Are virtual reality games really the future of gaming? No.
Actually, the idle genre – also known as clicker games – has the potential to have a more significant impact on the games industry than virtual or augmented reality.
Idle games are examples of a grassroots fan-driven genre, and despite enormous popularity among gamers, they are not considered commercially significant by media or publishers alike. Grassroots game genres are categories that arise from players' passion for exploring the medium in ways that major publishers have not considered. Said differently, they are genres that were made by gamers for gamers, not a corporate initiative. I believe that grassroots genres can be tremendously impactful on our industry.
Early idle games such as Progress Quest and Cow Clicker were established as a design commentary, distilling the core mechanics of MMORPGs into simple gameplay. Repetitive actions are the foundation of progression in those games and very familiar to the fans that played them.
Gamers continued to experiment with the idle genre, and those with the necessary coding skills produced a slew of similar titles, including AdVenture Capitalist, Candy Box, Cookie Clicker, and Clicker Heroes. This deconstruction and reconstruction of what started out as a niche category is the perfect example of a grassroots movement.
In the two years since Cookie Clicker, idle games have become very popular, both among core gamers and broader audiences. Idle games are popular on influential sites like Reddit and Kongregate. They are popular on Steam. They are popular on mobile devices. However, people often dismiss the genre.
If you still doubt the power of grassroots games then consider the MOBA category. MOBAs were not dreamt up by large corporations. As everyone knows, the genre of MOBAs arose from fan-made mods to games like Starcraft and Warcraft. MOBAs are a perfect example of a grassroots game type. Before MOBAs first became mass market, they occupied a space in gaming culture that hovered below mainstream attention.
Idle games are popular on Reddit, Kongregate, Steam and mobile devices – and yet people ofter dismiss the genre.
Ten years ago, I think few people understood how much impact MOBAs would have on the video game industry and the broader gaming culture. Not only have games like DOTA 2 and League Of Legends become massively popular, but they have had a tremendous impact on the growth of eSports, streaming, and fan-made videos. Just think how much smaller Twitch and YouTube would be without the cultural impact of MOBAs? Where would eSports be today without the impact of MOBAs?
The progress of grassroots game types can contrast sharply with corporate initiatives such as virtual or augmented reality. In 1991, Computer Gaming World predicted "affordable VR by 1994". AR and VR have been widely reported as important, but in reality they have had a minor impact on our industry in the twenty years since Sega's VR-1 was released in 1994.
The current momentum is comparable with the state of 3D televisions in the consumer electronics market. They have proven to be counter to consumer demand despite being lauded by manufacturers as the next big thing in home entertainment.
Part of the friction to mainstream adoption lies in the two critical areas: VR and AR require an investment in expensive peripherals – plus a computer powerful enough to run them – and no one has yet made the 'killer VR/AR game' that will drive adoption. There are some very talented teams and studios working on exciting VR and AR projects, but the two issues present considerable obstacles to pushing the format into the mainstream.
By comparison, idle games are far easier to both adopt and create, with very low barriers to entry. We know from our game Crusaders of the Lost Idols that the appeal runs across many demographic categories, including both age and gender.
If you still doubt the power of grassroots games then consider the MOBA category. MOBAs were not dreamt up by large corporations.
It's also very complementary to modern multitasking entertainment behaviour. Modern gamers perform multiple activities at the same time. eSports celebrities play and stream idle games between rounds. Many of our fans play Crusaders at work or while watching TV or movies. That kind of penetration into various other activities for gamers is a way the genre will show further growth this year.
How will idle games impact gaming? No one knows, but I wouldn't underestimate the power of a grassroots game type. Look how far the idle games have already gotten in the last two years. Perhaps 2016 will be the breakout year for VR or perhaps it will be a repeat of 1994. However, I am happy to bet on the power of grassroots game genres and expect idle games to have another year of significant growth in 2016.