There are games that I keep coming back to and that I genuinely love. That’s not Need For Speed Underground 2 (that being said, I haven’t played this game for some time now). They are way more straightforward and are most often free. I’m talking about clicker games.

What can I say? I love clicker games. They are fun, complicated, and rewarding. Something is satisfying about them. They appear innocent at first sight; you click you got something back, but then you dive into the rabbit hole, and you end up discovering what those games are all about and what makes them unique.

What’s a Clicker Game?

A clicker game (or idle/incremental games) is simple in its principle. You click on something, and you get an in-game currency. You click again, and you get more in-game currency. With that currency, you can buy upgrades that produce in-game currency for you.

The more upgrades you have, the less you interact with the game (some caveats to this, but this is irrelevant now). As you progress in the game, you’ll reach some plateau; the difficulty is not linear. You could try to make your way through the plateau, or you could use a mechanic that is core to those games called the prestige. While progressing, you can amass some prestige currency; this currency is not yours until you decide to restart the game from the beginning. Prestige is a way to start again, but with this currency, you can spend it on upgrades that won’t be lost when you reset.

You’ll find out that you’ll be able to go further than before and be able to reach levels that were not accessible before the prestige. Then you’ll get to another plateau (or you want to reset), and you’ll prestige again, invest your prestige currency and repeat.

Most popular clicker games share this mechanic. The progression isn’t linear, and you have to start over to get to new levels. They all have their flavor, but once you know how those games work, you know how all good clickers function.

Some Idle games are minimalists (Basic)

What Makes a Good Clicker Game

Making a good clicker game is hard. There are plenty of elements to take into consideration. Even if the principle might seem easy, building something with the appropriate balance was more complicated than it seems.

Balanced Difficulty

Firstly, the game difficulty must be challenging yet still rewards players. It’s essential to let the user idle the game (whether open or not) and make some progress during that idle period. Besides, grinding is part of the game design. There are intended times where a player must wait to get an update. This is great. However, too much grind would make the experience unpleasant. Having to wait for weeks to get past a point isn’t great.

The difficulty is not the only aspect that should be taken care of. One element that is capital in my eyes is the complexity of the game. Initially, everything should look effortless and, as you progress, you start to see how some decisions you make can affect the rest of the game. Players should consider multiple choices and decide what’s best for them, depending on their play style. The complexity should follow the difficulty. A game should not frighten new players with too many elements from the start.

Broad Universe

Each clicker I played had a unique universe. The sky is the limit here since Cookie Clicker, one popular, clicker is set in a universe where the player produces cookies and can unleash an apocalypse of grandmothers. Yes, this seems strange, but this is part of the game, and players love it.

The art design of the game should be coherent with the universe the game is set in. A good-looking game will always draw players back. It will help users dive into the universe of the game will make recognition of specific updates or events easier. It’s fair to assume that game design should not come at the expense of the game’s core.  A beautiful unbalanced game won’t be good.

Some games are not the most feature-packed, Adventure Capitalist is one of them, but it’s intentional. They created an excellent universe, and the game design is beautiful. This (with a good balance) makes people come back to the game again and again.

No Pay to Win

Building a clicker game is tricky; as said before, the difficulty must be well defined to have a great experience. The most popular games mastered this aspect, and progressing in the game is steady and rewarding.

Clicker games are no different from other games in the industry when it comes to monetization. Game developers could choose to release a free game, have a free-to-play model, or a fixed price for the game. Free games and paid games are not an issue. Developers decide whether they want to charge for the game or not.

However, having a free-to-play model can cause issues. The offered upgrades can be some permanent production boost or prestige currency. Whatever the upgrade is, it always helps the player win sometimes. That’s fair. Some players don’t want to spend too much time on a game and having some boost is welcome. However, this may encourage companies to artificially increase the difficulty to force the less patient players to pay.

That’s a widespread practice with mobile games, and that’s why I tried to keep them away from me. Most clicker games on smartphones are plagued with ads, upgrades, and time-limited offers that are too good to skip. The whole game design revolves around selling upgrades to players instead of building a balanced game.

Some Nice Touches

Some elements of the game are not as critical as the one described above. Nevertheless, they are a nice touch and make the overall experience better.

  • Not forcing players in one play style. Not every player enjoys clicker the same way, some have an active playstyle, and others prefer to idle. Some games are designed to be played on the way and cannot be played the other way. That’s fine if that’s the intent of the developer. However, I noticed that most popular clickers could be played active or passive, making them playable by the whole gamer base. Of course, they are not perfectly balanced, and they always tend to privilege one game style over the other, but it’s still possible to progress either way.
  • Seeing the time required to get an update. It’s great to see how much time a player should wait before purchasing an upgrade. It’s funny to know that I would have to wait 12 billion years before having the money to afford the upgrade.
  • Help when prestige. Resetting the game helps a player go further in the game. This also means that the beginning is more accessible. Having to buy dozens of upgrades manually is a pain and takes the fun away from the game. This is why having a button that allows players to purchase all upgrades automatically is a good thing.
My current Cookie Clicker game

What’s the Thing With Clickers

There are many things to like about clickers, and it’s easy to judge them swiftly without trying them for some time. The beginning is tedious and requires more involvement, but the more advanced you are, the funnier it gets. And that’s something I like about those games. Once set up, they don’t require much time and can be opened in the background. You can work as usual and check the game from time to time to collect some money or buy upgrades.

Besides, they are completely stress-free. It’s a peaceful experience. You open the game, check your progress and come back to it later. There aren’t many things to do, no daily challenges, Saison pass,… That’s true for most desktops games, but the story is very different on mobile for the reasons described above. Mobile games want players to come back many times a day, and that’s not something I’m fond of.

Clicker games also trigger something in me that’s very effective. They are games developed for enthusiasts, and I fall for those kinds of things. People meet online to discuss the best strategy, how a game update affects some builds,… Besides, some people develop online calculators where gamers can plan their next move or edit their save. It’s exciting for me to read what people say about a game and use some tools developed by other players.

Lastly, I like the fact that those games don’t have an end. It is possible to reach a theoretical end at a certain point, but nothing forces the player to progress. So it’s the player who determines when the game is over and not an arbitrary end.

Why Don’t You Give Them a Try

As you saw, Clicker games seem innocent at first, but they often hide a complex and exciting story. It’s possible to spend many hours playing, learning, and mastering them.

Along the way, you might find awesome communities of people passionate about the game. You’ll be able to explore a vast universe filled with monsters and challenges. You’ll understand how the game works until the day you decide that you have had enough of it and decide to stop playing.

If you are interested in Clicker games, I invite you to check the following awesome games I played:  Adventure Capitalist, Clicker Heroes, Cookie Clicker. They all are fantastic and very different from one to another! Happy clicking!