Temporal Resource

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Time becomes a resource when a game regulates the duration of the gameplay explicitly.

A game can establish its total duration, as well as any sub-periods and their length. When duration is explicitly regulated by a game, then time is being treated as a resource. For instance, a game might last ten minutes played in two halves of five minutes each.

A temporal subdivision does not have to be constant for the duration of the game. Time can be considered a resource, in the sense that there might be certain actions, rules, or events that modify the game’s duration. Segmentation via temporal resource is common in sports games, such as basketball or soccer. In soccer, a game lasts ninety minutes, played in two halves of forty-five minutes. (The referee, however, has the authority to grant extensions on the duration of the half period if he believes certain in-game events warrant it.)

Another form of temporal segmentation takes place when the player is allotted a specific amount of time to complete a certain task, fulfill a goal, or simply do the best he can. Also, many games use a different visual representation for what is essentially a time-limit. For example, Donkey Kong has a numerical counter, while other games may use an energy or fuel gauge.

Temporal resource is not necessarily equivalent to a time-dependent goal. For example, in racing games the winning condition is taking the least amount of time to reach a certain location. In these cases, it is important to have a “low time” and there is an implicit “maximum time” (even the slowest opponent will eventually finish). This time, however, is not constant nor explicitly communicated to the player; therefore we cannot argue that temporal resource segments gameplay, unless the win-condition involved getting to a certain location in a certain amount of time.

These are some questions that, if answered affirmatively, can help establish the degree to which time is used as a resource:

  • Is there a time limit to achieve a certain goal? or
  • Does the player manage a task as many times as possible within the time limit?
  • Is the limit made explicit to the player?
  • Does achieving the goal benefit the player, in the form of e.g. bonus points, or extra time in the next level?


Strong Examples

Atari Basketball

Inserting a quarter in the machine granted the player one minute of playtime. Atari called this mechanism Add-A-Coin™. The actual time awarded per quarter depended on how the machine was configured by its operator.

Marble Madness

In order to succeed in Marble Madness, the player must be not only skilled but also fast to get to the goal. Every level must be completed within the allotted time (which does not change); when the counter reaches “00” the game ends. Interestingly, the temporal resource segmentation allows the player to begin a level adding leftover time if he performed well on the previous one (though this is not true of all levels). However, if the player loses the marble over the edge, he loses time because the timer is not paused while the new marble is repositioned. The lure of reaching the end goal with seconds to spare, combined with the agony of losing time after a precipitate maneuver results in a tense gameplay experience.

Magic: The Gathering Online

In Magic: The Gathering Online, play is regulated by a clock that alternates between players when each has priority. The clock acts as a limiting factor and is one of the main argument for digital tournament Magic over paper tournament Magic, as paper magic is not nearly as punitive of slow play (in MTGO, the player loses when he or she runs out of time). Being able to manage time as a resource is not a factor that players playing with physical cards can visualize so easily.

Weak Examples

Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup

The duration of the game is established by how soon one of the members of the team (the so-called seeker) takes to retrieve the snitch. In the GameCube version of the game, each action that the player does (e.g. passing, or scoring) adds up to the bar that indicates how close the player is to have the chance to retrieve the snitch. The better the player does in the game, the sooner she will race to get the snitch.


In Starcraft, which is a RTS (real time strategy) game, you have to manage many resources in order to achieve victory. The main resources can be seen as minerals, gas, and supply limit, which act as constraints on what you can build, upgrade, etc. Another resource that the player can have in single player mode is time, which usually will come in the form of a count-down timer, where the player is forced to defend a base from oncoming attackers or complete some mission. In addition, in playing against both AI and other human players online, the player must utilize his/her time quickly and efficiently in order to win.

Relations with other elements of the Ontology


Temporal Segmentation


Donkey Kong. Shigeru Miyamoto (1981) Nintendo: Arcade.

Atari Basketball. Atari (1979) Atari: Arcade

Marble Madness. Atari (1984) Atari: Arcade

Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup (2003). Electronic Arts: GameCube (also PC, PS2, XBOX, GBA)