilitators are not needed in the latter case, in the former it may be necessary if only to postpone the start of gameplay until everyone is present and to synchronize eventual Game Pauses. Since Synchronous Gameplay ensures that all players are present at the same time, providing Communication Channels to them often make sense if Social Interaction between them is encouraged.

How play and game sessions are handled for Synchronous Gameplay is important since players may need to have pauses between them. This makes the decision of having Real-Time Games, Tick-Based Games, or Turn-Based Games important when having Synchronous Gameplay. As one example of how these may influence the gameplay, Real-Time Games don't in themselves provide natural points for breaks while Turn-Based Games do.

Synchronous Gameplay is incompatible with Turn Taking when turns do not support the players not having one from having gameplay. While Player Elimination strictly is against the definition of Synchronous Gameplay given above, a weaker form of Synchronous Gameplay can be said to be that all non-eliminated players have simultaneous play and game sessions.


Synchronous Gameplay makes games become Multiplayer Games and one sense of judging how much of Multiplayer Games they are can be how much of the gameplay is synchronous. Having to wait for players in the beginning of a game instance can cause Synchronous Gameplay to force Downtime on players. In addition, one player wanting or needing to take a break from gameplay forces Downtime on other players.

Having players having play session are the same time allows them to have real-time conversations, so Synchronous Gameplay affect the Social Interaction they can have during gameplay.


Can Instantiate

Downtime, Multiplayer Games, Togetherness

Can Modulate

Social Interaction

Can Be Instantiated By

Dedicated Game Facilitators, Self-Facilitated Games

Can Be Modulated By

Communication Channels, Player Elimination, Real-Time Games, Tick-Based Games, Turn-Based Games

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Turn Taking


An updated version of the pattern Synchronous Games 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.