Tobold's Blog
Sunday, June 12, 2016
Build Away!

Although there are half a million games on the Apple app store, the number of "genres" of games with fundamentally different gameplay is still relatively small. Starting a "new game" frequently means playing a game where you are already familiar with the general gameplay, and there are just details or story or graphics that are different from another game you already played before. Play enough games, and sometimes you can even observe how new genres of games evolve step by step.

One of this evolving genres is a new breed of so-called "idle games". They started out as jokes: The oldest idle game I know is Progress Quest, a game designed to parody the focus on endless progress by MMORPGs like Everquest. The next big step in the evolution was Cow Clicker, this time a satire on the effortless endless progress of Facebook games like Farm Ville. While these games had been designed to be "not a game" and show up how "stupid" a game with no challenge leading to endless progress is, the players didn't see it like that. To the big surprise of their creators, people played those "non-games" for the fun of it. Soon devs started to make idle games like Cookie Clicker, with no claim to satire. And then the industry started to take those idle games more and more seriously, even claiming that idle games are the youngest and most interesting video game genre.

And now I'm seeing a new generation of games that take the fundamental mechanics of idle games and turn them around by adding non-linear gameplay elements. For example there is Build Away!, "the world's best idle city simulator". One the one side it is a typical idle / clicker game, where you accumulate money even when idle / offline and gather money by just clicking on houses. But unlike similar games which only have one place to click on which is constantly upgraded, you now unlock more and more plots for more houses. And you need to make at least some actual decisions, as each plot can be built up *and* supplied with power to ever increasing degrees. And there are a bunch of gameplay elements thrown in that you'd expect from more typical Free2Play games, like the ability to buy gems and spend them on new blueprints and other sorts of bonuses. You can also link the game to Facebook and get bonuses from inviting Facebook friends.

So somehow the whole thing has come full circle, from a satire of a game providing a new gameplay element to a new genre of exactly the games that were supposed to be ridiculed.

Oh, I dunno. Cookie Clicker was plenty satirical. I thought it was a hilarious game, and for an "idle" game, it even came with an endgame. It was easily hacked, but the author anticipated that and added a little bit extra if it'd been (poorly) hacked :)
It's all just really an affirmation that a sense of progression is what a lot of gamers want. Even if it doesn't necessarily come with skill progression or even actual gameplay. The sense of accumulation is often enough.

See also: doing Garrisons in WoW.
It's a bizarre story, where intelligent people wrote satire "games" that removed the game elements from successful games - only to find that the morons and slackers love these satires more than the originals.

It's like when someone says something borderline racist and you try to warn him by translating his statement on some group to Jews to show how close he is to the Nazis, only to find him happily agree and openly tell that all Jews must be gassed.

I also hope that the success of these "idle games" finally convince you (Tobold) that M&S is real and a problem.
From satire to Godwin in 3 posts. 'Grats!, Tobold. :)

In all seriousness though, while reading this post I kept waiting for the stat that indicated that Americans were the main buyers/players of this kind of software, but alas, it never came.
My guess is that it results from the average age of the gamer going up united with gaming being mainstream. From a niche activity for hardcore fans, now it's a TV-series replacement, so it's unsurprising that low-engagement, relax-mode games exist.
I'm not really sure that it's just bar filling satisfaction, for me it's more like a no-brain-required relaxing activity (like watching TV).

@Gevlon: considering that you're now playing Black Desert, the single-player MMO with AFK progression, I welcome you among M&S. It seems you're getting older just like us.....

I think I will get ahead of the curve and design a game that is so "idle" that you literally do nothing than install it on your device. After opening the app the first time the game just plays itself for you. Sure you can check on the progress from time to time or watch events as they unfold, but there is no other input required. At least, that seems to be where this is headed.
I'm afraid you are behind the curve there. Progress Quest already worked exactly like that, with no input required. The trend is actually going in the other direction, from "idle games" to "clicker games" and beyond to games with more and more gameplay elements from Free2Play games.
@JoeUrsic: it's already been done, google for "press space to win". If even pressing space is too much for you.... it's ALSO been done, it's called a TV set. You switch it on and images arrive by themselves, no interaction required. Football matches, car races, etc.. all is available. If it's too fast for you, check, featuring 100+ hours duration shows.....

Considering the vast success of TV, it's hardly a surprise that idle games are a winner....

I love this game! I've been playing the "Jericho" game on Netflix for days! The game takes about 20 hours to win, and really, I don't think they're any way to lose! Not much replay value, though, as the game path seems pretty set.
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