Every now and then developers claim that their latest game marks a ‘new era’ for social games – in the case of Idle Games this isn’t just trash talk. The company was founded by Jeffrey Hyman and ex-Playdom exec Rick Thompson; the latter also invested a total $15 million in the San Francisco-based studio.
After two years, Idle Games finally reveals its debut title Idle Worship to the public today – an incredibly ambitious social game that connects real-world friends with strangers and combines asynchronous with synchronous gameplay, handmade art and animations.
Idle Worship draws on the tradition of god games like Populous by giving control over a population of cute little creatures named Mudlings that live on an island. Players interact in real-time – battle or collaborate with other gods, but also play asynchronously while they customize their world and their avatar, a little altar.
They also get to choose whether to be kind or cruel gods. Idle Games’ CEO Jeffrey Hyman tells us that the company had to go to great lengths to establish a balance between the two modes because most people didn’t want to play bad, even if it was beneficial for game progress.
Playing god and stirring up social games
The game’s theme is designed to meets gamers’ desire to be in control and to be adored. The aim is to amass as many ‘followers’ as possible for the player’s religion. Though Hyman points out that aren’t any actual religious symbols whatsoever – and so far no-one has been offended by the cheerful religious approach. “The game is only making fun of atheists, because they are portrayed as little sad and depressed creatures,” Hyman says.
The development of Idle Worship took so long partly because the game basically aims to reinvent the genre and pays a painstaking attention to detail. Mudlings and other creatures are hand-drawn and animated and before they are integrated into the game creating unique visuals while also proving that Flash is still very powerful for Facebook games.
No to the friends bar – yes to interaction with strangers
Idle Games deliberately decided against some of social games standards such as the friends bar, which Hyman calls ‘silly and stupid’. Instead the players’ island is automatically surrounded by other islands of his first degree friends (if they play Idle Worship) and strangers which are selected by an algorithm. When players interact less, their islands move further apart and the space is filled with fresh users. In-game the interaction between strangers is not only possible but encouraged and even enforced as players are affected by actions of random others.
“When we founded Idle Games, we asked why limit your gameplay experience to your immediate friends, why not have the option to play synchronously, why not make a game that’s fun, full of humor, and as elegant as your imagination allows,” said Idle Games co-founder Rick Thompson in a press statement.
To list all of the game’s features would go beyond the scope of this article and there is no end in sight – recently Idle Games hired Michael McCormick, lead designer of Zynga’s CityVille, who is mostly involved in Idle Worship’s upcoming features.
Hyman says that a roll-out to other platforms such as Google+ is also very possible – a mobile app to play god on the go is already in the works.
The question that remains to be answered though is if social gamers are willing to let themselves in for Idle Worship’s universe which -while being very casual and accessible- can become increasingly complex if players follow just a few of the many rabbit holes the game offers.