Understanding and Developing Idle Games

We discuss what idle games are and how to develop them.
idle games
Idle game Cookie Clicker was a genre-definer.

Ultimately, playing a game is about getting occupied with something fun. What you call fun varies so do game genres. I, for example, seek challenges in games; some people like building cities, and some like doing the bare minimum. Life is already hard. Why should games be? 

That’s right. We are talking about idle games.

Idle (or incremental, clicker, clicking, taping) games are as simple as it gets: You click and watch the game technically play itself. Idle games are about your revenue. Like in simulation games, you focus on the equipment/skills/materials to maximize the growth. The feel of gain is the main instigator of playing those games.

Contrary to what the name suggests, you are not idle in most games: You have to click constantly. So, while the “you click and watch the game technically play itself” part is true, that doesn’t mean you aren’t involved in the game. You will be involved, maybe more so than you plan to. These games are addictive. The sweet feel of progress is irresistible.

Kongregate’s Anthony Pecorella talks about idle game mechanics and monetization.

Idle games will advance with or without you. You keep gaining in your absence. Those games even ask you to take a break and return, considering the implication of cooldown times.

The formula of idle clicker games is this: You log into the game, spend your currency(that might be your action or energy points as well as the game’s literal currency), double, triple, or quadruple your resources, and log out to login later.

While this is the formula, the formula behind the formula demands some knowledge of maths and economics to create. Creating the mechanics of an idle game, namely the resources, multipliers, cooldown times, etcetera, is like solving a profit-maximization problem because those games are literally about profit-maximizing. We will discuss this more under the “How to make an idle game” section.

HomaGames was the company that introduced the concept of arcade idle to the literature.

Arcade Idle Games

Arcade Idle is a subgenre aims to have the best features of idle and adventure arcade games: Wealth building is still the primary motivation, but the arcade mechanics replace complex mining mechanics. Cooldowns and multipliers might exist but not as binding as other idle games.

GameAnalytic’s article defines arcade idle games’ goal as gathering resources and selling them to gain wealth, expanding territory, and “having fun while doing it.” 

The main difference between an arcade idle and an idle game is a playable character; prior has it, latter don’t. The playable character conflicts with the idea of an idle game, where you have minimum interaction with gameplay. Arcade idle games are a member of the idle game genre because of revenue-making mechanics and the good chunk of gameplay gathering resources passively.

Homa Games popularized the arcade idle genre. Their article posted in October of 2021 was about the emergence of this brand-new genre. Later, they held a competition called HomaJam and chose the best arcade idle games participated in the competition.

How to make an idle game

Machinations gives a detailed breakdown of idle game mechanics.

The core of any idle game is as easy as it gets: Players click as much as they can to gain. They will mind those upgrades and rewards, but that’s the only mechanic that idle games revolve around. So, in the beginning, designing the core gameplay will be relatively easy. For details about idle game mechanics, see the video above.

While developing your idle game further, you need to mind the following: Your game should have a solid in-game economy and a reward system. While working out these two, keep in mind that players should progress in the game regardless of their choices. So, no matter what they do, there can’t be any dead ends.

The magic of idle games is optimization. There might be no dead ends, but players will opt-in for the best available way to maximize their revenue nonetheless.

For your core loop, you need to evaluate two values: The cost of upgrades and the rewards of those upgrades. The cost of upgrades should always exponentially increase for the sake of game scaling. Rewards often grow linearly, again, for the sake of game scaling.

The math of your in-game economy should be solid. This article talks about how you can do the math behind your in-game economy. Kongregate’s Developers Blog also has a series about the math in idle games. I strongly advise checking it for further understanding.

Best idle PC games

You can play some of the awesome idle games on your browser.

Here are some awesome idle 2022 PC games for you to play. Some of those games are also playable on mobile devices.

Best idle mobile games

There are great mobile idle games that you can play right now.

We listed some of the best 2022 idle Android and iOS games for you. Some of those games are also playable on PCs.

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