What Are Idle/Incremental Games?

Primal-KappaIn the last couple of years, idle and incremental games have exploded in popularity. Unlike most other games, this genre of game isn’t focused on a win condition. To many gamers, the premise of this type of game may seem rather pointless, but the concept isn’t unique to the idle and incremental genre.

What is an Idle or Incremental Game?

The term “idle game” is coined from the concept that you can progress in the game while you’re not actively playing. For instance, in Clicker Heroes, the heroes that you level up will fight for you and earn gold while the game runs in the background. Additionally, when you return to the game after it’s closed for an extended period of time, you’ll come back to a pile of gold your heroes earned while you were away.

The “incremental” portion comes from the backbone of the game, which involves some form of leveling up and purchasing upgrades, in order to become more and more powerful over time. The longer you play, the bigger the numbers get, and the faster the game will go.

Main Concepts of Idle/Incremental Games

In addition to leveling up, collecting currency, and purchasing upgrades, each idle game has its own unique flair. In Crusaders of the Lost Idols, you also have to organize your characters for maximum efficiency, in a similar fashion that you’d solve a Sudoku puzzle. In Adventure Capitalist, you’ll sometimes pick between upgrades to make your cash flow the fastest.

One main thing most incremental games have in common (Sorry, Dogeminer!) is the reset function. Whether it’s called an Ascension, Prestige, Reset, or anything else, the idea remains the same. Once your progress comes to a halt, you can start the game over from the beginning with additional powers the next time through. This process can be repeated ad infinitum until you get bored.

Other Games You Can’t “Win”

Role-playing games are incremental in nature, and while defeating the last boss or completing all achievements is considered “winning” by some, there is often no clearly defined way to win the game. Even the top World of Warcraft players are always working to upgrade and improve their gear. Often the “win condition” involves a competition, such as the Diablo 3 season leaderboard.

Unwinnable incremental idle games are not a completely new idea, though. SimCity was based on this very concept. You could leave the game idle and you would continue earning money, so long as your city was turning a profit. Like RPGs and today’s idle games, there was no way you could “beat” SimCity. Will Wright, the creator of SimCity, even coined a term for this genre of games – Software Toys.

Why Play Incremental Games?

As the term “software toy” implies, idle games are the electronic version of a toy on your desk. It’s something to do between tasks, or while you’re waiting for the bus. If you were an 80s kid who enjoyed pushing all the buttons on your calculator for fun, then this will be right up your alley. If you’re more of the Call of Duty type, then maybe not. But if you do try an idle/incremental game, be warned – it can be very addictive!