Top 7 Idle Game Mechanics

The idle game genre has been heating up quickly on mobile. What was once a small indie niche has been expanding rapidly over the last years. So how do you, as a developer, take advantage of this trend? How can you create the next idle game idea that will dominate the market?

This is a follow up to our Top 10 Game Mechanics for Hyper Casual Games article that you might also enjoy

Idle game mechanics are nothing new. Anthony Pecorella of Kongregate diving in deep into the trend back in GDC 2015, but moving into 2019 we’re seeing some advancements in the trend.

I remember playing Cookie Clicker, Adventure Capitalist, Tap Titans, and the mountains of clones of the simple idle game landed in 2014, but then the trend died out.  Yet something changed. Starting in 2016, we’ve actually seen a big resurgence of the mobile idle game genre:

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Aggregate downloads and revenue growth for mobile idle game genre from Q3 2016 to Q2 2018
Source: Sensor Tower Estimates

Looking at  idle games from 2014 to 2018, we can see a growing trend for both downloads and revenue in this genre. This is not the case for most of the mature genres on mobile. Puzzle, Simulation, Casino, and Strategy all have stabilized or declined in downloads, and seen slow growth in revenue. These genres are locked up, but Idle remains a hotbed of innovation on the mobile market.

In the last years we’ve seen a lot of completely new styles of idle game mechanics hit the market and see success: Merge Town by Gram Games challenged the assumption that idle games were only for spreadsheet-savvy mathematicians, Trailer Park Boys by East Side Games shows a path where Idle games can actually host a compelling narrative, and Idle Miner by Kolibri (previously Fluffy Fairy) shows that idle games can create compelling traditional simulation-style game loops.

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For this post, I’d like to showcase the variety of paths to success that an idle game can have. While this may be focusing solely on the past, the hope is that this can inspire you to create better idle game ideas for the future.

What is Idle? how does it work?

If you’ve been living under a rock and don’t understand what idle is, we’ve covered it a number of times: (we’re fans here at MFTP)

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Idle games have risen on mobile because it is a genre that is perfect for modern mobile free-to-play design. The mechanics of idle games create perfect mobile sessions and drive strong long-term retention.

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Idle games, sometimes called Clicker or Incremental games, are games which are all about management of income. Similar to simulation games, their main differentiator is the focus on revenue growth decisions. For some examples: Idle Games on Kongregate / Reddit’s Guide to Idle Games

The key to the genre: no matter what you choose, you will make progress. But optimizing your decision about what upgrades to purchase next is the core of the strategy and what drives long-term interest in the genre.  Because the core of the game is focused on long-term purchasing decisions, retention is built in. Because progress is always felt, it always feels rewarding to come back.

Let’s now dive into the variety of mechanics within the idle genre.

#1 Linear/Clicker Idle

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The core of these games are usually insanely simple: tap as fast as you can to generate income. This starts off as fun, but gets pretty tiring and uninteresting quickly. So it quickly shifts into deciding over which upgrades to spend that cash on:

  • Do you want to generate more money while you’re away?
  • Do you want to generate more income from your own taps?
  • Do you want to save up for the big purchase that will increase your income tenfold?
  • Or continue to purchase cheap upgrades for small income gains?

This decision-making structure has stuck with idle, but the core gameplay of tapping as fast as you can has not.

Over time, developers tried changes to the core gameplay to make it last a bit longer: Make it Rain! and Farm Away used swipe controls instead of tap to make it more mobile friendly. However, the core mechanic always quickly became a bore, and the appeal of just swiping or tapping as fast as you can to progress is only appealing to some.

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Also, due to the nature of the game, prestige mechanics became a necessity. Pushing the player to reset their progress back to the beginning in order to make the growth more manageable and ensure the player still felt growth in the slower endgame. This was never all that appealing to players — so developers had to find clever ways to sidestep the issue and incentivize the full reset.

It’s important to note that this style of game has gone out of fashion. Besides Partymasters (pictured), there haven’t been many successful new titles that only use clicker gameplay or similar. The resurgence of the genre has actually been on taking the progression mechanics learned in this genre and applying it to whole new mechanics, whole new audiences.

#2 Arcade Idle

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So what do you do when clicking style gameplay is uninteresting? Take the same progression system mechanics you know work well, and graft it onto more compelling core gameplay. Enter Voodoo, who mastered this approach throughout 2017 and early 2018.

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Instead of asking the player to tap to earn their coins, Voodoo asked them to play simple arcade games that have mass appeal. Games like “Idle Invaders” used classic shoot-em-up gameplay (ex. Space Invaders, 1942) to earn their income manually. Shoot down incoming invaders as fast as you can to earn your manual income, and then purchase and upgrade computer-controlled allied fighters to fight alongside you. This made for a compelling formula, that was easily replicated across multiple genres. “Idle Sweeper” took Pac-Man, “Idle Flipper” took flipping style gameplay.

Any simple arcade gameplay which had an opportunity for scaling health/damage and computer-controlled assists could create a compelling new idle game.

Planet Bomber was the first to expand on this formula, adding more depth to the game by adding more types of upgrades. Before, games would offer linear upgrades to damage dealt, or income generated. Planet Bomber now offers upgrades across a number of parallel vectors, all with a variety of importance to the core gameplay. This creates a far more compelling long term strategy, and is what future idle games will need to focus on. How do you find core gameplay that can offer a variety of upgrades that are equally visible and impactful to progress?

#3 Merge Idle

The merge mechanic was first pioneered by games like Triple Town, but turned commercially successful by Gram with Merge Dragons and Merge Town.

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Merge style games take out the tiring clicker gameplay and swap it for merging items: drag and drop duplicate items on top of each other to increase their level. What’s a simple premise turns into an addicting experience, because the game always feels like there is something to do. Sessions are impressively long because it’s just so compelling to constantly build up your houses towards the next goal. The next goal is so clear (I want to upgrade my best house), and the path is clear (merge until I get a duplicate) — yet as soon as I complete a goal, I’m compelled to start the next path.

What Merge Town did more than just increase the session length was bring in an entirely different audience. No longer are idle games just about increasing numbers, but giving clear visual progress. This type of gameplay is for a much broader audience than most idle games, yet kept all the engagement mechanics intact.

#4 Idle Simulation

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Simulation has been on the decline on mobile for years, with Sim City Build It and Fallout Shelter (arguably) being the last big games in the space. Yet on Idle, in the last year we’ve seen a new face of simulation games: Idle Simulation. Wheras Sim City Build It, Farmville, Hay Day may appeal to a older, broader demographic, Kolibri’s “Idle Miner Tycoon” and “Idle Factory Tycoon” have shown a compelling business case for using classic simulation game loops.

Unlike the previous idle game mechanics, idle simulation games don’t innovate in the core gameplay. In fact, with Idle Miner and Idle Factory — they remove a core mechanic altogether. Tapping fast no longer helps you — the game stays compelling by asking you only to be managing your upgrades, and managing what boosters to start. This used to be an issue for idle games — since idle games typically had to start slow and progress quickly in order to give you a sense of progress, tapping gameplay was an easy out for designers to give a player something to do between upgrades. With simulation games, the upgrades are fast, but also far more strategic. As such, it doesn’t need tapping style gameplay as a crutch.

These games rely on a traditional simulation game loop, similar to compulsion loops you felt in games like Sim City (the original) and Roller Coaster Tycoon. Purchasing one upgrade will strain another system. In Idle Miner, purchasing an upgrade for a mine will mean that mine generates more income per second. This puts a strain on your elevator — the elevator then needs to be upgraded in order to hold on to more resources. Upgrading that elevator will put a strain on your surface level extraction… This goes round and round straining each system giving you new goals with each step and avoiding upgrades feeling stale.

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Idle Miner and Idle Factory aren’t the only games that have attempted this and succeeded. I’d recommend playing Crafting Idle Clicker, Reactor Idle, and Factory Idle on Kongregate. This genre has seen the biggest surge in downloads, and there is plenty of room for innovation to come. This is the category to watch for new developers.

#5 Idle Management

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One mechanic that hasn’t been done often on mobile, but more often on Kongregate is more “Management” style sims. Check out a game called “Groundhog Life”: this is a life management simulator, with obvious idle characteristics.

The core gameplay is replaced with choosing which system to boost. In Groundhog Life, you can choose how you want to spend your 24 hours each day: spend 8 hours or 2 hours sleeping? Spend more time at work, or studying? While your character is always making progress, whether they are progressing in learning a new skill, earning money, or being happy is down to the decisions you make. Each time you die, you pass on your traits to your next life — giving you a boost depending on your choices in the previous life. While there haven’t been many mobile idle games that have used this mechanic, this is by far the most addictive idle game that I’ve ever played.

#6 Story-driven Idle

Going in a different direction, there’s also innovation happening in how idle games have made prestige (resetting your progress) less punishing and more relevant. Trailer Park Boys: Greasy Money by East Side games is a masterclass in this. Many developers have attempted to graft licensed IP onto idle games, but none fit so well as Trailer Park Boys — in the last episode of every TV season, they end up in jail losing everything. East Side baked this into the game design: at the end of each season of generating a ton of cash from idle systems, the boys are caught by the cops and you lose all your money.

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This creates a strong narrative arc in the game that makes sense in the idle game loop. Each prestige (which happens more often), the player gets a drip of story. This creates a more interesting long-term goal for the player besides just increasing their numbers.

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The game has been a breakout success for East Side Games, and it’s why they’ve been slowly bringing on more licensed IP to work with. Their current game, “The Gang Goes Mobile” based on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is currently in soft launch.

#7 Idle RPG

Lastly, is most likely the biggest in-app purchase revenue generating idle category: RPG.

Clicker Heroes and Tap Titans were arguably the first games in the genre — showing that you can add battle mechanics with an idle progression, but both games actually fit more into category #1 based on their real mechanics. RPG can offer more than just a facade for progress.

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Non-stop Knight was the first to break into this space, by adding automatic RPG gameplay as the core, while asking the player to choose when to use their boosters. Instead of linear upgrades, the character then started collecting loot from random drops (thank you Diablo), collecting pets and unlocking new boosts. Non-stop Knight was revolutionary in its time, but in retrospect leaned too heavily on idle progression to make a compelling long-term engagement loop.

The king of Idle RPG is without a doubt Idle Heroes. Instead of leaving too heavily on Idle Progression, they took many of the progression systems from Heroes’ Charge and Galaxy of Heroes. More focus is on a gacha-infused progression system: collect a team of heroes, outfit them with the best possible gear, and compete in limited time events for the currencies you desperately need.

This level of complexity is likely the next step for Idle RPG games. Keeping the compelling simple core gameplay, but creating more strategy in how you create and manage a team of heroes, and building upon an economy which events are necessary to be competitive.

In Summary

As you can see, idle game mechanics support a wide variety of game designs. Don’t just assume the tried-and-tested clicker gameplay is the only option when coming up with idle game ideas.

Idle, unlike most genres on mobile, has a lot of room for innovation. It’s created compelling business cases for many successful gaming companies on mobile, and as a genre has plenty of room for newcomers to enter into. As a designer in this space, I would take a look at what has been done and predict what will come into the future:

  • Don’t stick with traditional core gameplay: find new core gameplays that will let you reach new audiences like Merge Town and Idle Invaders
  • Add more strategy to the progression: create compelling game loops by using upgrade stats that actually lean on each other. Buying an upgrade in one area will drive you to upgrade in another.
  • The market is maturing quickly: don’t underestimate the value of licensed IP or building out a events framework for your live operations.

If you keep this mind, my hope is that the idle market will continue to innovate for years to come!


Fishing for Trends on the App Store

Every app would love to be a trendsetter. Launching a unique game that the world has never seen, designers being inspired by your work. Not many of us will do this within our lifetimes. Mostly, developers are looking to piggyback on a mobile gaming trend look at the market, find a niche, an idea, and then build it into something better. Fortnite built off of the Battle Royale trend, Idle Miner built off the Idle trend and Clash of Clans built off Backyard Monsters.

But how do you know if you are picking the right trend? Is there a method to establishing a trend or is it pure luck? Is a trend just beginning, have I missed it, is there still time, is it still worth it?!

Financial analysts calculating the trend in Apple share price in 2009

These are tough questions and there isn’t a single answer, but there certainly are telltale signs that a trend is developing. Most long term human endeavors create trends. The length of time or the number of events needed to establish a trend can vary wildly across industries. Mobile gaming on the app store is no exception — yet unlike other mediums, free to play apps that feature similar mechanics, themes or audiences can all still achieve financial success. While Candy Crush may be the #1 game in match 3, there have been hundreds of games operating outside of it that still provide sustainable financial success to their developers. You don’t need to be the trendsetter or the #1 game to build a successful business.

A particular mobile gaming trend that caught my eye recently is the hyper casual fishing genre. A genre that until 3 months ago didn’t feature in any charts. Then quickly 3 games all show up. Is this a clear trend — if so should we jump in?

What is a Trend?

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Banksy’s self destructing painting

Trends are used to describe a change over time “upward trends in stock markets” or “black leather is the hit style of the season”. These casual comments actually mask the fundamentals of a trend which is an observed statistical change in data over time.  People looking at datasets and making predictions on the future based on the performance in the past.

A trend is not a single remarkable data point.

For example, Banksy’s recent stunt of destroying his own art that had been sold in Sotheby’s received huge worldwide publicity, but it isn’t likely that we’re going to see art destruction as a trend.

Trends are all about data and the underlying data is tracking the actions of a population of people.  For a set of data to form a trend it needs to:

  1. Be more than two points of data
  2. You can’t pick convenient points, it should take all available data
  3. The more data points the more reliable the trend, but margins of error always exist.
  4. A trend is always historic and is not a guarantee of the future.

Pokemon Go hitting the top of the market in 2016 was a single data point. It would be bold to call that a trend looking at its own success. Now with Walking Dead, Jurassic World Alive, and soon Harry Potter being released — this starts to show as more of an underlying mobile gaming trend towards AR gaming.

A trend always needs multiple data points to confirm it is a trend and most people are only interested in strong trends in either direction.

For the purpose of this article, we will be taking the app store download chart as our data source and discuss whether there are any game genres or mechanics that are causing a splash!

A tale of three Fish

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Hooked Inc (Lion Studios), Go Fish! (Kwalee), The Fish Master (Voodoo) from left to right.

Fishing as a game genre has been popular all the way back from SEGA’s Mega Bass Fishing and this mirrors to some extent it’s popularity as a hobby. However, as a casual game, the original arcade fishing mechanic was first executed well in Ridiculous Fishing by Vlambeer released in 2015.

Ridiculous Fishing – Vlambeer

This game performed very well for the time and also won a number of development awards. Yet it wasn’t designed with the free to play business model, so as a paid app it does not get a large install volume anymore.

Similar to what happend with Threes!, within the last four months, 3 of the largest mobile publishers ( Lion Studios, Kwalee, Voodoo) have each brought their own version of ridiculous fishing to market (Hooked Inc, Go Fish! And The Fish Master).  

Each of these companies identified a gaming trend from years ago — a game that performed well within its market & business model (paid, mobile) that could be easily ported over to their model (hyper-casual). Finding trends doesn’t always have to be about what’s popular now, but also what has been popular, but can find new life today!

Fishing Game Design

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Go Fish! Kwalee

Capitalising on a trend still requires differentiation to be successful. Both Go Fish and The Fish Master stay quite faithful to the original Ridiculous Fishing concept where you cast a line deep into the sea and then on the way up you must catch a variety of fish. The larger the fish you catch the more money you earn which allows you to buy upgrades that help you cast deeper, catch more fish or earn more offline currency via an idle mechanic.

This is a very simple, single currency positive feedback loop that doesn’t scale. But it provides ample opportunities to view an ad.  This likely makes it a good mechanic to increase the views per DAU which I wrote about earlier as the primary metric to improve for monetization in free to play.

Fishing for Trends on the App Store - fishing game mechanics hyper casual hypercasual trends 3
Fishing Games Core Loop

Based on the game mechanics we’ve seen in hyper casual, fishing games use a very subtle rising mechanic + a small amount of dexterity in order to achieve the most optimal score.  Score is not as critical as other games and enjoyment is replaced by netting rare fish. This works well as it creates a simple random variable reward for players over the longer period as they never know which fish are swimming deep beneath their feet.

Idle Mechanics for retention

Hooked Inc, changes the mechanic and put’s the focus into a more fishing tycoon/management style approach where the focus is placed more on upgrading both your rod and your boat than the fishing itself.  Players have reduced importance on dexterity and more important on upgrade efficiency. tracing your finger across the screen. The aim with Hooked Inc, is to slowly increase the size and strength of your boat to lead yourself to the more lucrative waters. The core loop remains the same as above but there is a deeper idle mechanic and a larger number of upgrade choices.

In each case, the primary monetization is video ads, but Go Fish! And Hooked Inc contains more premium currency upgrades to increase the rate at which you can earn more soft currency.  If I had to rank them in terms of game design depth:

 The Fishmaster  < Go Fish! < Hooked Inc 

    (least depth) ———————- (most depth)

Beginning the Trend

What’s most interesting about this particular genre is that it has been dead since Ridiculous Fishing, a premium game that was barely doing 100 downloads a day. There has been no other top performing fishing titles since 2015. Then, in the space of 3 months, 3 casual games appeared and together they have amassed 10,000,000 downloads. The question is, why?

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The mechanic itself lends itself to the hyper casual business model due to it’s short rounds, simple progression and one finger click and drag mechanics. This could have been the reason Voodoo attempted to grow The Fish Master originally. During that period the market itself was responding to the idea of a simple fishing game, but as we noted earlier one data point is not a trend.

Fast Follow

Due to the size of the 3 companies that each entered the market, it’s safe to assume that each of them is aware of one another. In the Hyper Casual space, this means keeping tabs, being fast to market, iterating on success or killing failures quickly. Fish Master (Kwalee) quickly built upon the game feel, improving the speed, transitions, casting feeling and the complexity of finding rare fish. However,  they didn’t stray too far out of bounds of the simple game mechanic – dropping a hook to catch some fish. Kwalee also made smart decisions, to focus on the hook drag, adding a small amount of skill and luck for the user so that they would reach their maximum load more quickly, but through skill you could catch bigger fish if you focus on where to drag.

This subtle change made the game feel more challenging. This seems to be just the right balance as quite quickly they rose faster and higher in the charts.  

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Hooked Inc (Lion Studios) is a fundamentally different game as it’s idle compared to dexterity, but one that’s attacking the same audience.  Idle mechanics, which rely on upgrading large numbers of stats in order to earn more revenue quickly have less general appeal but still appeal to a gaming audience.  Based on the download figures it was harder to sustain and grow the installs, most likely due to CPI. You would hope that a higher LTV from the idle mechanics would allow for longer marketing growth, but again the charts points to a down trend. Exact LTVs for Hyper Casual are very hard to tell due to Ad Revenues being obscured from Sensor Tower Analysis.  

For the mobile gaming trend to be more significant and longer lasting, we would look for 3 major signs. Firstly the longer a single app can sustain larger install numbers. If a second data point then showed a higher but flatter drop in installs after it’s peak and then if the third data point could maintain a new and similar peak so that the install rate of all the apps together was much higher.

Sustaining the Trend

As fast as the trend appears the data shows it’s already reducing in volume. Fishing games have fallen out of the top 100 in general, and none of the 3 games covered has been a clear winner. Go Fish! By Kwalee was the most successful in terms of downloads, but the mechanic and depth of the gameplay has not led to sustained chart position.

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There is also a large unknown in how much each of these companies was spending on marketing. Sustaining on the app store now requires large amounts of cash to push users into apps to get them up the store.  In each case, it looks like the profitability of the campaigns wasn’t high enough to maintain strong organic growth, leaving the apps to flounder. For a mobile gaming trend to really sustain it must usually lead to actions that are natural (no marketing), viral (increasing K-Factor) and adopted by the majority.

The most interesting trend at the moment is that of Fortnite which has truly captured the imagination of the youth and can often be seen where people are referencing things from the game in real life. Take for instance the real-life dance challenges that are also run digitally too.  A trend like this sustains itself with user-generated content, but Epic is doing a great job of sustaining momentum through their Season based approach and ever developing storyline and character plots.

When to jump on a trend and when not?

As we’ve seen in the Fishing trend, most of the pointers are already pointing down. Within 3 short months, a huge number of people had begun to play a fishing game, but the sustain wasn’t there. It would, therefore, be naive to believe that you can buck the global trend with a new fishing game.

However, the simplicity of the gameplay and the clear appetite for downloads initially means that with just enough of a twist or blend from Ridiculous, Hooked, Go Fish or Fish Master an audience awaits. Assessing how much revenue potential there is behind that audience is another blog post all. Happy Trendsetting!

Top 10 Game Mechanics for Hyper Casual Games

When coming up with new game ideas, you often want to look around you for inspiration. Most great games are often a merging of two mechanics with a twist of innovation. I like to use the 90/10 rule. Stick with 90% what you know and try to create a 10% twist. As I mentioned in the Voodoo article, Voodoo doesn’t care about your game design, they care about the market’s perception of your game design. For them whichever game succeeds is how they will grow, but for game developers, history is a valuable teacher and seeing what worked in the past can help in the future.

Here’s a breakdown of the current top 10 game mechanics for hyper casual gaming on the app store and what to remember when building a game using them.

You might also enjoy our follow up article to this, in our Top 7 Idle Game Mechanics article.

Tap / Timing Mechanics

Hyper Casual Mechanic - Tap or Timing

Tap and Timing games are the most popular form of mechanics for hyper casual games. Most of the other mechanics use tapping or timing as an input method for their particular gameplay. In a game that is pure tap and timing gameplay, the mechanic relies upon an exact tap or an exact timing.  Precision is the most important aspect of the action and the focus for the user is perfection.  Only the perfect tap will bring the maximum score. The rest of the games feel and creativity relies on exploiting small inaccuracies in the tap to reduce the player’s ability to win, usually in the form of a high score. The game Baseball Boy by Voodoo focus’ a players attention on a single baseball bat hit as the only action the player has. Every hit is exhilarating, but the perfect hit is dramatically better.

When thinking of tap and timing mechanics you must strip away any external or confusing factors for the player and provide a clear visual objective for a player to achieve. Visual feedback is extremely important here with a clear representation of a bad shot, but also a large positive reinforcement for the Perfect Shot.  The clearer the goal, and the harder the perfect shot, the more fun it is when you hit it.

Stacking Mechanics

Hyper Casual Mechanic - Stacking

Stacking mechanics take the tap/timing mechanic further by adding your previous taps outcome to the progress of the round.  The game The Tower by Ketchapp is a good example where the Tower itself is made up of the previously stacked squares. Every time a player fails to get a perfect stack, the tower itself shrinks, making it harder and smaller for the next stack.

Stacking mechanics provide more points of failure for the players, with each failure having a smaller effect than a Pure Tap game. They soften the failure by allowing you to continue, but they maintain the clear visual clarity of how that failure occurred. The less punishing failure the longer the round, but long rounds also signify a sense of ease.

When thinking how to design with a stack game in mind, make sure players have enough points of failure (5-10) before you end the round, but make sure the difficulty is hard enough that players get non-perfect timings at least 20-40% of the time.  Too few points of failure the game is too hard and too many perfect timings the game is too easy.

Turning Mechanics

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Turning is the last of the tap and timing themed mechanics. It adds a further complication to each tap by adding a confusing visual perception. Humans visual cortex has an in built weakness at judging lengths between horizontal and vertical shapes in a 3D space. The visual cortex can be tricked quite easily and many visual illusions demonstrate it, The Ponzo Illusion, is a good example. As a designer you’re still only asking the player to time a single tap but with the added confusion of the 3D space players are more likely to get this wrong. This is much harder to master than the 2D Stack-based approach.

Good turning based gameplay is usually more forgiving than stack-based gameplay, resetting the player more frequently and letting them get back into a perfect streak even after making mistakes. As a designer you want your players to make clear mistakes that end in failure, the more obvious those mistakes the less frustrated a player becomes. Turning games also work best when the angles are 90 degrees or repeating sharp angles, simply because the brain can learn to overcome it’s own weakness, through trial and error! You must be more lenient than other hypercasual game mechanics because people simply don’t believe their own eyes! Oh the power of the mind 👀

Dexterity Mechanics

Hyper Casual Mechanic - Dexterity

These games mainly focus on a player having a very simple and repeating action that they must perform many hundreds of times. With enough practice, these mechanics can be mastered by dextrous players and so the highest score is a fair representation of dexterity and skill.  For these games to be fun the game must usually speed up, taking a mechanic that might be easy to slowly, but when pressurised by a time becomes more and more likely you will make a mistake.

You still need a clear hard limit to success usually a single life or single mistake ends the round and you start from the beginning. Timberman by Digital Melody is a great example of taking a player’s full attention, timing and dexterity to create a challenging points based challenge.  When designing these sort of games you must make sure the controls and input sensitivity is the highest priority. There can be no lag and no grey areas, a players action will directly affect the character immediately. A player will be inputting many hundreds of taps per round, each tap must be accurate for it to be fun, any inaccuracies or lag are multiplied by the number of times you input it.

Rising / Falling Mechanics 

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Rising and falling mechanics provide interesting journeys for their players. The constant progression of the level leads to the feeling of progression without a change in the mechanic or goal. To keep people entertained the level itself must develop. Rise Up by Serkan Özyılmaz and Helix Jump by Voodoo show how progression develops as you traverse up or down the game.

The player’s focus is on dealing with the next challenge along the progression and less about accuracy.  There are many ways to win these levels, a little luck is often needed over timing or skill. Your only goal is to protect an object from a single point of failure.

The journey develops pressurising environments and the players end up  creating lots of self-inflicted problems. Small issues early on can cause much harder moves later. Good design here focus’ on players have 1 or possibly 2 problems to deal with at a time, but the nature of the problem changes as you rise or fall through the gameplay. Try to think in stages and work on each stage being fun on it’s own, adding them together creates the dynamic journey.

Swerve Mechanics

Hyper Casual Mechanic - Swerve

The final arcade based hypercasual mechanic is the swerve mechanic.  These games focus on using the drag of a finger to avoid obstacles. Most of the time they are avoidance based mechanics in a similar vein to rising and falling, but they also focus more on dexterity than timing. Swerve games maximise the touch screen controls and are hard to recreate on other devices. This gives them an original feeling and a cool use of touch inputs.

What’s important here is that the game focus’ on a player accuracy of input from dragging and sweeping a finger, rather than timing a tap. The size of the object, the speed of the object has a big effect on what people are able to do with their fingers.

In the same way, as dextrous games focus on removing inaccuracies, swerve games need to focus on the input feel of your finger. Players will play for longer if the game feels fun and the near misses feel, super near. Work on making the game reward players for near misses and replay their errors to show just how close they were to almost avoiding death to make the game more fun.

Merging Mechanics

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Merging mechanics are very easy for players to understand. Similar things combine, different things don’t. The game then becomes very easy for people to get right and with each subsequent merge, a new piece of understanding and a strong sense of progression is conveyed to players. Complexity and challenge in this game usually come in the form of a metagame, something that non-casual games rely on, but for the casual audience, the metagame can be divisive, making the game too complex and turning people away from playing.

Merge games do well because the metagame is incorporated into the main game. The mechanic is very visual and you can see how your action is causing the merged units to be different from one another. For a merging game to be successful, don’t break the golden rule, embrace the golden rule – Similar things combine, different things don’t. You then need to make merging feel fun, animate, excite and surprise players with each new find. The clear sense of progression along with the ever-increasing challenge,  due to exponential growth, of merging to the next stage will keep people playing for longer.

Idle Mechanics

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Idle as a mechanic has been used in hyper casual to mid-core games for a number of years. The complexity and reliance on the mechanic is a choice by each game designer. At its core, it is any mechanic that doesn’t require input from a player in order to progress. Obviously, no input at all is a very casual experience, but also one that without an objective becomes boring. Most of the time idle mechanics form a secondary mechanic attached to a soft currency.  This works well because over time players earn more money which they can spend in their core game experience.

Adventure Capitalist by Hyper Hippo made the idle mechanic the core focus of the gameplay and built a game around repeating the mechanic with different growth rates. It became successful because of the interplay between the rates and the addition of ascension mechanics which force a player to lose all of their progress in the current game for increase speed of progress in the next game.

For idle mechanics to be fun, they need to be balanced. The biggest issue with the genre is bad maths. Either the game reaches incredibly hard to overcome peaks of progress or totally boring plateaus of progression where the numbers and growth mean nothing in the real game.  Be careful and make sure you use your excel skills to their max if you want to rely on idle mechanics.

Growing Mechanics

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Growing mechanics are very similar to idle mechanics in that they are usually independent of the core control input but do form the core gameplay objective. Winners in this hyper casual genre are always the largest and in some cases can eat other players, in essence ending a round.  The gameplay mechanics themselves are very clear, yet developing a fun experience and one that scales is reasonably difficult for this genre.

You need to think a lot about player density when designing games that grow. Obviously, all players want to grow, but not all can. Starting the correct number of players in the correct space and with the correct amount of food is what makes this genre fun. These games also become exponentially more fun with other real people playing them and have so far formed the .io genre on the store. The number of fitting gameplay mechanics for this genre is limited but the games have a longer lifespan than other hypercasual games because of the interactions with other players.

Puzzle Mechanics

Hyper Casual Mechanic - Puzzle

Puzzle is a genre in itself, but hyper casual puzzle games focus on simplicity rather than complexity. A good hyper casual puzzle game usually has no end. Players are simply asked to continue to play the puzzle for as long as possible and the game will not increase the difficulty.  The mechanic itself must grow in complexity via the users’ actions. Good examples are 1010! By Gram Games or 2048 by Ketchapp. In both cases, the puzzle rules are set at the beginning and the board develops as you play. Unlike other board games such as Chess or Chequers which have clear end goals, hypercasual puzzle games usually have no clear end and it’s simply a case of lasting as long as you can.

These are the hardest genre of hypercasual games to develop because they are usually very clear and defined mechanics that are unique to the game itself. This is because it is very hard to create a mechanic that over time doesn’t change the gameboard into something that is too easy or too hard. Board Games are usually a great place to look for tried and tested mechanics, but make sure you chose ones that require very few rules otherwise you will lose your audience in the explanation.

Please share in the comments if you feel there are any other hyper casual game mechanics worth mentioning or any other hyper casual games ideas that you like and we’ll update the article!