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A time sink (or timesink) is an activity that consumes significant time. A variant of this term is "time drain." Although it is unknown when the term was coined, it makes an analogy with heat sink.
In massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), time sinks are a method of increasing the time needed by players to do certain tasks, hopefully causing them to subscribe for longer periods of time. Players may use the term disparagingly to describe a simplistic and time-consuming aspect of gameplay, possibly designed to keep players playing longer without significant benefit. Time sinks can also be used for other gameplay reasons, such as to help regenerate resources or monsters in the game world.
Many players consider time sinks to be an inherently poor design decision, only included so that game companies can increase profits. For example, one Slashdot article describes time sinks as "gameplay traps intended to waste your time and keep you playing longer". In most games, boring and lengthy parts of gameplay are merely an annoyance, but when used in subscription-based MMORPGs, where players are paying recurring fees for access to the game, they become a much more inflammatory issue. Game designers must be prudent in balancing efforts to produce both involving gameplay and the length of content that players expect.
Time sinks are often associated with hardcore games, though whether this is a positive or negative association depends on the context.
Implementing time sinks in a video game is a delicate balancing act. Excessive use of time sinks may cause players to stop playing. However, if not enough time sinks are implemented, players may feel the game is too short or too easy, causing them to abandon the game much sooner out of boredom. A number of criteria can be used to evaluate use of time sinks, such as frequency, length, and variety (both of the nature of the time sink and the actions taken to overcome it). What is considered a good balance depends in part on the type of game in question. Casual games are often expected to have less in the way of time sinks, and hardcore games to have more, though this is not a hard and fast rule.
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.—Matt Miller, MMODesigner.com
Difference from cooldowns
Time sinks are often confused with cooldowns. A cooldown is defined as set time limit between uses of an ability or other form of interaction, ranging in length from milliseconds (such as use of a weapon) to hours or even days (such as quests that can only be completed once a day) depending on the system in question. As soon as that timer is expired, the ability immediately becomes available. A time sink, on the other hand, requires a player to complete certain activities before it is completed. Additionally, cooldowns are front-loaded, in that they can be used once immediately, and then the player must wait until the timer has expired before it can be used again. Time sinks, on the other hand, are back-loaded, requiring the player to spend time and effort before the reward becomes available.
It is worth noting that activities may have both cooldowns and time sinks associated with them. For example, a quest that can only be done once every 10 hours and requires two hours of work to complete has a cooldown (10 hours between completions) and is also a time sink (in that it requires two hours to complete).
- Gaining levels through experience points (especially if grinding is involved).
- Lengthy travel times.
- Resource or item collecting (such as asteroid mining in space-themed MMORPGs).
- Frequent backtracking
- Timesink from reference.com
- Miller, Matt. Timesinks, MMODesigner.com, 31 May 2010.
- Slashdot: "EverQuest: What You Really Get From an Online Game", 27 December 2002.