‘Idle’ games: accessible and decently entertaining

January 31, 2020

The problem with video games these days is that they just take too much time and effort (not to mention money). That’s why 2019 saw the rise of “idle” games, a new subgenre of role-playing mobile games that strive to be as low maintenance as possible. Gameplay is minimal and progress can be achieved without playing. You don’t have to do much at all to have fun. 

For instance, in “AFK Arena,” the biggest idle game on the market, combat is almost entirely automated. Your characters move and attack automatically, with the player only controlling individual abilities, which the game can also be set to control. You can also adjust the speed of combat so that things play out faster. In certain modes, there is even an option to skip combat entirely. The game automatically accumulates in-game resources like gear and experience over time, including when you’re not in the game, which can be claimed once you’re back online. 

To a conventional gamer, an idle game like “AFK Arena” will probably come off as counterproductive or straight-up insulting. The core experience of playing video games, one might say, is the interaction between the player and what’s in the game, so what is the point of a game that actively minimizes interactivity? I think this is a misguided objection. The interactivity is still there, but it’s no longer focused on combat. Whereas typical games treat combat as the essential feature of how the player interacts with the world, idle games treat it as a means to an end, that end being in-game progress. By removing the emphasis on combat, in-game progress is more easily and more frequently obtained. You feel motivated to play and keep playing because you can consistently level up characters, equip them with better gear and clear levels without having to do much at all. 

And idle games aren’t completely without depth. They’re much easier than most games out there, but there’s usually just enough strategy and synergy such as team composition and gear choice for people to invest in, though they certainly don’t have to. 

With all that said, I find idle games to be enjoyable enough, as they should be. They’re designed to be played casually and in short bursts. Consequently, they can never be game-of-the-year material, but that’s perfectly fine. What matters in the end is that the games are fun for what they are. I recommend them to everyone: people who play games regularly, people who play games rarely or even folks who are completely unfamiliar with games. They offer a very relaxed mode of gaming that can be refreshing to all, with their ease of play as well as their free-to-play status. A good game to start would be “AFK Arena,” which has the best looking artwork and user-interface (UI) out of all the idle games. An alternative would be “Black Desert Mobile” which is a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game that plays very much like an idle game.     

There is a huge caveat, however, which is the fact that idle games are the most monetized mobile games on the market. In other words, there are going to be “gachas” (a system that allows you to pull characters of different rarities at random through the use of premium currency), monthly subscriptions of various bonuses such as experience boost, and weekly and monthly packs containing resources and VIP systems which are split into different tiers depending on how much real life money one spends, with each tier providing different perks. 

By now you may be wondering how I can recommend idle games when last week I called “Raid: Shadow Legends,” another money hungry mobile game, total garbage. Well, maybe that’s because I feel you really don’t have to pay in idle games. Whether or not you do has minimal impact on the overall intended experience. In “Raid,” progress comes to a screeching halt without paying, but idle games provide you a much more consistent game pace: every few hours, without needing to do much of anything, you will have amassed enough resource to power up some more. At any rate, you’re really just supposed to relax, take your time and not take things too seriously in idle games. They will certainly encourage you to spend money. But you really, really don’t need to. Instead, just slow down and have some fun. 

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