Why are Idle Games Popular?
What makes idle games (a.k.a. ‘tap’, ‘clicker’ or ‘Incremental’) like Final Fortress so popular? These ‘casual’ games are known for their addictive qualities but offer a slower optional pace, with long term potential. If the game is not meant to be religiously played, why do gamers still play it?
When playing an idle game, the player starts from nothing virtually. Points, cash, diamonds, goods or any game currency start from zero. To acquire these elements, the player has to repetitively click objects or parts of the screen to be able to gain initial traction. You can use these points to improve your abilities, acquire more assets or to buy automation, (e.g. machines to do the work for you, more people, stronger systems).
In Final Fortress, the objective of the game is to be able to build the strongest fortress possible to defend against zombies. To do this the player has to start as one lonely survivor, build a small fortress, and start manufacturing resources. The more you click, the more you generate. With the accumulated gas, the player can upgrade an range of options; the fort and its weapons, speed up the process of obtaining gas, collect more survivors to do the work, or automation to save you clicking. This starts the strategy of choice and the long term effects start to come into play. You're now invested in the future of the world you are creating. It’s survival is in your hands, but unlike other world building mechanics, idle games have the relaxed feel that nothing will happen to your world if you're not there to tend to it constantly. Hence the ‘casual gaming’ effect.
When you start playing, quick progress can be seen (which makes the game seem endless) and more advantages can be unlocked (which gives players ‘a sense of achievement' even if they know that the rewards are given to them easily to begin with.) But as the gameplay prolongs, the growth will become slower, and advantages and accomplishments become harder to gain, which challenges us if we are not able to afford certain items needed to level up or to complete goals.
Idle games seem perfectly tuned to provide a never-ending sense of escalation. Items that used to seem impossibly expensive or out of reach eventually becomes achievable and, before you know it, there will be a new set of upgrades to aim for. These games are made to make you feel weak and powerful at the same time, which makes it feel addictive.
Another appeal these games give is that they are designed to play by themselves. There is no need for constant playing as everything is going up, which makes you feel like you are always progressing. Even if you are not playing, the game still earns at a steady rate. But the player’s presence expedites the earnings. Even if the game plays on its own, the progress will not be as rapid compared when the player is active. Quick check-in to the game allows more game advancements because of the rapid shifting of growth, and every check-in gives a sense of achievement. Idle games give people satisfaction out of the illusion of winning without having to do anything, which is also an appeal.