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Idle Games:
The Mechanics and Monetization of
Self-Playing Games
Anthony Pecorella
Director of Browser Virtual Goods
Kongregate.com
Who am I?
• At Kongregate for 6 years,
directing our browser-based
virtual goods business
• Producer for
AdVenture Capitalist
• Also an indie designer,
cofounder of Level Up Labs
What is Kongregate?
• Open platform for browser-based games
– Flash, Unity, HTML5, etc.
– 16M+ monthly unique visitors worldwide
• Core gamers – 85% male, average age of 22
– MMOs, RPGs, CCGs/TCGs, TD, shooters, etc.
• Platform level virtual currency “kreds” for F2P
games
• Acquired by GameStop July 2010
Some of Kongregate’s Partners
Kongregate is also a mobile publisher
Why Are We Talking About This?
• It’s the birth of a new genre
– Only 2 years old in modern form
• It is becoming very popular!
Why Are We Talking About This?
• Fabulous retention stats
– Some of the best-retaining games on all of Kongregate.com
• Generates great revenue
– ARPUs well-above most single-player games on
Kongregate.com
History and Evolution
• Progress Quest (2002,
Eric Fredricksen)
– Parody of MMORPGs stats and
auto-attack
– A “zero player” game
History and Evolution
• Kongregate’s chat system created early breeding
ground for “idle” games
Kongregate Chat (jmtb02, 2007) Ayumilove HackerStory V1 (Ayumilove, 2008)
History and Evolution
• Anti-Idle (2009, tukkun)
– Has both active and idle
elements
– Huge, with tons of content
– Receiving new features and
updates 6 years later
• Literally yesterday!
History and Evolution
• Cow Clicker (2010, Ian
Bogost)
– Parody of Farmville and
other similar appointment
social games
History and Evolution
• A Dark Room (2013, Doublespeak Games), Candy Box
(2013, aniewey)
– Finite, can be beaten, more puzzle-like and exploration-
based
A Dark Room (Doublespeak Games) Candy Box (aniewey)
History and Evolution
• Cookie Clicker (2013, Julien “Orteil”
Thiennot)
– Parody of Candy Box
– First major mainstream hit
• Arguably created the genre in its modern form
• Established a basis for progression, upgrading, and
prestiging imitated by most other idle games
History and Evolution
• AdVenture Capitalist (2014,
Cody Vigue / Hyper Hippo
Games)
– Parody of capitalism and idle
games
– Offline progress
– More animated through
progress bars
History and Evolution
• Clicker Heroes (2014, Playsaurus)
– Clearer RPG-style progression
– Addition of cooldown skills
– Great visuals thanks to clever
reuse of assets from their
MMORPG (Cloudstone)
– Tap Titans (Game Hive) is a
close derivative that incorporated great presentation and
mobile UI
History and Evolution
• Make It Rain (Space Inch, 2014)
– First major mobile idle game
– Hilarious concept, very viral
– Idle elements were heavily limited,
requiring check-ins to progress
– Aggressive ad strategy
– Pretty brutal FBI monetization
History and Evolution
• Bitcoin Billionaire (Michael Stockwell
/ Noodlecake, 2014)
– Fantastic style, tone, and topic
– Very clear goals and presentation
– Great use of opt-in ads
– Strong appointment mechanics, very
limited offline progress
• Offline progress is actually a central
monetization element…a mistake?
Other Notable Entries
• DripStat (dripstat.com/game)
– Fantastic visualization
of information
– Global live leaderboard
– Realtime contributions
from other players
Other Notable Entries
• Swarm Simulator
(kawaritai, 2015)
– Explores a new funnel-based
economy
– Proving extremely popular
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• Progress without interaction
– Low pressure experience
– Constant positive growth and feedback
– Quick check-ins can be very profitable by shifting up the
growth curve
• Great for social/mobile play patterns
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• Progress without interaction
– Creates a celebratory moment
every time you return to the game
• The longer you don’t the play the
game, the bigger the reason to return!
– Forced appointment mechanics
become an unnecessary element
• Even daily rewards aren’t used AdVenture CapitalistAdVenture Capitalist
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• Progress without interaction
– Retention is often off the charts
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• Progress without interaction
– Retention is often off the charts
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards
– Leads to increased sense of progress, psychologically fun
and satisfying
AdVenture Capitalist
Swarm Simulator
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards
– Core loop:
• Log in
• Spend all of your cash
• Log out, to return in a few hours
– Sound familiar?
Cityville (Zynga)
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards
– Creates a “natural” energy system without the need for an
energy currency
– More palatable to players (esp. “gamers”)
• Has real-world analog, makes sense.
– “I’m out of cash, need to come back when I have more.”
• Player feels more ownership over this decision.
– “I could wait, but my time is worth more than that.”
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards
– Counter-balances offline play: yes, you get big rewards,
but they grow linearly
• Time loses value without interaction
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• Tons of goals and
achievements
– Provides moments of joy
spread out through the
experience
– Allow for moment-to-
moment optimization and
(temporarily) meaningful
choices
AdVenture Capitalist
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• “Prestiging” (New Game+)
– Choose to reset your game to get a
boost the next time through
– Start back over, but with much more
power than before
Tap Titans
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• “Prestiging” (New Game+)
– Provides a crucial strategic decision for the player
– Often tied to a separate currency
• This lets you transform exponential growth back to linear
– Leads to a new gameplay loop
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• “Prestiging” (New Game+)
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• “Prestiging” (New Game+)
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• “Prestiging” (New Game+)
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• “Prestiging” (New Game+)
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• “Prestiging” (New Game+)
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• “Prestiging” (New Game+)
– Ladder climbing
• Start over, but get a rung higher each time
– Gives a great sense of progress, flying through early
content quickly. Feel incredibly powerful
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• Regular updates
– Simple design and code allows
for rapid iteration
• Balance
• UI/UX
• Features & content
– True for every successful idle
game on Kongregate.com
Swarm Simulator
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• Make It Bumpy
– Smooth curves are boring, lack surprise and delight
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• Make It Bumpy
– Smooth curves are boring, lack surprise and delight
Idle Game Core Mechanics
• Make It Bumpy
– Smooth curves are boring, lack surprise and delight
Idle Elements in Other Genres
• Real-time social and strategy games
– Progresses while gone, though with hard caps (crops
planted or max resource storage)
Hay Day (Supercell) Mafia Wars (Zynga) Game of War (Kate Upton)Game of War (Machine Zone)
Idle Elements in Other Genres
• Chinese MMORPGs
– Current trend is
becoming heavily auto-
play
– Can include “afk”
mode
Mythborne (R2 Games)
Idle Elements in Other Genres
• Chinese MMORPGs
– About min-maxing stats,
making decisions optimize
power gains
– Western audiences seem
to be resistant to this
• Expectation management?
Wartune (R2 Games)
Idle Elements in Other Genres
• Launch games
– Tight-loop prestige
systems
– Usually no choice over
prestige point, but
similar feel of ladder-
climbing progression
Curl Up and Fly (John Cooney / Kongregate)
Monetization
• Cash infusion
– Get a percentage of current rate
– Time warp
• Speed multipliers
– Buy a permanent x3 multiplier
AdVenture Capitalist
Clicker Heroes
Monetization
• Instant prestige
• Protection against negative events
– Bribe money for FBI (Make it Rain)
– Shield for your heroes (Tap Titans)
• Gacha system (random pulls of upgrades)
• Event currencies
AdVenture Capitalist
Monetization
• Banner/Interstitial ads
• Opt-in ads
– Short burst of cash
– Small bit of premium currency
– Brief powerful boost
– Relief of a negative status
– Medium-length small boost
Bitcoin Billionaire
Monetization
• Banner/Interstitial ads
• Opt-in ads
– Short burst of cash
– Small bit of premium currency
– Brief powerful boost
– Relief of a negative status
– Medium-length small boost
Bitcoin Billionaire
Case Studies
• Idling to Rule the Gods
(Ryu82, 2014)
– Branched out with some
new mechanics
• Many new systems added
post-launch
– Made a ton of UI changes
early on to address player
concerns
Case Studies
• Idling to Rule the Gods
(Ryu82, 2014)
– Branched out with some
new mechanics
• Many new systems added
post-launch
– Made a ton of UI changes
early on to address player
concerns
Case Studies
• Idling to Rule the Gods
– Complicated interactions
with deep, dense
systems and lots of
content
Case Studies
• Idling to Rule the Gods
– Monetization is heavily
focused on “God Power”
premium currency, buying
permanent boosts
– Temporary (90 min and until-
prestige) boosts exist, but
only about 12% of revenue
Case Studies
• Idling to Rule the Gods
Case Studies
• Clicker Heroes
– Does a great job spreading
value across heroes
Case Studies
• Clicker Heroes
– Use of RPG-like
cooldown skills
provides quick
action gameplay
and very light
strategy
Case Studies
• Clicker Heroes
– Prestige system
involves a currency
system (Hero Souls)
with a trade-off
between DPS bonus
and ancient
summoning
Case Studies
• Clicker Heroes
– Cash infusion and instant prestige
Case Studies
• Clicker Heroes
– Simple but
effective gacha
system
• Allows for
multiple, valuable
purchases
Case Studies
• Clicker Heroes
Case Studies
• AdVenture Capitalist
– Appeal to both browser
and mobile audiences
– Heavy use of theme,
tone, and humor
Case Studies
• AdVenture Capitalist
– Appeal to both browser
and mobile audiences
– Heavy use of theme,
tone, and humor
Case Studies
• AdVenture Capitalist
– Effective ad implementation
• Fits the theme well
• Provides high value to player
• Is relatively scarce, keeps
tolerance high from players
• Has some bugs, people complain
that they can’t watch ads!
Case Studies
• AdVenture Capitalist
– Early purchase of a x3
multiplier is extremely
compelling
• One of the highest buyer
percentages on Kongregate.com
– Unlocks bulk multipliers over
time
Case Studies
• AdVenture Capitalist
– Early purchase of a x3
multiplier is extremely
compelling
• One of the highest buyer
percentages on Kongregate.com
– Unlocks bulk multipliers over
time
Case Studies
• AdVenture Capitalist
Case Studies
• AdVenture Capitalist
– Mobile retention held up well
Case Studies
• AdVenture Capitalist
– As did mobile ARPPU
iOS
Android
Kongregate.com
Case Studies
• Spender categories let us see distribution
• Each game has $1000+ spenders
AdVenture Capitalist Clicker Heroes Idling to Rule the Gods
Case Studies
• Revenue distribution shows a very different picture
– This picture is common for successful games though
AdVenture Capitalist Clicker Heroes Idling to Rule the Gods
What’s Next?
• “Classic” spreadsheet-like idle
games lose favor to more
sophisticated visualization and
presentation
• Idle spin-offs of games and
brands
Adventure Quest: Dragons (Artix Entertainment)
What’s Next?
• “Idle” becomes a modifier like
“RPG”
– Idle Tactics, Action Idle RPG, Idle
Match-3
• Idle design philosophies
integrate into meta-game of
standard genres
Puzzle Fuzz: Idle Stories
(Andrew Pellerano / Kongregate)
Thank You!
• Check out developers.kongregate.com
• Browser games: apps@kongregate.com
• Mobile games: bd@kongregate.com
• Me: anthony@kongregate.com

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The Mechanics and Monetization of Idle Games

  • 1. Idle Games: The Mechanics and Monetization of Self-Playing Games Anthony Pecorella Director of Browser Virtual Goods Kongregate.com
  • 2. Who am I? • At Kongregate for 6 years, directing our browser-based virtual goods business • Producer for AdVenture Capitalist • Also an indie designer, cofounder of Level Up Labs
  • 3. What is Kongregate? • Open platform for browser-based games – Flash, Unity, HTML5, etc. – 16M+ monthly unique visitors worldwide • Core gamers – 85% male, average age of 22 – MMOs, RPGs, CCGs/TCGs, TD, shooters, etc. • Platform level virtual currency “kreds” for F2P games • Acquired by GameStop July 2010
  • 5. Kongregate is also a mobile publisher
  • 6.
  • 7. Why Are We Talking About This? • It’s the birth of a new genre – Only 2 years old in modern form • It is becoming very popular!
  • 8. Why Are We Talking About This? • Fabulous retention stats – Some of the best-retaining games on all of Kongregate.com • Generates great revenue – ARPUs well-above most single-player games on Kongregate.com
  • 9. History and Evolution • Progress Quest (2002, Eric Fredricksen) – Parody of MMORPGs stats and auto-attack – A “zero player” game
  • 10. History and Evolution • Kongregate’s chat system created early breeding ground for “idle” games Kongregate Chat (jmtb02, 2007) Ayumilove HackerStory V1 (Ayumilove, 2008)
  • 11. History and Evolution • Anti-Idle (2009, tukkun) – Has both active and idle elements – Huge, with tons of content – Receiving new features and updates 6 years later • Literally yesterday!
  • 12. History and Evolution • Cow Clicker (2010, Ian Bogost) – Parody of Farmville and other similar appointment social games
  • 13. History and Evolution • A Dark Room (2013, Doublespeak Games), Candy Box (2013, aniewey) – Finite, can be beaten, more puzzle-like and exploration- based A Dark Room (Doublespeak Games) Candy Box (aniewey)
  • 14. History and Evolution • Cookie Clicker (2013, Julien “Orteil” Thiennot) – Parody of Candy Box – First major mainstream hit • Arguably created the genre in its modern form • Established a basis for progression, upgrading, and prestiging imitated by most other idle games
  • 15. History and Evolution • AdVenture Capitalist (2014, Cody Vigue / Hyper Hippo Games) – Parody of capitalism and idle games – Offline progress – More animated through progress bars
  • 16. History and Evolution • Clicker Heroes (2014, Playsaurus) – Clearer RPG-style progression – Addition of cooldown skills – Great visuals thanks to clever reuse of assets from their MMORPG (Cloudstone) – Tap Titans (Game Hive) is a close derivative that incorporated great presentation and mobile UI
  • 17. History and Evolution • Make It Rain (Space Inch, 2014) – First major mobile idle game – Hilarious concept, very viral – Idle elements were heavily limited, requiring check-ins to progress – Aggressive ad strategy – Pretty brutal FBI monetization
  • 18. History and Evolution • Bitcoin Billionaire (Michael Stockwell / Noodlecake, 2014) – Fantastic style, tone, and topic – Very clear goals and presentation – Great use of opt-in ads – Strong appointment mechanics, very limited offline progress • Offline progress is actually a central monetization element…a mistake?
  • 19. Other Notable Entries • DripStat (dripstat.com/game) – Fantastic visualization of information – Global live leaderboard – Realtime contributions from other players
  • 20. Other Notable Entries • Swarm Simulator (kawaritai, 2015) – Explores a new funnel-based economy – Proving extremely popular
  • 21. Idle Game Core Mechanics • Progress without interaction – Low pressure experience – Constant positive growth and feedback – Quick check-ins can be very profitable by shifting up the growth curve • Great for social/mobile play patterns
  • 22. Idle Game Core Mechanics • Progress without interaction – Creates a celebratory moment every time you return to the game • The longer you don’t the play the game, the bigger the reason to return! – Forced appointment mechanics become an unnecessary element • Even daily rewards aren’t used AdVenture CapitalistAdVenture Capitalist
  • 23. Idle Game Core Mechanics • Progress without interaction – Retention is often off the charts
  • 24. Idle Game Core Mechanics • Progress without interaction – Retention is often off the charts
  • 25. Idle Game Core Mechanics • Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards – Leads to increased sense of progress, psychologically fun and satisfying AdVenture Capitalist Swarm Simulator
  • 26. Idle Game Core Mechanics • Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards – Core loop: • Log in • Spend all of your cash • Log out, to return in a few hours – Sound familiar? Cityville (Zynga)
  • 27. Idle Game Core Mechanics • Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards – Creates a “natural” energy system without the need for an energy currency – More palatable to players (esp. “gamers”) • Has real-world analog, makes sense. – “I’m out of cash, need to come back when I have more.” • Player feels more ownership over this decision. – “I could wait, but my time is worth more than that.”
  • 28. Idle Game Core Mechanics • Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards – Counter-balances offline play: yes, you get big rewards, but they grow linearly • Time loses value without interaction
  • 29. Idle Game Core Mechanics • Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards
  • 30. Idle Game Core Mechanics • Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards
  • 31. Idle Game Core Mechanics • Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards
  • 32. Idle Game Core Mechanics • Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards
  • 33. Idle Game Core Mechanics • Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards
  • 34. Idle Game Core Mechanics • Rapid growth of costs and power/rewards
  • 35. Idle Game Core Mechanics • Tons of goals and achievements – Provides moments of joy spread out through the experience – Allow for moment-to- moment optimization and (temporarily) meaningful choices AdVenture Capitalist
  • 36. Idle Game Core Mechanics • “Prestiging” (New Game+) – Choose to reset your game to get a boost the next time through – Start back over, but with much more power than before Tap Titans
  • 37. Idle Game Core Mechanics • “Prestiging” (New Game+) – Provides a crucial strategic decision for the player – Often tied to a separate currency • This lets you transform exponential growth back to linear – Leads to a new gameplay loop
  • 38. Idle Game Core Mechanics • “Prestiging” (New Game+)
  • 39. Idle Game Core Mechanics • “Prestiging” (New Game+)
  • 40. Idle Game Core Mechanics • “Prestiging” (New Game+)
  • 41. Idle Game Core Mechanics • “Prestiging” (New Game+)
  • 42. Idle Game Core Mechanics • “Prestiging” (New Game+)
  • 43. Idle Game Core Mechanics • “Prestiging” (New Game+) – Ladder climbing • Start over, but get a rung higher each time – Gives a great sense of progress, flying through early content quickly. Feel incredibly powerful
  • 44. Idle Game Core Mechanics • Regular updates – Simple design and code allows for rapid iteration • Balance • UI/UX • Features & content – True for every successful idle game on Kongregate.com Swarm Simulator
  • 45. Idle Game Core Mechanics • Make It Bumpy – Smooth curves are boring, lack surprise and delight
  • 46. Idle Game Core Mechanics • Make It Bumpy – Smooth curves are boring, lack surprise and delight
  • 47. Idle Game Core Mechanics • Make It Bumpy – Smooth curves are boring, lack surprise and delight
  • 48. Idle Elements in Other Genres • Real-time social and strategy games – Progresses while gone, though with hard caps (crops planted or max resource storage) Hay Day (Supercell) Mafia Wars (Zynga) Game of War (Kate Upton)Game of War (Machine Zone)
  • 49. Idle Elements in Other Genres • Chinese MMORPGs – Current trend is becoming heavily auto- play – Can include “afk” mode Mythborne (R2 Games)
  • 50. Idle Elements in Other Genres • Chinese MMORPGs – About min-maxing stats, making decisions optimize power gains – Western audiences seem to be resistant to this • Expectation management? Wartune (R2 Games)
  • 51. Idle Elements in Other Genres • Launch games – Tight-loop prestige systems – Usually no choice over prestige point, but similar feel of ladder- climbing progression Curl Up and Fly (John Cooney / Kongregate)
  • 52. Monetization • Cash infusion – Get a percentage of current rate – Time warp • Speed multipliers – Buy a permanent x3 multiplier AdVenture Capitalist Clicker Heroes
  • 53. Monetization • Instant prestige • Protection against negative events – Bribe money for FBI (Make it Rain) – Shield for your heroes (Tap Titans) • Gacha system (random pulls of upgrades) • Event currencies AdVenture Capitalist
  • 54. Monetization • Banner/Interstitial ads • Opt-in ads – Short burst of cash – Small bit of premium currency – Brief powerful boost – Relief of a negative status – Medium-length small boost Bitcoin Billionaire
  • 55. Monetization • Banner/Interstitial ads • Opt-in ads – Short burst of cash – Small bit of premium currency – Brief powerful boost – Relief of a negative status – Medium-length small boost Bitcoin Billionaire
  • 56. Case Studies • Idling to Rule the Gods (Ryu82, 2014) – Branched out with some new mechanics • Many new systems added post-launch – Made a ton of UI changes early on to address player concerns
  • 57. Case Studies • Idling to Rule the Gods (Ryu82, 2014) – Branched out with some new mechanics • Many new systems added post-launch – Made a ton of UI changes early on to address player concerns
  • 58. Case Studies • Idling to Rule the Gods – Complicated interactions with deep, dense systems and lots of content
  • 59. Case Studies • Idling to Rule the Gods – Monetization is heavily focused on “God Power” premium currency, buying permanent boosts – Temporary (90 min and until- prestige) boosts exist, but only about 12% of revenue
  • 60. Case Studies • Idling to Rule the Gods
  • 61. Case Studies • Clicker Heroes – Does a great job spreading value across heroes
  • 62. Case Studies • Clicker Heroes – Use of RPG-like cooldown skills provides quick action gameplay and very light strategy
  • 63. Case Studies • Clicker Heroes – Prestige system involves a currency system (Hero Souls) with a trade-off between DPS bonus and ancient summoning
  • 64. Case Studies • Clicker Heroes – Cash infusion and instant prestige
  • 65. Case Studies • Clicker Heroes – Simple but effective gacha system • Allows for multiple, valuable purchases
  • 67. Case Studies • AdVenture Capitalist – Appeal to both browser and mobile audiences – Heavy use of theme, tone, and humor
  • 68. Case Studies • AdVenture Capitalist – Appeal to both browser and mobile audiences – Heavy use of theme, tone, and humor
  • 69. Case Studies • AdVenture Capitalist – Effective ad implementation • Fits the theme well • Provides high value to player • Is relatively scarce, keeps tolerance high from players • Has some bugs, people complain that they can’t watch ads!
  • 70. Case Studies • AdVenture Capitalist – Early purchase of a x3 multiplier is extremely compelling • One of the highest buyer percentages on Kongregate.com – Unlocks bulk multipliers over time
  • 71. Case Studies • AdVenture Capitalist – Early purchase of a x3 multiplier is extremely compelling • One of the highest buyer percentages on Kongregate.com – Unlocks bulk multipliers over time
  • 73. Case Studies • AdVenture Capitalist – Mobile retention held up well
  • 74. Case Studies • AdVenture Capitalist – As did mobile ARPPU iOS Android Kongregate.com
  • 75. Case Studies • Spender categories let us see distribution • Each game has $1000+ spenders AdVenture Capitalist Clicker Heroes Idling to Rule the Gods
  • 76. Case Studies • Revenue distribution shows a very different picture – This picture is common for successful games though AdVenture Capitalist Clicker Heroes Idling to Rule the Gods
  • 77. What’s Next? • “Classic” spreadsheet-like idle games lose favor to more sophisticated visualization and presentation • Idle spin-offs of games and brands Adventure Quest: Dragons (Artix Entertainment)
  • 78. What’s Next? • “Idle” becomes a modifier like “RPG” – Idle Tactics, Action Idle RPG, Idle Match-3 • Idle design philosophies integrate into meta-game of standard genres Puzzle Fuzz: Idle Stories (Andrew Pellerano / Kongregate)
  • 79. Thank You! • Check out developers.kongregate.com • Browser games: apps@kongregate.com • Mobile games: bd@kongregate.com • Me: anthony@kongregate.com