Incre-mental: the Rise of One-click Gaming – What’s an incremental game, anyway?

If I asked you what your favourite game was, what factors would you base your decision on? Fast-paced action? Edge-of-your-seat thrills?

Nowadays, games often require conventions that demand a learned and complicated input – strategy games like Victoria II or League of Legends will brim the screen full with colorful buttons and endless skills. A good game requires learning and control, it seems. But if you believe that, then you’d be surprised; turns out a good game needs nothing more than a single button.

Incremental games do away with the dashboard of skills and potions: all you need is a mouse, one icon, and a heck of a fast-paced finger. Buckle up, kids; it’s time to get button-mashing, because incremental games make you do just that: click, click, click.

The heck’s an Incremental game?

Let’s have a look at Wikipedia’s description for Incremental gaming:

An incremental game focuses on the player performing a simple and repeated action to gain a form of currency which can then be used to buy or upgrade characters and abilities inside the game.

Sounds mundane on the face of it, right? Oh, how naive to think so.

Incremental gaming has become so popular as of late that the flash-game website Kongregate has made it’s own category for the stuff (known as Idle). Heck, even Steam has produced an in-client incremental game which unlocks more deals for their famous Summer Sale. The genre is but a wee lad, yet already it’s gaining the favor of many mainstream gamers.

So you must have heard about the likes of Cookie Clicker and AdVenture Capitalist. If you haven’t, here’s the basic demonstration of how our case study, Cookie Clicker, works:

That’s right; keep on clicking that cookie. Riches await – riches beyond your wildest dreams.

In all seriousity, that’s exactly how an incremental game works. You’ll get an icon (e.g. a cookie) and you click it for dosh (e.g. a cookie). And you keep doing that; do it as much as you can bear it. Keep on clicking until you can buy one of many, many upgrades. And with those upgrades, you won’t have to click. The game will do it for you.
Lay in wait; watch your cookie collection slowly amass by itself. Today: baby steps. Tomorrow: world domination.

It’ll slip out of your grasp eventually. Your clicks will be futile. The cookies have outgrown you. Your army will grow more powerful than you could’ve ever imagined, and it’s only going up from here. You’ll be the father of all cookies. The king of sweet treats.

…Ahem. I got a bit carried away, there. Anyway, incremental gaming requires a small investment of  your time to get yourself started with in-game profit. Then, with the careful application of time, clicking, and investment, your objective is to launch your incremental parade straight off of the ground and into the starry skies of opportunity, unlocking upgrades that enhance your in-game productivity.

So what makes gamers mental for incremental gaming?

It’s worth keeping in mind that incremental games aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. It’s very easy to see it as a waste of time and effort in the face of reality. But then, that’s exactly the reason why you’re better off playing incremental games than any other form of gaming.

Incremental gaming is the most versatile and complimentary form of gaming that you can play, holding hands with all of your boring responsibilities such as doing homework or working from home.

There’s a reason why mobile apps have a big business in incremental gaming on your local app store: you can play it in the background of your day-to-day life. If anything, incremental gaming is made for the mobile scene, offering a simple gaming interface to create some strategic and addicting game-play. Drop in, click for a bit, leave, and come back. Rinse, Repeat, and Reap.

Browser games such as Cookie Clicker or other famed titles like Clicker Heroes or AdVenture Capitalist do the same thing. Keep it running in a tab on your browser as you go about doing other things, and the game will play itself.

The appeal, then, lies not in the gameplay, but in the progress. As soon as you drop in, you’ve earned a million cookies doing nothing. Now you can expend your edibles on making more dough! Yay!

Anyway, I returned to AdVenture Capitalist on Kongregate after realizing that I had abandoned the game a very long time ago. Lo and behold, imagine my surprise when I’m greeted with this message as I start up the game:

I’ve hit the jackpot, boys! The jackpot!

A whole 36.028 billion from forgetting about it’s existence. Frankly, these sort of games are odd in the sense that they reward you for forgetting. Now that’s an idea that I can get behind – if I remember to, of course.

I reckon now is a good time to present my incremental experiment. As I write, I’ve been leaving Cookie Clicker to work behind the scenes on my browser. I started the game when I started the post, and I’ve dropping in and out occasionally to reap my anti-efforts. I’ve also been writing this post on and off for a total duration of about8 hours. Shall we check on how well my business has done?

Blink, and you’ll miss it!

And heck, there are probably Cookie Clicker strategists out there who are brushing me off as a filthy casual. I didn’t actually spend much time doing the work in my game – I just let it run for hours at a time – evident, seeing as this post practically took me all day long. Whoopsee!

So lets round up. Should you play an Incremental game? Well, it probably won’t get in the way too much. Try not to get addicted, though. If you’re looking for good places to start, try Reddit’s incremental game forum, or look around on Steam or Google. Oh, and my cookie business? It thrives 23 portals to other dimensions, 10 time machines, and 2 anti-matter condensers to produce over 3.370 million cookies per second. Global domination… is just about completed.


3 responses to “Incre-mental: the Rise of One-click Gaming – What’s an incremental game, anyway?

  1. Nice breakdown of what it feels like to make a “profit” without doing anything. I can’t get into incremental games myself– my boyfriend does, uses a clicking script and everything– I just couldn’t figure out why watching numbers tick up would be entertaining. I guess I kind of get it now. What a strange genre.


    • I don’t play often, but I’ve played enough to see the appeal in it. Once you’ve started, it becomes a mindset of “why stop now when I’ve worked so hard?”. It’s also fun to grow better and better at something, of course.


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