A Look at Idle Games
Idle games as a phenomenon have had their initial boom in 2013 and is now in the process of maturing. We are seeing more idle games monetizing and inspiring other games outside of of the genre.
In this blog one of the things I’m planning on spending some time on is talking about some of the idle games I have played and some of the interesting things they have done. To start things off let us take a look at the a short timeline of idle games.
A Short Timeline
Progress Quest came out as a game with no interaction after character creation, there were other similar games on Newgrounds but they have been lost to history making Progress Quest the first popular proto-idle game.
We hit the boom of Zynga and FarmVille, here we are seeing the Skinner Box being pushed to the limit and the idea of short periods of gameplay spread over the day.
Here we see the emergence of what we consider the modern Idle game with the the releases of Candy Box, Cookie Clicker, and A Dark Room. Once these hit these hit the scene countless spinoffs were created and idle games as a genre were established.
Another noticeable jump in popularity for the genre, a few games have gotten a high degree of polish and made the jump to Steam with monetization. Valve even got in arena with their Monster Summer Game.
What are idle games?
I’m not going to a give a singular definition. Doing so inevitably will have some exceptions, then you are either forced to keep broadening the definition to the point it is meaningless or have a big list of exceptions. Instead I’ll outline some of the common elements to idle games, while this makes it harder to refer to game with a single label like RPG or FPS it makes it a lot easier to compare similar games against each other. Here are some of the labels most commonly associated with idle games
The most distinctive feature of idle games, the player will advance through the game even when not actively playing. In most cases this takes the form of accruing resources.
The other distinctive feature of most idle games is exponential growth, one minute you are poking away mining at one metal a second and the next you need scientific notation to keep track.
At times this is at odds with the passive progress. In some games you have to actively be involved to take advantage of the exponential growth, it can be the case where a night’s progress is equivalent to a few minutes of upgraded progress.
Pretty much every idle game is at some level an exploration game. A common theme for idle games is to start by only showing you the most basic mechanics and unlocking more through play, a few have gone farther and included a narrative experience that unfolds at the same time. Extra Credits did a episode called The Waiting Game on this kind of exploration that does a decent job of covering it
While an idle game is mechanically simpler than most other games idle games expect you to get your hands dirty dealing with the numbers. Most games take pains to hide the nitty gritty of how things work to streamline the user experience, idle games turn tweaking those mechanics into most if not all of the game.
New Game +
Another common theme is resetting the game to gain a resource that can be used buy things that will persist through these resets. This makes it easier to stretch out the content and allows the player to re experience material in a new way, generally reinforcing the player’s growth.
In addition to the above elements there are lots of other things to consider when look at idle games.
Level of Interactivity
One of the big mistakes idle games can make is, ironically enough, requiring too much attention from the player. Generally it involves requiring the player to be constantly buying more resource producers or upgrades to keep up with the exponential growth and is often found in games that feature resetting.
Many idle games involve clicking to get resources. These games have to deal with the existence of auto clicking scripts. Some games ignore them while other design around them. Generally speaking it’s a choice between making clicking a useful activity later in the game and limiting the value of auto clickers.