Why I Love Clicker Games

What the Heck?

The first time I saw someone playing a clicker / idle / incremental game, it was Egg, Inc. by Oxbrain Inc. All the chicken squawking and the obsessive clicking just made my head spin. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to play such a stupid type of game. Oscar (the hubby and fellow co-founder) kept nagging me to try it, and I kept refusing point blank. I love casual games, but this was just too much- I have my standards, you know.

Clicker Game
Egg Inc. By Oxbrain Inc.

I managed to ignore the genre for a good two years, snickering at anyone I would see clicking away on his/her phone. Then Oscar suggested that we make our own clicker game. He thought it would be a great exercise for game balancing. Again- I refused point blank. But he argued, not without reason, that I have never actually played a clicker game, so how can I know that I don’t want to make one?

Hooked on Clickers

“OK, OK, I’ll download one or two! Sheesh…” I said, giving in with frustration. Those were probably the last words I spoke that day. Once a bunch of clickers were installed on my phone, I started playing, and was hooked almost immediately. I know I have a very addictive personality when it comes to games, but I was completely taken by surprise (and a bit of horror too). I couldn’t get over it. What is it about these games that makes them so addictive and successful?

So, in between clicks, I started analyzing and reading about the genre. I found out that it started with a game called Cow Clicker by Ian Bogost– a video game researcher. The game was supposed to be taken as deconstructive satire, criticizing the social and monetization aspects of casual gaming. But instead, Cow Clicker became very popular (supporting Ian’s model of social gaming and how it affects people), and Voila! Clicker games were born.

Clicker Game
Cow Clicker by Ian Bogost

Pure Game Mechanics

Clickers are basically pure game mechanics stripped of other game elements- such as rich environments, deep story lines and developing characters. Especially the early web version games (such as Cookie Clicker). Sort of like a personal Operant Conditioning Chamber (Or “Skinner Box”) without the negative stimuli, for those who know a bit of Behavioral Psychology. With their pure game mechanics, they directly appeal to (some of) the major psychological triggers that make people love video games so much- instant gratification, continuous progress, discovery, surprise, achievement and more. This constant positive reinforcement releases dopamine in our brains, which makes us feel good. And not only that- there is no negative reinforcement to counter that! Most games punish you for failing. But nope, not clicker games. Only positive reinforcement and instant gratification for you there 🙂

“Real” Gamers Play Clicker Games

I took my research one step further, and started looking into demographics of clicker/idle/incremental game players. I found this really interesting article by Nick Yee- where they analyzed the demographics of 3 very popular clicker games, and found that 70% of the players were core players, 20% hard-core players and only 10% were casual gamers. These gamers liked mostly RPG and MMOs like Diablo III, Fallout 4 and the Elder Scrolls. Surprised? I was. But then I thought about it, and it made total sense- clicker games are an extreme simplification of these types of games- but you still have the power progression, the accumulation mechanics, leveling up… And that is what players like so much about clicker games– so much that Clicker Heroes, for example, is still on the list of Steam’s 100 most-played games, three years after it’s release, right there next to Final Fantasy XIV, Call of Duty, and more.

MicroTap Clicker Game
MicroTap Environment ScreenShots

Well, needless to say, I was intrigued. And I have already played dozens of clicker games 🙂 Some of them have more elaborate mechanics, story lines and graphics. and people have made some really interesting games in the genre. After all of this, I definitely agreed with Oscar that making a clicker game could be a good idea, so we brainstormed and came up with the idea for MicroTap- a tapping adventure through the human body (those who have read my previous posts know that I have a master’s in neuroscience, so this theme was just great for me!). But more on MicroTap in our next post!

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Why I Love Clicker Games

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