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I noticed that many social games have the concept of "timeouts". In farm games etc. it obviously makes sense (stuff grows, etc.). But I also noticed that angry birds introduced this as well. Individual angry bird games are pretty much stateless, so it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense at first glance (and some users are upset because of this).

What is the purpose of this? Does it bring more money somehow? Does it help retaining the users? Is this a new concept? Does it have any other applications, particularly in non-game realms?

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Could you quickly outline what kind of timeouts Angry Birds has? I know what you're talking about in the context of the *Ville games, but I haven't played Angry Birds and I can't really think of anything that would make sense. I think others who haven't played the game either will appreciate that as well. –  TravisG Jul 7 '11 at 14:05
    
@heishe: Thanks for the feedback. Basically when you finish levels pretty quick, it'll say "more levels will be available after x hours" and you have to wait for this much time until you can play more levels. –  Enno Shioji Jul 7 '11 at 14:11
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I believe it's the same as the x Ville games, just to get users coming back often. The problem is that it is no longer the game that fits around your life, but your life that starts to fit around the game, in which case it may be questionable to still call them casual games. –  Jonathan Connell Jul 7 '11 at 14:24
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@3nixios I disagree, "Casual" games are the ones pioneering this, not "hardcore" games. The timeouts are something that makes a game more casual. –  AttackingHobo Jul 7 '11 at 20:03
    
I thought you are talking about the vacation time on Chess.com until I recalled 140 Army and Kingdoms at War. Well, I played Harvest Moon and found myself played one season in-game within 23PM to 4:30AM real-time. –  SHiNKiROU Jul 7 '11 at 20:14

3 Answers 3

up vote 16 down vote accepted

There's a lot of questions here, I'll try to answer as many as I can to the best of my ability.

First: Is this a new concept? No. A lot of web games use "timeouts" in the form of terms, action points, or limiting the total amount of actions a player can do at once to a low number. This was true 13 years ago with the online game Utopia, and is still true in many web games today, where you get x action points per hour, and different things cost different amounts of points. This mechanic is used in board games and card games, as well, though it's usually along the lines of "you can play X cards on your turn", and is usually a way to keep the game moving.

Second: What's the purpose of this? In most online games, the purpose, as Josh pointed out in his answer, is usually to balance players, and prevent someone from having an advantage just because they have more time. If one player can dominate because they can spend 20 hours a day in the game, then no one else can have a chance at winning (or having fun). There are other reasons though. It can spread the content of the game out, so players don't reach the end in a few hours (this is especially useful in MMOs, where games tend to launch without much content). In the case of web games, it can decrease bandwidth usage (bandwidth is no longer an issue, but it was a concern in the early days of the web, and that's probably part of the reason for the convention). Josh also mentions laws in some countries to prevent extended play sessions, as well as encouraging players to return to the game later. These are both valid points.

Third (and forth): Does it bring in money or help retain users? It can. The quote "Leave them wanting more" comes to mind. Forcing users to stop playing will hopefully make them want to come back, or at least give them a reason to participate in the "community" side of games ("I've used up all my points for today, let's read the forums for a bit and talk about the game"). It can also be a source of income. "Buy 100 action points for $10" Of course, this can upset the game balance by letting the rich people with free time dominate.

Finally: Does it have other applications? Hard to say. TV shows have been doing this sort of thing for years (soap operas excel at it), and TV took the idea from radio dramas ("Tune in next time to see if our hero escapes!"). Prior to that, books were often published in serial format, including Charles Dicken's novels. The wiki article about serial literature includes other examples. How to apply this idea to something that isn't entertainment is an exercise I'll leave to you.

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+1 for this very well thought-out and insightful answer that finally ties it all together with a slight digression into soap operas (ha ha, nicely done!). Additionally, I particularly enjoyed reading the words "...MMOs, where games tend to launch without much content..." as I believe this simultaneously serves an important parallel commentary on MMOs that is too-often forgotten about. –  Randolf Richardson Jul 7 '11 at 17:38
    
-1 for this answer which is all over the place, and does not address the question. You make four points, none of them apply to Angry Birds, and none of them explain the reason that Angry Birds uses this mechanic. –  Olhovsky Jul 7 '11 at 21:05
    
In response to your points: First: Angry Birds does not require this mechanic to "keep the game moving" as in board games. Second: There is no player balancing required in Angry Birds that make this mechanic useful, like in online MMOs that you mention. Third: It does not help Angry Birds make more money in the paid version, which still has the mechanic. Finally: This point has nothing to do with the question, and "how this applies is an exercise for the reader" is not a very good way to answer someone's question. –  Olhovsky Jul 7 '11 at 21:08
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@Olhovsky, you're right, nothing in my answer touches on angry birds. There's an answer that explains why angry birds uses the mechanic by @f20k. My answer deals with Why games have "timeouts", which is, after all, the title of the question. Thanks for the feedback all the same. –  thedaian Jul 7 '11 at 21:16

Having never played the *Ville games, a "Timeout" sounds an awful lot like a "cooldown period", which is not a new concept - all sorts of games have cool down periods (rpgs, mmo, fps, etc). The cooldown period may just be longer for *Ville games. The other replies mention reasons why.

As for Angry Birds.. particularly Rio - I seem to recall that when the game came out, they specified when you can expect to unlock/play other levels (ie Stage 2 in May, Stage 3 in June, etc). When the level 2 update came out, they removed this timeline completely. And now that the third Stage is out, only half of it is available. I don't know if this is part of their marketing scheme but it seemed to me that they had some trouble meeting deadlines..

Also in the first Angry Birds, I don't remember seeing levels being unlockable after some time. It seemed more like, they issue an update and now there's a new level added (without mentioning it existed in the first place). - Then again, I downloaded the first one months after it came out..

In either of the two angry birds, I don't see how it would bring any more revenue seeing as how I play the free version and it updates for free.

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One possibile explaination is to encourage players to return to the game later, presumably because it can produce more ad revenue (for ad-supported games, possibly depending on the terms of the ad contract), increased mindshare, or a more diverse social population. The latter is especially important for games with a strong social component.

Another explaination is to keep people away from the game. Some countries have laws that involve limiting (or penalizing) a player in certain scenarios if they play for too long. Some games don't want to allow players with vastly more time available to have such an unfair advantage over those with a more casual block of time (this is what the FF 14 developers claimed as the reason the game limits XP gain after eight hours of play, for example).

I'm not too familiar with Angry Birds but it doesn't sound like either of these reasons would really apply to it, so I'm afraid I can't help you there.

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Regarding the claims by the FF 14 developers, although the limits should be effective at keeping XP gain down to 8 hours, this doesn't prevent a player from creating a new account (even if they have to use a different eMail address) and develop a second character there during the other 8 hours. For addiction and sleep deprivation problems, this solution certainly doesn't solve these issues (which are pretty difficult to resolve anyway), but I'm left wondering if the game design might have far too much emphasis on balance between players (perhaps this is more of an issue in smaller games). –  Randolf Richardson Jul 7 '11 at 17:30

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