Progress Quest (2002), considered the first idle game

Incremental games, also known as clicker games, clicking games (on PCs) or tap games (in mobile games), are video games whose gameplay consists of the player performing simple actions such as clicking on the screen repeatedly. This "grinding" earns the player in-game currency which can be used to increase the rate of currency acquisition.[1] In some games, even the clicking becomes unnecessary at some point, as the game plays itself, including in the player's absence;[2] such games are called idle games.


Progress without interaction, or very limited interaction

In an incremental game, players perform simple actions – usually clicking a button or object – which rewards the player with currency. The player may spend the currency to purchase items or abilities that allow the player to earn the currency faster or automatically, without needing to perform the initial action.[3][4] A common theme is offering the player sources of income displayed as buildings such as factories or farms. These sources increase the currency production rate, but higher tier sources usually have an exponentially higher cost, so upgrading between tiers takes usually about the same time or even increasingly longer.

This mechanism offers a low-pressure experience (one does not have to be constantly playing), no loss condition, and constant growth and feedback, which is ideal for social or mobile play patterns, and often result in a very high player retention.[5] It often relies on exponential growth (or perhaps high-degree polynomial growth), which is countered by diminishing returns.

Rapid growth

The rapid growth of cost, power and rewards is what makes incremental games fun and satisfying. They often incorporate very large numbers in their calculation of rewards/power, either using scientific notations (1x1034/10E 34), shorthands (1M, 1T, etc.), shorthand (1a, 1b, 1aa, 1ab), or invented words (e.g. "duoquadragintillion"), which sometimes make recording high scores a problem for the server.[5]

This mechanism, in its core, involves a loop: the player logs in, spends all their currency, and logs out for a few hours. This is similar to (or even derived from) the "energy currency" concept in social games, where a player gets one energy per hour, for example. The difference being that in idle games this mechanism is natural, whereas in other social games, it is a construct intended to constrain the players.

This mechanism may be more palatable to core gamers who dislike social games. It resonates with real world dialog (e.g., "I'm out of cash; I need to come back when I have more.") and gives players more control over their decision.

Many goals and achievements

This mechanism provides moments of joy spread out throughout the gameplay,[5] to counter boredom and grinding feeling. The mechanism could also be tied to the previous mechanism of giving more power/rewards upon achieving a goal or achievement, which lead to optimization decision and meaningful direction.

New Game Plus

As a late-game or advanced mechanism, some games feature a reset-based system or "New Game Plus", a term coined by Chrono Trigger (1995), where the player resets the progress of their game and gains another form of currency (prestige). This new currency is normally used to gain global bonuses that do not disappear after a reset, allowing the player to go further than the previous reset,[2] or let the player replay the game with a greater power, often with several choices upon restart. This eventually would create an infinite game replays and various strategy of playing. It creates another layer of loop: players play from the start. Tap Titans (2014, by Game Hive) is a pioneer of the prestige mechanics in mobile games.[5]

This mechanism is mostly optional; player could choose to "prestige" once they feel they hit the wall and felt their progress is getting slower (compared to the cost). This mechanism gives players a sense of a rush of progress, which feels very rewarding.[5] Some games include multiple layers of prestiging, thereby making new content, meta-currencies or gameplay available. Realm Grinder by Divine Games (2015), introduced abdicating, reincarnating, and ascending.[citation needed]

Open-ended or closed gameplay loops

Incremental games vary as to whether they have a victory condition: games like Cookie Clicker allow the players to play indefinitely, while games like Candy Box! or Universal Paperclips feature endings that can be reached after a certain amount of progress is made.[citation needed]


Pioneered by AdVenture Capitalist, developers may sell premium boost such as instant currency infusion (usually a percentage of current rate of income) or sometimes wrapped as a "time-warp" (instantly gain x-hours of future income), permanent boost multiplier that persist after each prestiging, instant prestige (claiming prestige without starting over), protection against negative events, gacha system (random draws of a character or a permanent bonus), and event currencies.[5]

On the other side, they may also deliver advertisements for players to receive minor rewards, such as short burst of cash, doubling offline earnings, small amount of premium currency, brief powerful boost/medium-length small boost, extra prestige points upon prestiging, relief of a negative status, etc.[5]


Candy Box!, a predecessor of Cookie Clicker

According to Anthony Pecorella in his GDC summit talks,[5] the creation of the genre was attributed to Progress Quest (2002) by Eric Fredriksen, which is a parody of the stat and auto-attack systems in MMORPGs. He argued that the gaming website Kongregate was an early breeding ground for the genre, as some people just wanted to use the chat feature rather than actively play a game. The first game of the genre on Kongregate was aptly titled Kongregate Chat (July 24, 2007, by John Cooney),[6] where the game ran by itself, and the players could just talk in the chat section of the game. One of the first visual idle games ("rudimentary RPGs" according to Pecorella) was Ayumilove's HackerStory v1 (2008, by Ayumilove),[citation needed] which was a parody of bot grinding in a Maple Story game, a famous MMORPG from Korea at that time.

The early pioneers of idle games also saw some games parodying the genre, such as Anti-Idle (2009, by tukkun)[5] which has elements of both active and idle games. The game was extremely complicated, content-rich, and constantly updated, and it helped popularize the genre.[citation needed] An idle game in Facebook platform, called Cow Clicker (2010, by Ian Bogost), which according to the author is, "a satire and playable theory of social games circa that era, ... Facebook games distilled to their essence.", was the first to receive mainstream media attention.[7] Another parody of idle games (and parody of capitalism) called AdVenture Capitalist (2015, by Cody Vigue / Hyper Hippo Games) also saw success as a browser game and was subsequently made available in many platforms. It was one of the first games to implement monetization, as well as offline earning which calculates the progress of a player during the time they are offline, unlike previous browser-based idle games which only run when open in a browser window.

Some idle games did not follow the infinite ending, and instead opt for finite ending, more like puzzle-like and exploration based, for example A Dark Room (2013, by Doublespeak Games), and Candy Box! (2013, by aniwey).[citation needed]

Incremental games gained popularity in 2013 after the success of Cookie Clicker,[3] although earlier games such as Cow Clicker and Candy Box! were based on the same principles. Make It Rain (2014, by Space Inch) was the first major mobile idle game success, although the idle elements in the game were heavily limited, requiring check-ins to progress.[5] In 2015, the gaming press observed such games proliferating on the Steam distribution platform with titles such as Clicker Heroes (2014, by Playsaurus).[8]

Other idle games that have become classic includes Sandcastle Builder (2013, by Eternal Density)[9] which was based on the xkcd comic 1190: Time, Shark Game (2014, by Cirr),[10] Crank (by FaeDine),[11] and Kittens Game (2014, by Bloodrizer)[12]

During the evolution of the genre, monetization (through ads or other venues), premium contents, and other game mechanics are slowly being added in.


Nathan Grayson of Kotaku attributed the popularity of idle games to their ability to provide unchallenging distractions that fit easily into a person's daily routine, while using themes and aesthetics of more sophisticated games so as to be appealing to a "core gamer" audience. Grayson also noted that the genre allowed for a wide variety of game mechanics and themes, such as fantasy, sci-fi and erotica, to provide sufficient perceived depth to avoid boring players.[13]

IGN's Justin Davis describes the genre as being tuned for a never-ending sense of escalation, as expensive upgrades and items rapidly become available, only to become trivial and replaced by more. This leads to the player feeling powerful and weak at the same time in pursuit of exponential progress.[14]

Julien "Orteil" Thiennot (creator of games such as Cookie Clicker) described his own works as "non-games".[15] In early 2014, Orteil released an early version of Idle Game Maker, a tool allowing customized idle games to be made without coding knowledge.[16]

Commenting on the parodic nature of the genre, Pecorella commented that "[idle games is] a genre that's almost doesn't want to exist; it's a joke, but despite itself, keeps being really successful",[5] and on popular idle-games in general, "a lot of these are just glorified spreadsheet with some really neat mechanics in it."[5]


The idle games genre has in many ways influenced other genres. Pecorella (2015) identified several genres that includes idle elements in their mechanics:[5]

Shooting games, RPGs, and other genres also starts to introduce short prestige loop or mini idle games within, while some introduces offline progress to entice players to return, allowing for genre blends, from idle rhythm games to RPGs, to puzzle and dating sims.[17]

Auto clicker

An auto clicker is automation software or a macro that is generally used to automate the clicking (or tapping) process in idle games. A number of idle games employ clicking as a method to gain currency while active (to complement the idle element), and players may sometimes employ an auto clicker to automate this part, thus getting resources/currency much faster. Pecorella, in his 2016 GDC summit talk, argued that auto clickers are considered necessary by any "serious" idle game players, and that it's not cheating, but rather an exploration of an error in design.[18]

An example of auto clicker software


  1. ^ Mark (8 May 2013). "Candy Box game needs a stupid app". Phones Review. Archived from the original on 4 March 2020. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
  2. ^ a b Grayson, Nathan (18 May 2015). "Clicker Heroes Is Super Popular On Steam... For Some Reason". Kotaku. Archived from the original on 12 September 2017. Retrieved 31 July 2015. You can also "ascend" to essentially start over, but you'll unlock more special powers in the process.
  3. ^ a b Sankin, Aaron (12 February 2014). "The most addictive new game on the Internet is actually a joke". The Daily Dot. Archived from the original on 18 July 2020. Retrieved 17 June 2014.
  4. ^ King, Alexander (22 May 2015). "Numbers Getting Bigger: What Are Incremental Games, and Why Are They Fun?". Tutsplus. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Anthony Pecorella (February 2015). Idle Games: The Mechanics and Monetization of Self-Playing Games (Recorded presentation with slides.). Game Developer Conference (GDC) 2015.
  6. ^ "Earliest idle games on Kongregate". Kongregate. Retrieved 2021-02-16.
  7. ^ Bogost, Ian (2017). "Cow Clicker". Official website. Retrieved 2021-02-16.
  8. ^ Grayson, Nathan (18 May 2015). "Clicker Heroes Is Super Popular On Steam... For Some Reason". Kotaku. Archived from the original on 12 September 2017. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
  9. ^ Davis, Justin (2015-01-08). "The Inside Story of the Most Incredible Video Game No One Has Played". Retrieved 2021-02-17. Sandcastle Builder is one of the most compelling, rewarding, and unique video games I've ever experienced. It is very close to earning a spot on my favorite games of all time short list.
  10. ^ Cirr (2016). "Shark Game". Retrieved 2021-02-17.
  11. ^ FaeDine (2016). "Crank". Retrieved 2021-02-17.
  12. ^ Bloodrizer (2014). "Kittens Game". Retrieved 2021-02-17.
  13. ^ Grayson, Nathan (30 July 2015). "Clicker Games Are Suddenly Everywhere On Steam". Kotaku. Archived from the original on 31 July 2015. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
  14. ^ Davis, Justin (10 October 2013). "Inside Cookie Clicker and the Idle Game Move". IGN. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  15. ^ Crecente, Brian (30 September 2013). "The cult of the cookie clicker: When is a game not a game?". Polygon. Retrieved 1 November 2013.
  16. ^ "Idle Game Maker Documentation". Retrieved 10 July 2014.
  17. ^ Pecorella, Anthony (2016-04-05). "A Brief Look at the Idle Games Genre". Kongregate Blog. Retrieved 2021-02-17.
  18. ^ Pecorella, Anthony (2016-03-18). "Idle Chatter: GDC 2016". Kongregate Blog. pp. 87–88. Retrieved 2021-02-17.

Further reading