We’ve all been there before; you’re so wrapped up in a game that you lose all sense of time. It’s been a while since a game has done this to me, but Factorio is my new addiction. In this post, I want to dig into what Factorio is and why this style of gameplay hooks me. On the way, I will discuss similarities between Factorio and my last addiction, Civilization 5. Hopefully this will help me better understand the gameplay mechanics that I prefer and aid in my quest to find similar games in the future.
What is Factorio?
So, what is Factorio? According to Factorio.com “Factorio is a game in which you build and maintain factories.” I know what you’re thinking…. “Great, another SIM-style game. Just what the world needs.” Calling this a SIM-style game is selling it short, though; it’s a lot more complex than that. The story begins when your spaceship crash-lands on an alien world. Your mission is to build a spaceship to escape this planet.
To build a spaceship you will need to pillage the planet of its resources. At first, gathering resources in Factorio starts off simple. Gather wood, mine copper, iron, stone, and coal. With these resources you can build furnaces to smelt your newly-found materials. Smelting resources creates items like iron and copper plates which allow you to craft more complex items. Before you know it, you will have enough resources to build automatic drillers to gather resources for your smelters. Take a step back and watch all that glorious smoke pour out of your machines. Just as you’re admiring the lovely start to your factory, you are attacked by alien insects known as biters. It turns out that biters don’t like pollution. Before you know it, they’ve destroyed some of your machinery. Luckily, you have your trusty pistol to dispatch biters before they do too much damage. It’s a good thing you are there to put a stop to this – if only there was a way to protect your factory when you’re not around. (Spoiler alert, there is a way to automatically protect your factory).
This pattern of “if only there was a way to automate this manual task” is a theme of Factorio and where the addiction factor starts to ramp up. As you play, you will build research labs and start discovering new technologies. As you learn new technologies, new resources are found within the world and biters will evolve. This sets off a pattern of building your factory out, researching tech trees, protecting your factory, and clearing out biter nests that are a bit too close to your factory for comfort.
Why is Factorio Addicting?
What makes a certain game addicting is going to vary from person to person. For me, Civilization 5 was addicting because of the numerous, vague ways in which to win (domination, space, etc) wrapped into constant research of the technology tree. The gameplay encourages you to keep playing “one more round” in an effort to achieve a small immediate goal. This goal could be perfecting your diplomacy, laying siege to your neighbor, or finishing the research for a certain technology. All the of these things slowly combine to help the player inch their way towards victory. While Factorio is not turn-based like Civilization 5, it achieves a similar feel to Civilization. At first, I was obsessed with crafting enough items to keep my research needs going. Plotting how I would go about getting a certain technology and crafting enough research vials to get there was addicting. However, it eventually became impossible to keep the labs fully stocked. I needed to figure out a way to automatically provide these items to my lab. The need to automate my labs led to the next phase of addiction, learning how to build a real automated factory. At first it wasn’t hard to automatically craft research vials for my lab. I could simply automate the building of them, store them in a crate, and then hand deliver them in batches to my labs. This worked great at first, but the more I’d step away from my factory, the more often my labs would run out of supplies. Building belts and inserters to auto-deliver these items in a useful way was needed. Being able to effectively route and auto-deliver crafted items required a lot of trial and error, but it ultimately taught me a lot about the game mechanics and effective use of space.
I haven’t beaten the game and I do not claim to be an expert, but I am enjoying it! I will continue down this path of manually doing something, then learning how to make it better. Eventually, I may move on to some other game, but when I do, I will definitely look for a game that fits the pattern of achieving a lot of short-term goals all while inching towards a long-term victory.