Programming a clicker game does indeed seem like an easy task, even if you barely know anything about game development you should be familiar with the importance of game design. There’s tons of YouTube tutorials out there to guide you through the process of development. But barely any to tell you the difference between a good and bad game design.
Having an aim goes a long way. Just like my first time writing something like this post. Reading through it felt disgusting, it wasn’t informative at all, there was no coherence and an inherent lack of structure. If you wish to read through that pile of crap, feel free. In all honesty though, staying coherent is impossible for me so don’t expect me to keep talking about the importance of game design for too long…
We’ve all played some pretty bad incremental titles, I get emails on a regular basis with requests to review games and to write about them. Maybe one day I’ll make a “Worst game of the month” series…
Time to get back on track.
Making An Idle Game
I won’t be touching the programming aspect. I can’t tell you how to do your job. What I can do though, is tell you when you’re not doing it well enough. Keep your game at least a little bit optimized and light on the calculations, there are simpler ways to calculate large numbers so make sure you research appropriately.
Just in case you don’t know how calculations for ridiculously large numbers are done, here’s a quick tip: Just use scientific notation and keep the exponent in a separate variable, every time the base number crosses a thousand, just do a simple +3 to the exponent.
I’M NOT A PROGRAMMER, DON’T DO THAT WITHOUT RESEARCH FIRST!
Importance of Game Design
My personal preference is a progression system that starts off fairly slow, requiring me to be active but unlocking features which turn the game into an idle simulator where the only input that’s needed from me would be decision-making in nature. Unfortunately, I haven’t come across many games like that yet.
Don’t make me go through hundreds of clicks every time I prestige. This is the reason I stopped playing Crab War and was instantly turned off by Light A Way once they removed the Max-Upgrade option. And before you start talking about the whole “but number of clicks keep people engaged and it’s been proven by research that games that do this are more successful”, keep reading.
Most people stop playing an idle game once it starts feeling like a chore. There are more interactive and competitive games on the app store if I was interested in that. In case you’re not familiar with the prestige system in Crab War, let me tell you about all the chores one has to go through.
Crab War and Prestige
I’m just going to assume you’ve played Tap Titans and use their terminology to make this easier to understand. Every time you prestige in Crab War, you have to upgrade your heroes from scratch, there are no buttons for switching between +1, +10, +25, +50, +100, +MAX, etc.
- You’re forced to continuously tap on the upgrade button until a +MAX button appears next to the upgrade button.
- Tapping on that button will unlock upgrades for your heroes which you have to purchase manually, one by one. Eight in total, then the final upgrade unlocks the next tier for your hero.
- You repeat step 1 and 2 to fully upgrade your first hero.
- Move on to the next hero.
That’s several dozen clicks just to fully upgrade a single hero every time you prestige. There are 33 heroes in total. My fingers thank me for quitting that game. It’s not hard to fix this either, keep step one but just purchase all the upgrades in bulk while doing the +MAX.
Have you heard of Realm Grinder? Play it.
Clicker Heroes is another game with some interesting replay options. It adds Ascensions as another tier of prestige, straight up resetting all your prestige progress but giving you an ascension level. It’s a good example of how idle games can grow beyond their original prestige-based progression system but it’s hard to do it well.
Let’s keep talking about Clicker Heroes, it gives you built-in auto clickers, it lets you choose between an active play-style or an idle one. If you know of any other game that lets you have the same freedom. Please. Let me know. I need more. The game basically plays itself if you want it to. And honestly speaking, Clicker Heroes 2 is definitely something I’ll be looking forward to, even if it’s not going to be free.
How is any of this relevant?
Making your game memorable is important. Just because I hated the end-game of Crab War doesn’t mean I didn’t play it for 467 hours. I enjoyed it while it lasted, spent some money on the game as well and don’t regret any of it.
Yes, my progression itself isn’t amazing, I’m nowhere close to the end-game and barely have any DNA compared to most of the active player-base on Reddit and Discord. The game did take several turns towards the dark side in terms of monetization and the lack of any QoL changes ultimately made me move away from it.
This is where good game design comes in. The gene tree, being able to have abilities active permanently through progression, tournaments and people screwing each other over when they could all be getting an equal prize pool.
I honestly believe that giving players the ability to change their names during tournaments wasn’t something the developers intended to be used for communication among competitors. “PLS 22K” “TIE 22K” “22K OK” “22K”. But it happened anyway.
There’s no shame in learning from other games
The whole genre of incremental idle titles is full of overlapping gameplay mechanics. Complaining about a game being a rip-off of another title is something that just doesn’t matter anymore as long it isn’t a complete re-skin. One day you’ll see a unique “Idle Tower Defense” title and a week later, there will be dozens of clones with similar gameplay.
This is true for most of the genres out there, remember Flappy Bird? Remember the numerous clones? We’re not suggesting that you should be ripping off of other people’s work, but there’s no harm in taking a look at the gene tree in Crab War or the Pet system in Tap Titans and then combining them together, maybe have pets with a gene tree to increase their effectiveness? Either way, have a game design and progression system that’s not just unique but also easy to understand.
You can shoot burgers in space for all I care, Melon Clicker is a unique title to look at. The game starts off very interesting but I’ve yet to touch it again after closing the app for the first time. Purely because it seemed like the same grind over and over again. The importance of game design comes in at this point, perhaps if Melon Clicker had something to look forward to, it would’ve been a game worth playing.