If you want to make a quick buck in game development today, your best bet might be to make what Wikipedia calls a “clicker” or “incremental” or “idle” game. Really, a better name for this genre would be something like “idle-clicker,” since that term captures both of the genre’s defining traits: first, a growth process running “idle” without prompting from the player, and second, a player-performed action – usually clicking or tapping on buttons or objects – that speeds up and/or automates said process.
If that description doesn’t click (pun absolutely intended), I invite you to check out a forefather of the genre, Cookie Clicker. Report back when you’ve crossed that boundary from feeling proud of your absurdly high CPS (cookies-per-second) to wondering where the last ten hours of your life have gone, and whether or not you actually had any fun wasting them. A monitor screen shiny enough to reflect your hopeless expression helps to elicit this effect (or so I’ve heard).
I recently started playing an idle-clicker game called “A Dark Room” for my final trilogy of game logs. “A Dark Room” eschews the polished artwork and juicy UX of many of its brethren in favor of a text-heavy presentation that resembles a Twine creation. The narrative (so far) is that of a struggling village in a harsh and desolate environment, and your clicks are spent building new structures and gathering materials for the community.
After my first play session, I don’t feel disillusioned or cynical, as I did when I finally tore myself away from Cookie Clicker last year, but I am very confused, mildly frustrated, and absolutely hooked. Most clicker games hook new players with early exponential growth, boosting the player from lowly villager to almighty deity in ten minutes/clicks/taps or fewer. With thirty minutes sunk into “A Dark Room,” I think I may actually be in a worse place than where I started. I’ve attracted dozens of travelers to my hearth, but I’ve also (inadvertently) killed nearly as many. Just before I suspended my game, a forest fire decimated my village huts and took out every last resident. “A Dark Room’s” clever blending of text-adventure storytelling with clicker game mechanics is no doubt worthy of praise and attention, but I especially appreciate that it introduces loss – and accordingly, gameplay decisions that minimize and avert said loss – to a genre typically obsessed with mindless increase.
Furthermore, the game’s constantly updating ‘feed’ of information (shown above) has helped me to realize how idle-clicker games, despite their apparent simplicity and pointlessness – can transfix players for hours on end. In an age where an incoming text, Facebook like, or email notification marks a “+1” to our internalized scores of self-worth, idle-clicker games scratch our itch for a constant influx of positive information. But “A Dark Room” dispenses bad news as often as good news, and thus complicates the masturbatory feedback loop that most idle-clicker games lean upon. I want to keep playing “A Dark Room” not to see my WGPS (wood-gathered-per-second, a totally made-up term) skyrocket, but to see if I can keep twelve villagers alive for more than a few minutes at a time, and what might happen if I do.