The Joke that Gave Birth to The Idle Game Genre
The past decade saw the rise of mobile and casual gaming to epic proportions. All of a sudden, people you wouldn’t exactly call “gamers” started having their eyes and fingers glued to their smartphone screens. Many were harvesting virtual pumpkins while others waged war with other players across the globe.
Idle games rose to become one of the top game genres in the aforementioned timeframe. It didn’t start as a fully-conceptualized idea with well-thought-out mechanics. Instead, many of these games started as jokes which then surprisingly turned into a full-blown obsession, according to a research paper.
Thing is, how did this happen? Well, let’s break it paper and put forth a few conclusions.
Idle games, interactivity, and absurdity
One thing that sets video games apart from other forms of entertainment and media (TV, films, print, etc), is its interactivity. Once you interact with the elements present in a game, it delivers feedback. In this case, every action will warrant a reaction.
Idle games somehow manage to turn this around and somehow emphasize letting players give as little action as possible while maximizing reaction by letting the game play on its own. With this in mind, you’d ask “why would people want to play a game that focuses on letting players provide as little action as possible?”. You can easily attribute this to casual players not having enough time to sit through a full session.
Moreover, idle games promise huge rewards with little effort. In many idle games, players and characters level up even without player intervention. This feeds to the feeling of accomplishment, especially if players log in again and somehow discover their character beat a level they never could before and have enough currency to buy a character they’ve been raring to get.
Absurdity and interesting player behaviors
Many video games are full of absurd concepts, and idle games are filled to the brim with them. Despite this, the paper concludes that its development process “is inspired from a process of continuous engagement with something that can be brought to an absurd logical conclusion”.
Even if you could say that idle games aren’t what you’d call experiences with fully-fledged concepts, players go beyond the norm and give it extensive focus. A good example is Tap Titans’ player-base. Developer Lucas Mills stated that “some of our players build spreadsheets or track down their progress and make calculations.” This approach to playing is unheard of in casual titles and is more prevalent in the player-base of more comprehensive and competitive franchises, like in Pokémon.
Idle games and paradigm shifts
A paradigm shift is a major shift in how something works or is accomplished. All games have their own approach to how they set the pace of these changes, although idle games take it up a notch. In Candy Box, you’ll start with a single button and somehow end up with an extremely comprehensive RPG system. Meanwhile in Kittens, they layer in new concepts which players have to learn, and in a way, this helps turn the narrative cogs and pushes the story forward.
What started from a joke is no longer a joke
Although many of these idle games started from a joke, the revenue they’ve provided and the experiences they’ve delivered are anything but. They will to continue to become a big thing in mobile and in PC, although a foray into the console scene is unimaginable at this point. It’s just insane when you consider how games that provide little interaction compared to traditional genres managed to captivate millions of people and give rise to an entirely new genre.
In your case, what do you think? Will these kinds of games get a boost and even make an appearance in consoles?