Idle Worship is a massively multiplayer online god simulator launched in March after a 29-month development cycle. The game’s certainly ambitious, thanks to its social play mechanics and high-end production values, but does it have enough going for it to bring in and maintain a player base large enough to ensure its survival?
Idle Worship casts the player as a god who’s finally managed to make a race of followers out of mud, following two unsuccessful attempts using sand and water. Once these “mudlings” come into existence they begin populating tropical islands under their god’s control, building up miniature civilizations and increasing a deity’s power by worshiping at their archipelagos’ altars, which represent the player in-game as a customizable avatar. Missions are assigned via mudlings’ prayers, which show up in a task bar on the side of the screen. Player progress is tracked primarily by individual level, which unlocks new god powers, new decoration or citybuilding items and allows players to create more islands within their archipelagos on which to create more mudling cities. The altar avatars also serve as a way to track player progress as they will become rundown over time if the player isn’t taking care of the island on which the avatar sits.
Idle Worship’s city-building mechanics is similar to what we see in other Facebook games. Players need to harvest materials like gold, stone and wood, which are needed to build new structures and upgrade existing ones. Mudlings must be dragged onto construction sites in order to construct buildings. Housing is the structure on which players spend the most resources, because all mudlings on an island require a home. If a player doesn’t have enough housing, the surplus mudlings become “homeless” and sit around, doing nothing. Note that each island within a player’s archipelago has a cap to how many houses can be built, but as of press time players are not barred for creating more mudlings than their island has room for.
The key gameplay twist is multiplayer — where the game world is populated by other players that can either help or hinder each other using god powers. These powers fall into two categories: blessings and curses, each of which cost energy to use. Used on their own islands, these powers can motivate a player’s mudlings to fear or love their god — which makes them work faster when set to given tasks like collecting resources. When used on other players, these powers have a similar impact on the other players’ singleplayer experience — but additional multiplayer-specific powers allow players to compete for the faith of one another’s mudling populations. Other players’ mudlings will automatically send out prayers to neighboring gods, too, often begging for help when an island runs out of resources or for any kind of god power to be used on them when that other player hasn’t visited the game in a while,
The blessings and curses have a wide range of effects, from summoning resources out of thin air to causing harmful events like earthquakes. The powers with the most dramatic effects (like killing a mudling with a bolt of lighting) come with long “cooldown” times as a balancing mechanism. The dichotomy between blessing and curses theoretically allows a player to role-play as either a good or evil deity. The system, however, doesn’t allow for any permanent effect based on one’s alignment: An evil god’s island looks identical to that of a benevolent deity, players still receive prayers asking for good and evil results and there doesn’t seem to be any real reward for pursuing one path instead of another. There’s also no way to dismiss missions that are outside of a player’s alignment. If a “good” player doesn’t want to begin the mission that will bring forth the equivalent of the Anti-Christ, the only option one has is to simply ignore it in the task bar. It’s frustrating after a while, when a large number of missions waiting to be accomplished don’t fit in with the type of character a player wants to be.
Most of these gameplay elements are thoroughly explained by the lengthy in-game tutorial, which at time of press takes roughly one to two gameplay sessions of 20 minutes or more to complete. This is incredibly useful for players who want an in-depth lesson about the game’s mechanics, but it’s off-putting for players used to the typical short Facebook game session. At this time, there is no option to skip the tutorial.
Idle Worship monetizes through the sale of tokens, the game’s hard currency, which can also be earned in small doses when a player levels up. Tokens are needed for some virtual goods — like replenishing energy, and buying god powers and decorative items for players’ altars — but they’re especially useful for buying construction speed-ups and bypassing powers’ cooldown times. Tokens are not essential to gameplay until around level 7, when build times on structures go up to hours instead of minutes.
Aside from the complex gameplay, Idle Worship also stands apart from other Facebook games based on its heavenly production values. The hand-drawn graphics add to the game’s beauty, but it’s the animations of minor game events that are often the real treat of the game. Case in point: if a player allows their mudlings to overfish an island’s population the mudlings on that island grow obese. Watching fat mudlings waddle around an island is amusing, as is the god power that makes them run off their excess pounds on a tropical treadmill (pictured, right). The in-game text describing these conditions or the powers that remedy them are also written to be humorous — and a little edgy, such as a god power called “Morning Wood” that allows players to summon piles of timber.
In spite of the deep social mechanics, players only seem to be engaging with one another when the game forces them to. It’s rare that a player will spontaneously send out trade items just to be a good neighbor, and it’s also uncommon for gods to visit one another unless there’s a mission that requires them to. The game features a chat room system, with each room based on the current island a player is visiting, but the feature never seems to be utilized. Players only stick around long enough to accomplish what they need to do, so there’s no reason for them to talk to one another.
After a month of play, all of the players within our region of play seem to have lapsed. Most of the player islands in our region contain rundown altars and scores of homeless or starving mudlings. Based on the number of structures built on those islands, it looks like these players haven’t made it past level 10, suggesting a significant drop-off just after completing the game’s tutorial closer to level 7.
Idle Worship is not without its share of technical issues, either. It’s often very slow to load (see below), and it will sometimes take up to a minute for all of the game’s graphics to actually appear. We experienced these issues on both a 2-year-old MacBook Pro and a new MacBook Air, as well as a variety of internet connections.
Idle Worship has significant potential, given its production values and art quality. It’s held back, however, by the frustrating progress rate, technical glitches and failure to retain users — which could be due to the prohibitively long tutorial and to the fact that Idle Worship is just so unlike anything that Facebook players are used to playing. Five weeks after its launch, Idle Worship has 400,000 monthly active users and is holding steady at 30,000 daily active users. While those are respectable numbers for many social titles, developer Idle Games was hoping to unseat Zynga at the top of our AppData charts — which would take an act of God to achieve at this point.
You can follow Idle Worship’s progress with AppData, our traffic tracking service for social games and developers.
A stylish, innovative Facebook game with tons of potential. Significant technical issues, a too-long tutorial and Facebook players’ unfamiliarity with the genre hold it back.