Timesinks

A Timesink is an artificial method to get you, the player, to play an MMO longer than you normally would. It is hoped that this time investment will translate into extended subscription, but if not handled properly, this can backfire spectacularly.

What’s the difference between a Timesink and a Cooldown? A cooldown lets you do what you want to do immediately (or quickly), but its the act of repeating said action that is gated by time. A timesink puts the wait onto the front end of the equation. Do you need to travel on foot at the slowest speed possible to get to your next quest? Timesink. Once you finish the quest is there a minimum amount of time that must pass before you can get a similar or identical reward? Cooldown.

Timesinks are generally accepted more universally than cooldowns simply because a timesink usually involves you doing something while you are being timesunk. The most common timesinks are travel time, experience earning, and crafting. This can vary from game to game. City of Heroes has practically eliminated travel time as a sink, because there are so many ways to get to where you want to be quickly, and Mission Architect allows you to do story after story without leaving a single building.

Experience earning is another form of timesink. When World of Warcraft was in beta, they had a system where after playing for a certain amount of time, your XP earning rate would be halved, and you could earn back time by logging out or resting at an inn. The outcry on this was immediate. So much so that Blizzard went back to the drawing board and redesigned the system. Or did they? Now, when you log out and/or rest at an inn you earn “rest XP” which effectively doubles the XP you earn until you run out, and then you go back to normal XP. It’s all semantics. If you look at the “normal” XP as half XP, then you have the exact same system that they started with, only put in a more user-friendly way. My friends and I would joke about how in Dungeons and Dragons Online you got 150% XP for doing a dungeon the very first time. Turns out the math is the same if you say “you get 66.67% XP for every time after the first.”

Crafting is also a great timesink that many MMOs rely on. First, you need to gather materials. A good timesink will put these materials in the vicinity of where you are, but you need to go out of your way to get them (WoW’s nodes, Star Trek Online’s sensor anomalies). MMO’s are all about aggregates. A couple seconds here and a couple seconds there adds up quickly over time and soon you have spent an hour just gathering materials for your crafting habit. After you have gathered the required materials you (usually) have to go to a specific point of world geometry to craft (a “crafting station“). That takes time, next you have the act of combining the materials which can be a multi-step process (which Star Wars Galaxies nailed practically as an art-form). Finally you have your crafted result.

No game should ever have a timesink for timesink’s sake. A good timesink has you interacting with the game on some level, earning some level of enjoyment or moving the story along. It might be “realistic”, but keep in mind that you are trying to entertain people here and useless timesinks tend to do the opposite of entertain. Always consider a cooldown if your timesink is boring. At least with that, the player is free to do whatever else they want while waiting on their gated content.

8 Responses to “Timesinks”

  1. C_Amazing says:

    Very informative! I didn’t know there was a difference. The WoW XP concept blew me away one has to wonder why no one saw through that with precious numbers vw. Present ones. Can’t wait for more!

  2. Arcana says:

    “Or did they? Now, when you log out and/or rest at an inn you earn “rest XP” which effectively doubles the XP you earn until you run out, and then you go back to normal XP. It’s all semantics.”

    I think the state of the art of game design would be greatly improved if both players and designers fully appreciated the concept of normalization.

  3. Ura Hero says:

    My devious plan worked! By misstating travel as a cooldown I got Matt to write on Timesinks. Bwahahahah… (Or maybe I just didn’t think it through enough before posting.) Either way. Bwahahahahah. Ahem.

    I stand corrected.

  4. GC says:

    This reminds me…thanks for at least giving us an exploration badge for running that darned CD from Mr. Lazypants Freeman to Jake Montoya.

    (by-and-large, CoH has done an increasingly good job of minimizing travel time – this is one specific example that remains that has always bugged me)

  5. bzald aka steve says:

    hmm i will say that most games have good time sinks, case in point city of x crafting it not bad. although i also feel trying trying to do it again on another char to be too much, why mainly this the time it takes to do it just feels too long.

    i do enjoy the rewards more storage, badges, crafting table (although i have little use for it)so as much as i like the crafting time sink. I wonder if maybe a lot of these time sinks like the crafting time sink are not a little long.

  6. A.L. says:

    Meant to comment on this before, but I’ve always been amused by the power wording can have on something. You pointed it out with the WoW thing where when you present it as “half XP after X hours” you get rage, but present it as “Earn double XP time by logging off” everyone loves it. A system that seems to be in CoH now as well, just to show how popular it became with that wording. (Though with CoH it actually would be doubled, since XP didn’t change from what it had been, just more is earned when ‘rested’)

    Putting a positive spin on things is, as ever, a powerful tool in making players (or just customers) happy.

  7. WHTJunior says:

    I think that’s some of the point with WoW, though. Technically, they have given you an acceptable amount of XP for your regular non-rested gameply, then they increase it when you are rested. Even without rest bonus, you can level pretty quickly in WoW. Before, their XP values would still be acceptable when not fatigued, but then they would be lowered if you grew tired. I know the math looks the same, but the end result is actually better. It is very similar to the patrol bonus and Double XP weekends that CoH has. The idea is that your base XP value has to be an acceptable reward, and that’s what makes the reward/punishment fall into whichever category.

  8. SkarmoryThePG says:

    “(which Star Wars Galaxies nailed practically as an art-form)”

    Which version of it? I’d like to hear more of their way.

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