The browser game currently doing irreparable damage to my productivity is, at first glance, not much to behold. On a no-frills background that resembles math class graph paper, you are a sentient coloured dot. Your purpose is to consume other, non-sentient coloured dots, thereby growing in size. There are other live players competing with you to eat the coloured dots – if you’re bigger than them, you can eat them too, growing exponentially. You may as well call it Capitalism: The Game.
As you grow in size, you become slower, more cumbersome – smaller players can flit around you, snatching coloured dots from your orbit like small fish following a whale and feasting on his discarded scraps. If you want to catch any of the smaller fish, you won’t be able to chase them down (unless, by some luck, you manage to hem them into one of the unmarked corners of the game area). Capturing smaller players involves violently splitting your mass in two – one half of your body will stay where it is, while the other will form a projectile. If successful, it’ll shoot ahead and absorb all smaller players and dots in its path, ballooning in size. Eventually, your two halves will merge back together – I haven’t been able to figure out exactly how long this takes, but I think it takes longer the bigger you are.
Of course, splitting yourself in two leaves you open to being eaten by larger predators, so the safest option would be to stay in one big mass and satisfy yourself with devouring unmoving dots and not actual players. This would be deathly dull for both you and your competitors, as it’d make you – haha – too big to fail, so the game has an in-built function to prevent it: once you grow above a certain mass (I think around the 600 mark – you start off at 10), you start haemorrhaging points. Consider it consumption of energy, which of course will be greater the larger your size; alternatively, to carry on with the capitalism metaphor, consider it operating costs, or taxation of your corporation. Lol, jk – corporations don’t pay tax.
There’s also a regulatory random element, represented by green spiky mines. These mines are harmless to smaller players (they often provide a shelter for small-fry to hide in) but can burst large masses into fragments, leading to a feeding frenzy for any players roundabout. In addition to splitting yourself in half to gobble up smaller, more nimble opponents, you can also fire out miniature projectiles (roughly 10 units in size). These are most often used as bait to lure in prospective prey, but you can also use them to inflate the mines to bursting point – and, if you time it and aim it just right, you can ‘explode’ them into any nearby whales, rupturing them and freeing up lots of food for yourself.
The Pacman-esque bare bones of the game – eat the dots – coupled with the more complex combat tactics make Agar.io the classic easy-to-play, hard-to-master combo.What I like best about it though – and this also plays into the capitalism metaphor – is the way I think I’ve seen players teaming up. Player A, a big unwieldy beast, fires a token projectile into the smaller, more nimble Player B. Player B reciprocates, and the hand is shook. Now, Player B is free to use her greater speed to chase down prey; if she encounters something that’s too big for her to handle, Player A has her back, firing projectiles into her so she balloons in size and is able to take down her quarry. After that, she simply fires a heap of projectiles back into Player A as thanks – or alternatively, Player A takes the role of scout/hunter while Player B becomes the heavy weaponry. You may or may not want to call this collective bargaining.
Oh, and best of all? Every now and then, for no apparent reason, the whole thing crashes. Beautiful.
Like the sound of Agar.io? Play it yourself, but prepare to lose some hours of your life.