I played a game: Bit Coin Millionaire part 2 – Meet the family

I wanted to write only one post about Bit Coin Millionaire but when I started writing I got sidetracked when I discovered the connection between Game Design and behavioural psychology. We barely scratched the surface but  It’s not a subject that can be analysed in a blog spot anyway. Well, it’s not like we have a few things to talk about in this post. Idle games, incremental games, appointment mechanics, retention, growth curves…. *sighs* we have a lot to talk about.

Games like Bit Coin Millionaire belong to a broad category of games called Idle Games. Adam Clare, in his blog post names them,  “idle game is one that runs in real time in which the player advances by upgrading/building things. It’s called idle because the browser-based games usually need to run in the background to work.”.

As you can see all these concepts are relative new, there is no bibliography and definitions control phrases like “you build things” :P. To be honest, I prefer that from the neurochemical nonsense, they tried added with the Compulsion loop. Adam Clare went a step further ahead and calls them Incremental Games since “core game mechanic is literally incremental growth.”

You will be surprised by how many games are under the Idle Games category. Clash of Clans, FarmVille are all employing principles of Idle Games. The core-loop usually is:

  • Log in
  • Spend all your money
  • Log out, return in a few hours.

Yeap, believe it or not this had idle-game principles embedded in it.

The thing with idle games is that most of the times they are not in the spotlight. Anthony Pecorella from Kongragate in his presentation about idle games had to dedicate a couple of power point pages to explain why he bothered making a 50 minute presentation about them. You can find the presentation itself here ( a very interesting read). Simon Perking when writing about them named his article “The rise of games you mostly don’t play”.

Both pure-idle games like BitCoin Millionaire and game with idle-like elements like FarmVille share some elements.  Low pressure experience, constant positive growth and feedback. These elements are probably what makes these games appealing to the femail audience but… I am getting side-tracked again. Both games also have a rapid growth in costs and power/rewards which gives a sense of progress which can be psychologically fun and exciting.

Furthermore frequent check-ins can help shift up the progression curve. In both genres you get rewards when you are not logged in, but the grow linearly while the costs grow exponentially. An example of that is in clash of clans where the resource production follow an arithmetic progress of where , while the cost follows a geometric progress of\boxed{ar^{n-1}}.  In order for the player to keep up, he must either login to raid other players or wait for longer periods of time.  Same happens with bitcoin millionaire where you have some limited amount of profit while you are not playing, there are various mechanics that ensure that your main income comes during your game sessions.


You have to login constantly if you want to keep up!

Of course there are a few distinct differences. For example in pure idle games we have Presting. Essentially the player may decide to reset his game to gain a boost on his next play through. However, the most important difference I think is the lack of appointment mechanics. These are mechanics that reward the player when, for example, he logins once per day ( in a way he doesn’t miss the appointment). Since the pure-idle games are more based on progress without interaction, a forced appointment mechanic, simply doesn’t rhyme well. Perhaps this casual nature is also the reason why they have minimal social elements. They are there just to be open in other tab, not to bother us, until we want to. It is a game genre, that contrary to its close relatives, allows you to set your own pace. They are supposed to be something insignificant you do while working, studying or just chilling. As Extra Credit put it

“They scratch our multitasking itch. Idle games play to the need to use our minutes optimally. They are basically big Skinner Boxes, who play to our modern need for constant progress”

I played a game: BitCoin Billionaire

So I tried a cookie clicker called BitCoin Millionaire.


Coockie Clickers games are games well known for the addiction they cause for no apparent reason. People have tried to analyse it seriously on gamasutra  , it has attracted the interest of popular websites like buzfeed and it is the source of various jokes.

Coockie Clickers are games with the most basic and elegant core-loops. Clicking on the screen gets you money, which allows you to buy items, which allows you to get more money.  It sounds self-referencing doesn’t it? It is. But then , if you think about it doesn’t Diablo also have a very basic loop like that?

  1. Kill monsters
  2. Get stronger
  3. Kill Stronger Monsters
  4. etc etc…

Picture from the “Compulsion Loop explained” article by Joseph Kim

The fun comes from a sense of completion, progress and fulfillment we experience by completing these basic tasks. Video games further enhance this feelings with positive feedback, like an increase in score, sound, images anything to convince you that what you are doing is worth your time.

You have other factors weighting in , for example unique items that are hard to get by, which give the player social status in the virtual communities but this subject is so big that I am going to have to tackle with it in another post entirely. For now, I will stick to the basic reward loop.

All these are based on Skinner’s box. Skinner’s box is an experiment carried out by B.F Skinner and demonstrated that a mouse, or any lab rat,  would decide to perform an action e.g to push a button if a reward was included. This is called operant conditioning. Interesting huh? What’s more interesting is that the machine learning method of Reinforced Learning was based on this principle. It’s funny how different fields tend to be connected. Most of the Game Design field is based on the principle of that reward cycle. If you are more interested in this subject, have a look at this 5-miinute video by extra credit:

Game Designers made an attempt to name this video-game variant of the Skinner Box  the “Compulsion Loop”, which is defined as

“Compulsion Loop: A habitual, designed chain of activities that will be repeated to gain a neurochemical reward: a feeling of pleasure and/or a relief from pain.”

Bear in mind, this is nothing formal or official but it’s quite practical and handy as a definition.

Now that we have gotten around our basic background we can now get back to our original subject. BitCoin Millionaire and Coockie Clicker’s success initially makes no sense but if you think about it they are the quintessence of this Compulsory Loop and their success was not random at all. It’s in this games that you can see the Skinner’s Box principle applied in such a clean, and terrifying,  way. I tried the game out of pure curiosity but in the end I got hooked for days. To that it helped the fact that you can play the game while watching a movie or listen to music. The constant tapping can have a surprisingly soothing effect. I was planning to analyze the game mechanics of BitCoin millionaire but once I started reading about this games I was surprised with the connections I found with the world of behavioral psychology  and it affects Game Design in general. To anyone dealing with Game Design I suggest them to give it a shot. Even if you are not hooked you will be able to get a glimpse of the basic principles of Game Design in their most elegant form.