Routine describes a method of game design that encourages players to return to a game a specified times across a set interval. This establishment of regular play time has become more and more popular with the rise of shorter 'social games' and mobile deployed games. Many players of these games engage with them at regular intervals (ie: over their morning coffee), so capitalizing on this trend to encourage recurring play has become an attractive proposition to game designers, especially those in the 'freemium' space. These designers are relying on some very engaged players to decide to spend money on items/abilities/etc to make use of these times as useful as possible within the game.
Integrating games around daily life is becoming more and more common
Provide players with repeating patterns of engagement to bring them game content in smaller, more manageable sessions. Routine is a double edged sword, though, as it may become merely habitual, and prevent players from engaging beyond the minimum required by the routine interaction. It can also be dangerous, as routine and habit are the building blocks of addiction, so designers must decide how and where to use routine in responsible and positive ways. Routine can be a great way to provide players with updates and new content, keeping them engaged and interested for much longer play periods.
Hearthstone, the new digital collectible card game (CCG) from Blizzard has a system for providing challenges on a daily basis. These challenges are provided at a rate of one per day, with bank room for three total. They arrive early in the day, ready and waiting for when players jump on to play their first game. These challenges are a fun and interesting sub-goal, and also provide a small reward in gold, the currency for buying additional cards.
Players are not obligated to complete these challenges, as they are optional and have little value to player advancement other than their reward in gold. However, because they are the method to 'gaming the system' and getting 'free' cards, players get into a habit of trying to complete them. By engaging with these free, incentive-driven goals, players become more and more likely to continue to engage with the game, also increasing the likelihood that they will purchase cards with actual currency at some point.
Though routine can be a useful tool to help players find time for playing games around their schedules, it also means that if something in their life changes, the game may get pushed aside because it cannot fit into the new schedule. Because designers cannot control the lives of their players, making routines flexible can help make players feel like the game is working with them instead of against them.
Players may not have the same amount of time per play session, and perhaps may want to engage with the game for longer than usual play sessions. If after the routine portion of the game is over there is nothing to do, the game can begin to seem smaller and less interesting, a disincentive to players for coming back for the next routine play session. Always having enough interaction for players is an important consideration when designing with routine in mind.
The pattern is a rising method of design.