The game lasts for a fixed period of game time, such as one month or three years.
When the game ends, the player either loses the game if he failed to properly win over any of the girls, or "finishes" one of the girls, often by having sex with her, marrying her (as in Magical Date), and/or achieving eternal love.
The player must befriend and carefully build and maintain a relationship with one or more characters.
There are also Girls' Love games, which focus on female/female relationships, and Boys' Love games, which focus on male/male pairings.
This gives the games more replay value, since the player can focus on a different girl each time, trying to get a different ending.
Dating sims often revolve almost entirely around relationship-building, usually featuring complex character interactions and branching dialogue trees, and often presenting the player's possible responses word-for-word as the player character would say them.
The term later expanded to encompass any game with romantic simulation elements, even when combined with other genres.
Series such as Sakura Wars combine tactical RPG gameplay with dating sim gameplay.
In a typical dating sim, the player controls a male avatar surrounded by female characters.