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This article may lend undue weight to the term as it pertains to video games. Time sink is not strictly a video game term. (February 2017)
A time sink (also timesink), time drain or time-waster is an activity that consumes a significant amount of time, especially one which is seen as a wasteful way of spending it. Although it is unknown when the term was coined, it makes an analogy with heat sink.
In video games
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
- "time-waster" entry at Cambridge Dictionary
- 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.