Over the past year or so idle games have grown in popularity, just check out the number of plays the games on Kongregate’s idle page have. I’ve been playing a lot of Kittens Game recently and in the spring I was hooked on CivClicker. Thus, for September’s one game a month I’m making an idle game (which is also why I’m posting this primer).

What is an idle game?
Put simply, an idle game is one that runs in real time in which the player advances by upgrading/building things. It’s called idle because the browser-based games usually need to run in the background to work.

They are also known as incremental games. This is because the core game mechanic is literally incremental growth.

Most of these types of games that I’ve seen tend of an irreverent theme to them. Kittens Game is about creating a civilization of cats, unicorns, griffins, and so on. Cookie Clicker uses time machines to make more cookies. But why are making all these cookies?

Picture an old-school Facebook game but without having to invite your friends or paying for special currency. Also the art is quite minimal in many of these incremental games:

Kittens Game

More Notable examples
Cookie Clicker
Idle Mine
AdVenture Capitalist
Clicker Heroes

How to make an idle game
As of writing this I have yet to find a guide to making idle games that doesn’t involve hard coding. I’m sure there’s a way to make games like this in blueprint or other visual scripting (but that would also be tedious).

Here’s a good guide to get you started making a game in HTML, CSS and Javascript.

An easier approach is to use a template made by the Cookie Clicker maker. The Idle Game Maker takes the abstraction of coding in translates it into english. That way you can make an idle game using plain language.

You can get more support and show your game at the incremental games subreddit.

Making it fun
Here are some rough concepts to ensure you have a somewhat engaging game:

  • Ramp up quickly (let the player make tons of purchases and upgrades) then slow the pace down.
  • Start with the simple mechanics then add complexity has the game goes on.
  • The added complex systems should take stress off of creating the core resources.
  • Keep things fresh by adding surprising bonuses to the player.
  • Keep the player curious about what will come next and what new resources will be used for.

That’s all there is for now, I’m sure in the future that someone will make it even easier to create an idle game. For now, you’ll just have to wait.