Death of the Critic

The Captivating Simplicity of Idle Games

Written by: Tom Blaich


Games are built around feedback loops, obscured behind complex systems and mechanics, designed to draw us in and keep us there. We want to play the games so we can level up, become stronger, defeat new enemies, and get more and better loot. We play to get better and more efficient at playing, and in the last few years a new genre of games has stripped away this veneer and laid the inner workings bare for us to explore.

Frequently the object of ridicule, idle games are systems at their most obvious that have capture millions of players since they burst on to the scene, and I’m one of them. I can’t even begin to count the number of these games that I’ve played over the years. I have more of a few installed on my phone right now to help soak up those long minutes between minutes or while I wait in line. All the while, I’m fully aware that these aren’t good games per se, but they get to the root of what video games are. They scratch that primordial itch that begs for games to reward us in the most simple of ways.

You play the games to watch the numbers go up.

It is the most simple feedback loop possible. Press button to receive cookie to be able to pass the button faster. You play the game for the sole purpose of being able to stop playing the game. Which is a really weird thing to say as an avid player of games. We all want to “beat” a game, but here the goal is different. To beat the game is not just to reach the final level of finish a story or prove your skill in any way. It’s to automate the game so that it plays itself and there is nothing else to buy.


Look at Adventure Capitalist, the uber-popular mobile idle game. Where you only every actually play the game for five minutes before you let it play itself, checking back in every day or so to buy upgrades and let the game play itself even more effectively than it was before. The number goes up faster and faster and it just feels good to see. The same with any of the thousands of idle games on the market. Cookie Clicker, Tap Titans, Clicker Hero or countless others. It’s a well established formula that is easy to follow and more are made by the day (with increasingly less inventive titles).

It is not a bad thing. It is a great way for people to get a try at making games, and while the market is saturated, there is value in these games. They are simple, but they are fun, as odd as it sounds. They are a great, bite-sized chunk of game that drag you in and keep you coming back longer than you would have expected. Idle games are here to stay, in many ways, the simplest games you can imagine.



Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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