Playing God and evangelizing virals in Idle Worship, launching today

Idle Games’ god simulation game, Idle Worship, goes live today following an unheard of 29-month development cycle and extensive beta testing in Australia and the Philippines.

Idle Worship puts players in the role of a benevolent or evil deity tasked with creating and caring for a primitive race of island people called Mudlings. Players manage the Mudlings’ belief in a higher power using customizable statues called Moai, and a series of god powers that can either hurt or help the Mudlings go about their daily lives on the island — such as chopping down trees, fishing for food or procreating more Mudlings. A multiplayer mode allows players to interact with one another’s Mudlings by trading resources, casting god powers (both good and evil) and encountering synchronous events where online players are summoned to an island where they could potentially win more resources — if they can click on dropped resources faster than other players. Players can also compete or collaborate to gain more followers of their faith by using special powers that place shrines or missionaries on other player’s islands. Progress is tracked by an overall level, which determines what decorations and god powers the player can buy in the store.

The main appeal of Idle Worship is the level of quality. Idle Games invested heavily in both the technology driving the game and the graphics coating it to create a richly animated, detailed environment unlike any other Facebook game we’ve ever seen. The game supports both synchronous and asynchronous player activity, with little clouds representing the areas other online players currently occupy and darkened islands representing offline players. The closer a player zooms into an island — their own, or another player’s — the more detail they see.

As an example, CEO Jeff Hyman took us on a tour of his main island, where decorative items — used to increase Mudling quality of life and faith in their god — were fully animated when viewed close-up, like a little theater that performed a creation myth story using cut-outs and silhouettes.

“It’s almost like we have a hidden object game within the game,” Hyman says, “with all these little hidden gems of animation.”

The level of detail in the game almost makes Idle Worship overwhelming to average Facebook game players. Unless said players have a background in PC gaming, where Idle Worship does have some kindred spirits in The Sims and Black & White, the concept of the god sim might be difficult to grasp — and an overlong tutorial is a death sentence for many social games.

Hyman says Idle Games experimented with multiple iterations on the tutorial during the closed beta tests. Going whole-hog on the god powers early on did produce between 80 and 90 percent completion on the tutorial; however, a more controlled guided tutorial bumped that up the mid 90s range. In Australia, Hyman says that the average player logged 3.7 sessions a day at 19 minutes per session. Conversion clocked in at 5.7 percent among 25- to 35-year-olds. Surprisingly, the game skews slightly more male — when, traditionally, “dollhouse” style games have netted more of a female audience.

Aside from communicating itself to players, Idle Worship also has the challenge of evangelizing itself to potential players through viral channels. With a game that pushes boundaries, there are easy ways to do this like shocking or humorous descriptions of in-game activities — something The Sims Social has used to great effect. Idle Games has also opted for more difficult ways, like playable mini-games that players can send to their friends or post in their News Feed. The picture at right shows one of these virals, called Stroke or Squish, where people can choose to pet or kill the unicorn. The number above each option shows you how many people picked which options. Though lightweight compared to the actual product, the mini-games effectively telegraph Idle Worship’s central theme, lush art style and high level of quality.

Now that the game is live, it’s a leap of faith from here to top of our AppData traffic tracking rankings. Idle Games has the technology to scale to millions of players — but will it be enough to unseat Zynga at the top of the charts, as Idle Games investor and Playdom co-founder Rick Thompson hopes.

“I believe in justice,” Thompson says. “These games deserve more virality — it’s proportionate to use experience. What’s dead is forced [friend] invites and spam [gift requests]. If this game inspires a dozen other indie developers [on Facebook], I would count that as a success, too.”