Blog How to make an idle game: Everything you...

How to make an idle game: Everything you need to know about incremental mobile games

Idle games allow users to play with long-term targets, test their problem-solving skills and gain incremental rewards over time. They’re known to be highly engaging with daily sessions and average session lengths greater than other hyper casual games, and have been reported to have a stickiness rate of up to 18% vs. hyper casual’s 10.5%. Adjust data also shows increasing user interest in idle games, particularly in the idle RPG space.

So, what makes idle games so appealing, and how can you create a successful one? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is an idle game?

Also known as incremental games or clicker games, idle games often fall into the casual category due to their ease of use and accessibility. However, they differ greatly from popular hyper-casual games such as My Perfect Hotel and Race Master 3D – Car Racing, both from Say Games Ltd.

Idle games require users to perform basic actions—such as repeatedly clicking, hence the term ‘clicker games’—to incrementally generate in-game currency and manage automated actions.

What does the term ‘idle game’ mean?

The name comes from users’ ability to progress through the game without actively playing it, meaning the game can still run even if a user is asleep. In these instances, gamers can enable processes to continue their actions while they’re inactive—or idle.

What is an idle RPG?

Idle RPGs (role-playing games) sit within the same category as idle games, still utilizing passive gameplay, but offering a very different gaming experience.

Idle RPGs are influenced by more traditional role-playing games, with simple mechanics like character development, automated combat, and equipment upgrades. You’ll find a broader focus and greater variation of complexity with an idle game, whose elements range from simple to deeply strategic, with popular themes including resource management, building and collecting.

Some of the top idle RPGs across iOS and Android devices include communism simulator AdVenture Communist by Hyper Hippo; the build, collect, and combine-focused Cat Condo by Zepni Ltd., MadBox’s Idle Zoo Tycoon 3D that sees users manage all aspects of their own zoo; and PikPok’s role reversal Dungeon Inc., where gamers play as the dungeon maker, rather than the hero.

The increasing appeal of idle RPGs is clear, and makes them a tempting avenue for mobile game developers to explore. Adjust’s global data shows that idle RPG installs increased by 10% in 2023 vs. 2022. The same data also reveals idle RPG sessions were up 35% in Q1 2024 vs. the same period in 2023. Plus, since September 2023, sessions have been at least 22% higher than the monthly average registered over the past 24 months.

Idle RPG app installs and session growth from Jan 2022 – Mar 2024

The appeal of both genres is that they offer a relaxed gaming experience for casual players, who aren’t necessarily interested in being constantly and actively engaged. Their passive gameplay nature allows gamers to check in, strategize, collect rewards, and then let the idle state kick in to continue their progress.

Simple yet satisfying

Idle games can be used to create a satisfying user experience because players are rewarded for returning to an app and maintaining their in-game goals. For example, AdVenture Capitalist (sister game to the aforementioned AdVenture Communist) is a money-making simulator where users can start out as the owner of a humble lemonade stand. By hiring managers, attracting investors, and managing funds, gamers can grow their empire and become a capitalist tycoon. The player’s ability to push forward with their goals while asleep is a selling point for the game that is noted in the app description and official trailer.

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The idle format is also attractive to users looking for a game that won’t take up too much of their time or attention, but will still offer a substantial gaming experience. The idle game appeal is that very simple actions are required to smartly manage in-game currency, allowing users to incrementally unlock new features and abilities to thrive within the game’s environment.

How to make an incremental game: Development and mechanics

Development options

There are many ways to develop an idle game. Unreal Engine and Unity are two popular gaming engines, both of which are reliable options. You should also consider whether you need a backend/server, because idle games are usually light enough that they can be stored on a user’s device. If you do need a backend, this can be written with software such as Python, Ruby, or Elixir.

Four idle game mechanics to consider

  • Clicker: Tapping as fast as you can to generate in-game currency is used in many idle games, but it lacks long-term appeal and should be used in conjunction with other mechanics.
  • Simulation: Idle games can provide a less hands-on approach for users by simulating tasks. For example, instead of using the clicker mechanic, players focus on managing and strategizing.
  • Arcade: This is traditional arcade-style gameplay that enables the user to achieve an objective relevant to their targets.
  • Merge: Users are able to succeed by dragging and dropping items. This works particularly well for games like Merge Villa from Lion Studios, where the focus is on building progression.

Seven best practices for creating an idle game

1. Find a monetization model that won’t harm retention

Retaining users for as long as possible is fundamental to monetizing this type of mobile game. The quality of your user experience will determine how long users are retained so developers must prioritize UX over monetization methods that–while successful–may prevent users from returning to your app.

Many idle games are free-to-play, meaning that users can install your app for free and expect monetization methods to appear in-app. These could be rewarded video ads  and options to make in-game purchases. To learn more about lowering churn and growing your app, read our guide on how to win back churned users.

2. Utilize rewarded video ads for best results

Rewarded video ads can be watched by users in exchange for a reward. For example, watching a 30-second video could reward a player with in-game currency or other resources that will help them optimize performance.

As rewarded video ads are opt-in, meaning that users are only exposed to them if they want the reward, they’re less likely to irritate gamers in comparison to banners, interstitials, and traditional video ads.

Daniel Tchernahovsky, VP of International Business Development at AppLovin, says rewarded video ads “allow developers to create ad experiences that enrich the users’ interaction with the app rather than forcing ads onto them”. By avoiding a disruptive user experience and incorporating your ads as a way to succeed at your game, you can retain users for longer and boost lifetime value (LTV). The format is particularly well-suited for idle games in which users are always looking for the best possible way to progress towards their goals. Daniel also states, “these kinds of ads can often add 10 to 30 percent in LTV to prior in-app purchase-only titles”.

In addition to offering in-game currency, another reward you may want to offer users is the ability to speed up time. Given that players often have to wait for time to pass before achieving certain goals, this is a smart way to incentivize them to watch rewarded video ads. You can also offer payout multipliers and special upgrades.

3. Test ad placement and frequency

Your ads are a critical component of your app’s monetization, and their placement and frequency will impact the user experience. It’s important to find appropriate pauses in gameplay to expose users to ads and to monitor the optimal frequency—this can all be tested during a soft launch. To find out more about how to monetize your mobile app, read our strategy guide.

4. Create a unique and attractive theme

Just like all hyper-casual games, idle games need an appealing theme that will attract new players and create a positive user experience. For example, Cats & Soup is an idle game that charms users with hand-drawn visuals, relaxing sounds, and rewarded video ads, capitalizing on feline cuteness and all things cozy and calm. Its unique concept—managing cats who make soup in the woods, ensuring they’re efficient, well-rested and earning coins—and its visual appeal, make it stand out from other idle games, while players remain engaged via its customization options, rewards, and clear progression routes.

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When choosing your theme, ensure that it is something your audience can connect with and easily understand. Other examples of idle games with strong themes include Miner Tycoon, Cookie Clickers, and Realm Grinder. These games all have obvious goals that can be immediately understood just by their title.

5. Don’t rely on one gameplay system

Idle games are meant to be about management and strategy. Unlike many hyper-casual games, it's essential that you develop more than one way users can push towards their targets. The most popular idle games utilize several different systems that can enable a user to succeed, all of which should work together for a unique experience. While it’s challenging to get the right balance between systems, this is critical to your app’s success and should be focused on and tested.

6. Soft launch your game before going global

Before sharing your game with the world, it’s important to soft launch your idle game. By releasing your app in strategically selected territories first, you can ensure it has been fully optimized for best results. This enables you to set expectations for how your app will perform in app stores and whether you have created an effective idle clicker that users enjoy. This is a smart way to test your app and avoid problems for your worldwide audience.

7. Respond to user feedback

While this is necessary for all game developers, responding to user feedback is essential when marketing an idle game because you rely on high retention rates for monetization. Listening to user feedback and continually updating your game for a better experience is the best way to maintain a loyal fanbase. You can also make it easier for users to share feedback with you by inviting them to message your social media accounts.

If you’re looking to broaden your gaming app offering, take a look at our guide to leveling up growth channels with PCs and consoles; or get stuck into The gaming app insights report. If you’d like to learn more about how Adjust’s Measure can help you better understand the way users are interacting with your app, request a demo today.

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