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Debatoid: Do timers hurt or enhance a game experience?


Welcome back to Debatoid! The place where we take a topic, form a proposition and have two lovely community members take stances against or for the subject. The guests are encouraged to use personal experience, facts and opinions to sway the community to their side. After that it is up to YOU, the community, to decide who argued their case better. Thank you for joining us for this week's debate. 

One of my favorite series is the Dead Rising games. Dead Rising 4 released last year to mixed reviews and part of those complaints has to do with the removal of a key feature that was present in previous installments. Yup, that would be the timer. I started to think of that one little modifier and how it could impact a game overall. It could add tension to an impending doom that hangs over your head, literally, in games such as Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. The timer could also be a frustration as finally gain some footing in a losing match like Street Fighter V. You may not think much about the ticking timer but there is little doubt that it affects how you play. 

Proposition: Do timers hurt or enhance a game experience?

CaptainBusArgues timers benifit games

My thanks go to SuperMonk4Ever for putting me forward to present a case in the reboot of Debatoid. My thanks also go to the Gods Of Chance, who thanks to the coin flip have given me the opportunity to argue in favor of timers enhancing game experiences. Surely there hasn’t been an easier argument to favor than the Great Debate of 4,000 BC where remarkably skilled orator Ug managed to convince his local village to accept his proposal of favoring round wheels on ox carts over the more controversial square versions.

My argument is going to take us on a harrowing excursion to a dimension where videogames exist without timers; take my hand and follow me into the large, spacious wardrobe that will transport us to this dystopian hellhole. I hope you don't suffer from a history of interdimensional travel sickness! Please try not to trip over the theremin I have placed in the corner; I will be serenading you as we journey forth.


Mind the step now, saunter with me over to this entertainment center conveniently located opposite our dimension-hopping wardrobe.

I’m afraid in this dimension we have very few sports and racing games to show you. As you can imagine, without timers these genres are largely obsolete: It’s nigh-on impossible to emulate the experience of racing or football without a timer to indicate progress. We’ll explore the few games we do have here.

You will find that there are two screens set up; one with a PS4 running Rocket League, the other with a Wii U booted up with Splatoon. Have a goosey gander at these titles while I wait over here, teasing some more sweet sounds out of my trust ol' theremin-o...


Ah, you're back! What did you think? Something’s missing, isn’t there? It’s almost, dare I say, boring? Games such as Rocket League and Splatoon require timers in their game modes as they represent the end state of play. Otherwise, goals could be scored or paint hurled around arenas until the figurative cows came home to roost. Sure, in these games you could introduce a score limit, but these titles rely on a style of play that is fast, frenetic and action-packed. The timer serves as a critical component of achieving this: With the timer removed, the game would encourage a defensive, risk-averse style of play, contrary to the developer’s vision and spoiling player enjoyment.

Without a timer, Splatoon is as fun as watching paint dry.

Try not to dilly-dally; come with me to the study, I’ve got a NES set up with Super Mario Bros. for my next demonstration.

Do you remember the first time you heard the “hurry up” sound effect in Super Mario Bros. and the music start to speed up, indicating you had just 100 “seconds” left to finish the level? Even now, that jingle makes the back of my neck tingle. All of a sudden, a bouncy jaunt through the Mushroom Kingdom turns into a race against the clock. With the timer removed, the game loses a sense of urgency - you are missing an opponent; a driving force to proceed without delay.

Depending on your skill level, the timer in Super Mario Bros. seemed a little surplus to affairs in the opening levels, as the timer was quite generous and encouraged you to find your feet. However in later castle levels the timer became an enemy of its very own, as you fought the clock to memorise the correct labyrinthine path through a level to avoid looping back to an earlier portion. This impetus leads to a need to take risks, which can be costly, but the challenge is balanced by the payoff on completion.

This timer-less dimension has more faithfully recreated other iterations of the Mario series, such as Super Mario 64, but unfortunately it compares unfavourably to the version in our dimension: The footrace with Koopa the Quick feels a lot more pedestrian without the timer, and the race down the hidden castle slide has lost some of its mojo without the timer, well, keeping you ticking along.

Koopa the Quick displaying his trademark sportsmanlike conduct.

Hop over to this PC I have set up in the far corner, I have a few more games to demonstrate to you that sadly haven’t fared well in this timer-free world.

One of my favourite titles as a sprog was the strategy game Worms: Two teams of four worms took it in turns to use a variety of weapons against the opposing team, looking to maximise damage upon the opponent or even destroy opponent worms entirely by flinging them into the sea, or off the map entirely. A wry sense of humor, ridiculous weaponry and fully destructible terrain have helped make the game a cult hit that has spawned innumerable sequels and has single-handedly kept its developers, Team 17, solvent as an independent game developer for over 27 years. Special mention has to go to Worms' use of a timer, normally set at around 45 - 60 seconds, which provides an extra layer of strategy as you hurry to manipulate your position and exploit your weaponry to maximise the damage that you can inflict upon your enemy.

It's no fun to have Worms for longer than 60 seconds.

I’ve just a few more games to show you before, ironically, our time runs out in this timer-less nightmare; the WarioWare series becomes a mildly diverting series of microgames that lose their charm without the agonisingly short timer to push your reflexes; the twitchy and addictive Super Monkey Ball series becomes a so-so simian sphere simulator; Majora’s Mask is a spooky yet stunted sequel to Ocarina of Time, and X-COM 2 is accused of lacking a sense of pace to the overall campaign.

Our time here is at an end. Quickly, back to the wardrobe! Please can you pick up the theremin as we go? I paid £60 for that on eBay.

I’m sure my honorable opponent will have carefully hand-picked examples of the use of a timer system gone awry, such as its controversial uses in Lightning Returns or Dead Rising, where the use of a timer has stymied the central focus on exploration and taking the world in. However, such examples are merely misuses of an exceptionally beneficial, nay, crucial tool in a multitude of games. Our miserable voyage through a world without timers clearly demonstrates that the videogame landscape would be a far poorer one without timers serving as a key mechanic, whether serving as a catalyst for action, encouraging an additional layer of strategy, or serving as a pervasive finality to proceedings.


Ahem, I think you might have sat on my theremin.


RiobuxArgues timers hurt games

You let out a gasp of air you've been holding onto as you crash through the window. You're checking the watch as your rushed footsteps crunch over broken glass. The exit is there! You can see it! Your lungs burn, your legs ache, your heart pounds but you're nearly there! Just open the door an-



It is a common issue, born from an old fiend: The Timer. It has followed us from the 80s (if not earlier) to the present day. Yet it drags its luggage of issues with it everywhere it goes, offloading it onto others. Sometimes even worse, it purposely pushes its packages of problems as though they add a pleasing positive part to the experience. So let's exorcise these demons by examining its sins.

The main sin it presents is tension. That of itself is fine. After all, I love to feel some tension as I dash through the game. I dig wondering if the next corner I will turn will end with my demise, feeling invested enough in the plot to be worried about things going awry or wondering if I can reclaim the multiplayer match as things are looking to go sour. However, timers are an easily manufactured form of tension. They don't make you feel tension because you're invested due to atmosphere, writing or enjoyment, they make you feel tension because you don't want to lose. After all, to lose will mean repeating everything again.

Which who knows why you'll be repeating yourself? Maybe a badly time grope by a zombie will waste enough time? Maybe wrestling with a glitch will do it? Maybe it'll even be because the game lured you away mischievously with the promise of loot and adventure? Anything out the blue can trip you, and this is only intensified with the chaotic environment that is multiplayer. A terribly placed Mei wall or a badly constructed deployable shield can slow you down enough to make you fail.

This is only made more apparent as timers, by their very nature, is a speed-running challenge thrust upon you. It is a proposition of efficiency that breaks down rapidly due to the random nature of going in blind (which, coincidentally, is why games with a random factor to it never become loved by speed-runners). This is especially as you're not given room to consider your move. You must always be moving forward, as inaction (strategizing an unfamiliar situation counts as such) is against you by the very nature of timers. So if something trips you up, like a new enemy, you have to take it in your stride or risk going under foot of the rampaging timer horde.

Which what better way is there to trip you up like having fun. No, really. Imagine your time spent with Dead Rising. You were always pushed to save as many people as you can in a VERY limited time-frame, where even if you let some die you're going to be cutting it fine. So imagine trying to have some fun mowing down zombies and trying new silly clothes on. As well as this, consider how the tension and atmosphere of being surrounded by zombies is just trashed by the constant push for you to get going onto the next side-mission.

In contrast, I present a similar game: Dying Light. Sure it is less comical in tone and definitely more sprawling (there is also about 8 years difference). However, I contend that I had a much better experience in Dying Light than in Dead Rising, simply because I was given time. I was allowed time to consider situations (which helped with the atmosphere of being surrounded by an undead horde), to level up and to just mess about if I just pleased. I did not have a timer breathing down my neck, giving me no chance to smell the gore-smelling roses.


On a development side as well, it also limits your options of what you can present your player for the reasons I've mentioned above. No complex puzzles that require you to really study what is going on. No thought-provoking bosses whom you have to learn the pattern to. I wouldn't even dare consider something steeped in atmosphere, as they're blazing through it before they can think on why there is blood crawling down the walls. Don't you even think about ramming random chance in, as time is of the life-essence. Sure you have your manufactured tension, but is it worth it at a cost of limiting yourself on your own depth and complexity? Considering the majority of single-player titles don't use timers, perhaps not.

Speaking of, I've really focused down on the single-player angle of tension. Something perhaps unfair as timers see a lot more prominence in competitive multiplayer titles like Overwatch, Street Fighter and Civilisation 6. So perhaps it is more appropriate to poke problems in those areas.

First, let's consider what it does in FPSes. The original intention is to provoke those in hiding into action. This is especially true on attack/defend matches with a one-life system, like Rainbow Six: Siege. The reality is all too many times these matches draw to a close anti-climatically by either the timer running out or via the unsatisfying manner of the enemy running into a room to predictably get shot (in what scientists call “suicide by cop”).

That isn't to say there isn't an alternative, especially one Rainbow Six: Siege presents itself: Terrorists. By having a soft-timer (i.e. a timer that doesn't end the game upon expiring) which spawns NPCs to hunt the attackers down, it still allows the enemy team to drag back against all odds while putting the pressure on attackers to go on. This is especially important as if the attackers are greatly out-numbered, they'll need to poke-n-prod defences to get through.

Other FPS titles like Call of Duty, Battlefield and Overwatch would have their own personal ways to push the player into action via soft-timers instead of the anti-climatic boredom that comes from hard-timers. It would simply have to be case-by-case. Like in non-Control maps, Overwatch could utilise a life-system that can be recharged by taking the point, like as used in Insurgency.

Although the poking-n-prodding idea from earlier brings me to fighting matches. As in games like Street Fighter you are forced into ending the match in time. There is a real push to combo hard and fast, as you have the timer ticking away on you. To end with the timer running out, even if you won due to having more health, is something of a depressing let-down and almost shameful.

The ridiculous part is timers aren't even entirely necessary and may even improve the experience when omitted. Sure it may lead to slightly less combo-plays, but is that necessarily a bad thing? As by removing timers you add another tactical play to the fighter's roster: Turtling. It may lack the flash of kicking your opponent around the air, but the process of chipping away at an opponent strikes me as a valid tactic.

No game demonstrates the pointlessness of a timer as Bushido Blade, a fighting title where often the first strike wins. It is one where you're carefully studying each other's behaviour, searching for an indication of what they're about to do before striking deep and true for a hopefully fatal hit. Although it is not always the case, as sometimes you'll just wound. So you keep going, fighting. It is tense, exciting and wonderful. To say Bushido Blade is a cult game is not to do it justice, especially as it shamefully lacks a downloadable version.

So it'd be a shame to be unable to not allow this style of prodding-out-defences into fighters like Street Fighter, Soul Calibur and Skullgirls due to the traditional nature of timers. After all, if someone is turtling too much, then you can use grab attacks to slink around them. There are fortunately loopholes to it.

There is also strategy game timers. The sad truth is turn-based strategy games go on a long time. A prime example is the Civilisation series which feels like it could go on for weeks. Yet they come with a timer system for each turn. The simple truth is sometimes I will need the toilet, or will need to grab something to eat or even answer the door. I can't be chained to a game for 4+ hours. Even 1 or 2 minute timers feels a bit rushed for those times I need to walk away.

It seems better to scrap timers and stick to a vote-kick system. After all, a timer is going to indiscriminately kick or skip your turn. However, people can assess. They can decide if they can wait 10-30 minutes while you cook something, use the toilet or speak to your family about something important. They can then decide if to vote-to-kick or perhaps even vote-to-skip-turn, maybe even allow activation after a certain time has elapsed to prevent shutting a player down cruelly.

In the multiplayer sphere, timers were introduced as a quick-and-safe way to push players into the action. However, we've been using that same system since the mid-90s (Quake springs to mind). You mean to say we haven't found a design option that allows us to either scrap or to soften timers in all that time? Considering the brilliant minds we've seen in the game design field, I somewhat struggle to believe there isn't a better way than what we have now. That we use timers out of simplicity and traditionalism rather than presenting something enjoyable and efficient with them.

There is also one other avenue before we launch into the conclusion: Accessibility. The sad truth is some people are unable to play titles as quickly, as accurately and as extensive as others due to disabilities. On the lighter side of the scale, I have a friend with repetitive strain injury in one of his wrists. While I can game all day and all week, he simply can not as it becomes painful to. On the heavier scale, well, you have conditions that may severely hamper the movements requires to play games. Conditions where charities like Able Gamers and Special Effect exist to aid the bridge between player and game.

While aid does exist to help play games in the first place (my friend has a wrist support strap which extends his playing time), is it fair to make someone fail because their condition makes them slower than the average player or unable to continue play after a time period (leading to being kicked in online strategy matches)? Should timers be a barrier to those unable to be quite quick enough or to have enough endurance?  It may be a fair judgement call, as by the nature of our diverse medium we can not be accessible to every person. However, it is a consideration and a definite weakness to timers.

Is it reasonable to burn all timers to the floor? Not particularly. Even if it is in Debatoid's best interest to have an all-or-nothing approach to debates, I think timers have a place. However, hard-timers are used too often to push players into rushed combat and to induce unfulfilling results. It discourages comebacks gameplay by clamping down strategic thoughtful plays. In single-player it can disguise less thought-out titles by manufacturing tension that, in turns, ruins atmosphere and freedom to have fun. A tension that exists only because you don't want to redo the god damn same section all over again.

So please, treat timers like salt. Not to smother your title with it, as though to cure it, but as a small pinch to garnish.

Major thanks to CaptainBus and Riobux for participating in this Debatoid!

Now, here is how voting works:

1.) The debaters do not have a chance to vote. It would be a little too obvious who they would vote for.

2.) To vote, please start your comment with:

CAPTAIN if you are for timers

RIOBUX if you are against timers

You can comment freely what you would like after that but your vote will not be counted if you don't follow this method. Make sure the names are in all caps, please. That way, they stand out easily.

3.) You only have one vote. Your first vote will be the one that I count. Please don't pressure others into voting one way or the other. You can have a civil discussion about differing opinions but keep it civil.

4.) You should vote on the strengths of the arguments presented. Though your opinion may go some way towards forming your decision, please try to be as impartial as you can be.

5.) DO NOT VOTE IN COMMENT THREADS! Those things can go on for so long that I didn't realize a vote was buried underneath. Please make a new comment to cast your vote.

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Occams   84
Wes Tacos   42
Kevin Mersereau   40
Gajknight   26
Chris Moyse   20
BruceZ   17
Rad Mellow God   15
Vadicta   10
JPF720   5
CaptainBus   4
Gamemaniac3434   2



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About Debatoidone of us since 10:48 AM on 01.01.2017

Inspired by a fever dream of Sean Daisy, Debatoid offers a subject for two sides; two peers give their case against or for the subject and YOU decide the outcome!

If you weren't around in 2011, this probably seems to be a brand new concept. I plan on trying to do a debate twice a month where I find two community members to fight for or against a subject. Once I find two members, I will flip a coin to see which side they are on. They may not even agree with the stance that they are taking but that's the fun of the debate. You are here to make your case with facts and personal experience to try to get the community on your side.

This blog is currently being handled by SuperMonk4ever. If you have a suggestion for a future topic please don't hesitate to let me know! Either send me a message on this profile or tweet it at me @SuperMonk4Ever. If you have any additional concerns or questions, please tweet or DM me on Twitter for the fastest response.

Debates so far:

Are loot boxes a blight on Gaming?