I can’t help to notice a lot of hate and vitriol against mobile idle games. It’s common to see this topic come up again and again while browsing reddit communities (like r/iosgaming and r/androidgaming). In this article we’re going to try to answer the question: “Why are idle games so popular?”.
Your Answer Upfront:
Idle games rose to popularity due to their addicting and streamlined gameplay loop that revolves around progressing further and faster with each session while requiring very little thought or input from the player. Their simple controls coupled with our desire for progression AND the rise of mobile devices has been a huge contributing factor to idle and incremental games popularity.
In this article we’ll take a look at Idle Games, explain what they are, why the exist and how they became so popular. At the end of the article we’ll give you a recommendation of an idle game that can be played during boring online Zoom meetings.
What Are Idle Games?
Idle Games are low interactivity games in which you don’t have to perform too many actions or pay extreme amount of attention to (hence the name). They start by requiring the player to perform a repeated action (like clicking or tapping the screen) and rewards said action but offer ways in which to automate the process.
Take Cookie Clicker as an example. It’s a game in which you click on the screen and for each click you “bake” a cookie (🍪). Once you bake enough cookies you can hire a grandma to help you bake cookies (🍪).
You start with 1 click = 1 cookie and you end up in a situation where every second millions of cookies are baked turning the very fabric of the Universe into a cookie baking machine.
Games like Cookie Clicker have rose to prominence over the years and have grown in complexity. No longer are they games with simple graphical prowess and instead have evolved in full blown 2D and 3D titles that, while, albeit containing a simple gameplay loop, can rival most mobile gaming offerings.
A good example of a great looking 3D idle or incremental game is GamePub’s INFINITE HERO: 3D Idle RPG (iOS and Android). Although more complex than Cookie Clicker, at first sight, the game follows the incremental or idle game genre formula.
What’s The Point Of Idle Games?
Idle games usually feed into our desire to progress. They’re games that are boiled down to just this – progression. The best way to describe an idle game is watching numbers goes up.
The earliest idle games on Kongregrate (the birthplace of idle games) was just that. You would perform actions (clicks) and watch numbers go up – a satirical view on progression systems.
As more and more time has passed an audience of idle games started to emerge. The genre is known for its accessibility features and easy to grasp mechanics. Coupled with some spectacular effects, animations and good overall feedback, idle games mechanics began to rise to prominence very fast.
Mobile devices became a good fit for these kind of games and very rapidly more and more games of various genres started incorporating elements of idle game design.
What Makes An Idle Game Addicting?
Although idle games have evolved over the years and incorporated new tricks and features the basic premise remains the same: they give the player a sense of progression and satisfaction.
When the player reaches a point in their session, at their choosing (most of the time), they can reset all their progress and start anew, reaching their last plateau (point of reset) faster than ever before.
Their addictiveness sterns from this exact cycle of perform, progress and reset. The sense of accomplishment players get when they realize they’ve become better (artificially or otherwise) at the game then their previous selves is accompanied by a rush of dopamine and accomplishment almost unmatched in the short term.
Idle games represent the pinnacle of game design boiled down to it’s very essence. They offer player enjoyment, progression and mastery while requiring very little dedication.
As players progress through the games they find themselves having to interact very little, mostly in the early stages however, their drive to return to the game time and time again is enhanced by the promise of progression even when not interacting with the game. What do I mean by that?
Most incremental games offer the ability to progress even when disconnected from the game, when offline. It makes the player feels as the world continues and persists and their avatar is continuing the good fight. And when the player re-engages with the world once again, he is rewarded by having all his progress unfold at once.
Maybe the player’s game of choice was an idle RPG in which his avatar has slain 400k monsters or a tycoon building game and his construction company raised their skyscrapers to the moon.
Whatever the theme, when the player returns from a good night’s rest and opens up their phone, they can immediately perceive just how much things have evolved as they collect the rewards.
As soon as the rewards are collected, the player begins a quick 30s to 5 minute session of re-investing the collected rewards into the game’s Meta aspect which, in turns helps him achieve a single thing: to progress faster than ever before.
What’s A Good Idle Game To Play During Boring Zoom Meetings?
I’ve probably played more idle games than I would care to admit. They are the perfect treat for dealing with a meeting in which I am forced to attend but have very little to contribute.
I’ve previously mentioned INFINITE Hero: 3D Idle RPG by Gamepub for a reason. You can download it for free for iOS and Android.
It’s a masterfully made idle game for RPG aficionados with a decent art-style and fantasy motifs. It’s simple enough for anyone to grasp, regardless of their gaming experience, yet deep enough to offer hours upon hours of entertainment.
If, however, you’re more interested in a more classical Idle Game then you can’t go wrong with Tap Titans 2 by Game Hive Corporation (iOS and Android). It’s more akin to the original idle games in presentation and features but masterfully polished and balanced.
Both games are a good first entry into the idle game genre for those in love with RPG progressions. For anyone else, Cookie Clicker remains an unbeaten masterpiece to be consumed in their web browser of choice.
Where To Next?
Congrats, you’ve made it to the end of the article! We write extensively about mobile games and we have a handful of them to recommend. Check out this article where we recommend games that you can play with your kids, aptly titled “Best Smartphone Games You Can Play With Your Kids”. We also have a lot of reviews up for quite a few games, like this one about Metal Slug Attack.
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5 thoughts on “Why are idle games so popular on mobile?”
Kittens Game is a text based idle game and it’s addictive like crack. It’s more complex than a lot of ‘visual’ games. You got the nail on the head about liking watching numbers go up
This and universal paperclips! I like to let players discover them themselves so I don’t feel like them loosing productivity is due to my recommendation.
When I was contracting for a adult game’s publisher, I showed universal paperclip to one of their employees and I watched the guy loose hours at the office just staring and playing that game. It got so bad HR had a meeting with us and banned the game in the entire office.