Genre-ifying Time Management Games

not how I'll be spending my time

I recently got a promotional email from PlayFirst (see above) pushing their “top time management hits” and exhorting me to “check out these fan favorite time management games!” My question: Are there really people out there who are thinking to themselves, “Hm, I wish I had a new time management game to play”? Isn’t that like someone thinking, “Okay, time to buy a new audio-based interpersonal communication device,” instead of “I need a new phone”?

PlayFirst, of course, is proud home of Diner Dash, which is more or less the original time management game (at least, as far as the capital-W West is concerned). Time management games (which, weirdly, do not seem to have a Wikipedia page) are games in which the player is asked to manage the time spent on various tasks to maximum efficiency. This generally takes the form of setting one or more tasks in motion, then waiting until they’ve completed, coming back to collect the beneficial result (or in other words, harvesting what you’ve sown), lathering, rinsing, and repeating. Yes, FarmVille is a time management game. Read more in TouchArcade’s time management category.

But do players think of them as such? Genres like “real-time strategy”, “first-person shooter,” and even “massively multiplayer online game” seem to make more sense to me as consumer handles. Apparently, the time management crowd responds to “time management” as a genre at this point. I’m only surprised because it doesn’t sound very appealing as a marketing label. Even “harvest games” seems better.

What would you call these things if you were trying to sell them to a crowd that had never heard of such a thing? Not that that crowd really exists anymore.

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  • Erin Hoffman

    Ah, I see what happened here, sorry (@gryphoness here). I missed the small “read more” link. :)

    I think my comment still more or less holds, though. I think “time management” is completely aspirational for the demographic in which these games are most popular. Consider that this is not an audience that finds the notions of “first person shooter” or “real time strategy” aspirational or appealing. But to be better at managing time? Totally sexy. The demo is primarily women who are already juggling 48377232 things in their lives, and time management games provide this little island where everything can be neatly contained, where the challenging dimensions of their lives are expressed elegantly. By contrast, “harvesting” is not appealing — the only possible substitute I can think of is “business sim”, which some of time management’s cousins in social games are called.

    Farmville is not a time management game, in comparison. As much as folk have railed against the use of the “social game” monicker, I think it is equally appropriate insofar as it identifies the differentiating characteristic of the game mechanics. In social games you cannot progress without the help of your friends. They are excessively difficult, if not impossible, to solo (most of them you can buy your way through but this isn’t really a game mechanic; the expressive element of Farmville is also social, and part of why you would not play Farmville were it not connected to friends via the internet). The exchange of resources across the social graph is what identifies those games. It has appointment mechanics, which I could see seem like time management (you’re managing your real life time), but these appointment mechanics aren’t central, or you would also call Animal Crossing a “time management” game. The challenge is not in juggling ever-increasing tasks across small contained bits of time.

    So I’m good with “time management games”. It’s a little awkward, but not within the space, and it seems to me that “real-time strategy” is far vaguer unless you’re also similarly cultured into hardcore games. :)