Click To Win! Why Idle Games Are Awful and Awesome

The idle sensation that started it all, for better or worse.

Ah… Idle games.  Bet you didn’t even know that was a genre.  Well, until about a year ago, it wasn’t.  It all started with a little thing called Cookie Clicker. (Sorry not sorry I linked there.)

A small, not very well known game that came out.  You played it in a browser and the general premise was quite simple.  You click the cookie.  You click the cookie once, and you get a cookie.  Click it again, another cookie.  Keep clicking it until you have 15 cookies, at which point something magical happened.  You could buy a Cursor!  A cursor that would click the cookie for you, once every 10 seconds.  So you buy the cursor for the low low price of 15 cookies, and there it is.  Occasionally clicking.  You get .1 cookies per second, automatically!  So you keep clicking the cookie, and buy a second cursor.  This time a bit more expensive at 23 cookies.  But now you’re getting .2 cookies every second!  By golly, this great.  Eventually you hit 1 cookie per second from your cursors.  Eventually, you can spend 500 cookies to get yourself a Grand Ma.  She can get you 2 cookies per second.  Keep clicking the cookie, keep getting more Grand Mas, and eventually you’re up to 10 cookies per second.  Then 20.  You unlock more and more cookie generating units.  for 4 billion cookies you get an Anti Matter Condenser, which makes cookies out of nothing!  Millions of cookies per second!

Eventually, you’re able to get some achievements (own 100 Grand Mas) and you can increase how many cookies each Grand Ma gets you. Now its 4 cookies per second for each one.  Now its 8 cookies.  These upgrades cost you cookies, sure, but you’re also getting a ton more cookies per second!  This trend keeps going, you keep upgrading your cookie generators when it no longer makes sense to even click the cookie, you have others to do that for you.  The time it takes to get the next upgrade goes up, and you’re just waiting for the opportunity to get more cookies per second.  Thats where the “Idle” part of this genre comes in.  You don’t have to do anything except let the cookie click itself for hours.  Days. Months.  Eventually you can reset, giving a passive multiplier for your next go through.  So you build up your cookie empire once again until you’re at a good point where it takes days before you get the next big “thing” to increase your cookie production and by that point, its time for another reset.

As we sit here today, I’ve had Cookie Clicker running in my browser for about 13 months.  I am making 8.21 Quintillion cookies per second.  My reset multiplier is 7.79 billion%.  Why am I still playing this game?  AM I even playing this game?  Every few days I go in and buy something, but actively, no, I am not really playing.  But thats how the genre works.  You get stuff to buy more stuff to get more stuff faster, so you don’t have to manually get the stuff yourself.A Dark Room

I write this today, because since the start of Cookie Clicker, there has been a number of idle games that have blessed my screen.  Some more successful than others.  The basic formula from Cookie Clicker has been re-used, but not all games are like that.  Some have adventure elements like Candy Box and A Dark Room (Also available on iOS!)  Some are more passive but give more options, such as Adventure Capitalist.  Some have a staggering number of options, like Civ Clicker.

And now, over the last weekend, a new game came out for iOS.  Called Bitcoin Billionairescreen568x568You tap the screen to get bit coins, which you can then spend on items that make bit coins for you.  Its the same premise, now on your phone.  The question thats been on my mind, is why are these games so successful?  Its obviously not a personal need to click, because we click all the time.  But something draws people into these games.  Part of it is the sense of discovery, I think.  Whats the next big thing that will get you more cookies?  Sometimes the game changes completely once you hit a certain point, and you wouldn’t want to miss out on something amazing later.  Part of it is the human desire to watch numbers increase.  I’ve learned more about orders of magnitude from idle games than I ever thought possible.  Thousands.  Millions.  Billions.  Quadrillions, Quintillions, sextillions…. septemvigintillions.  Part of it is the completionist mindset.  Get all the achievements, I only need 400 Anti Matter condensers to get the next milestone!  Its so close, just if I click a bit more.  But in the end, its all worthless.  Cookies, virtual bitcoins, virtual civilizations… none of that matters.  If I close my browser and lose my place, will my life really be any different?  But I don’t, and some guy somewhere is getting a shitton of ad revenue from my open Cookie Clicker.

So I ask you, have you gotten into this trap? If so, or if not, why?

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