Ahead Of Launching Its First Title, Idle Games Poaches Zynga’s Lead CityVille Designer

In September, social game developer Idle Games launched on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco, declaring that they were on a mission to become “the Pixar of casual games.” In other words, they want to make games that not only look good, but have an interesting narrative. The startup’s first title, Idle Worship, is a throw-back to Peter Molyneux and EA’s Black & White, except, instead of finding it on a PC, Idle Worship will make its home on that social network everyone’s talking about.

Like Black & White, gamers get to play the role of a god, lording over villagers on an island in whatever way you choose — you can be a vengeful god, or a forgiving one. Both in its first title, and in the games it plans in the future, Idle Games is looking to provide a better alternative to the stale social games already out there produced by the bigs like Zynga.

Idle Games was founded by Co-founder of Playdom Rick Thompson and COG1 Founder Jeffrey Hyman, who bring their collective gaming experience to a space sorely in need of some re-focusing on quality design and actual entertainment value. As social games mature, there is increasingly plenty of room for social game developers to target not only the casual games fans, but the MMO audience as well.

Since launching at Disrupt, Idle Games has been testing and tweaking Idle Worship to get it into fighting shape, and we’ve learned today that the Disrupt alum will officially be launching its flagship game into the wild on March 14th, after giving a sneak-preview of the game next week at GDC. Idle Games CEO Jeff Hyman told us that early engagement for its beta has been better than expected, with players logging an average of 20 minutes per session, with nearly four sessions per day.

What sets Idle Worship apart from other social games is that it offers synchronous gameplay, in which players can interact in realtime, collaborating with millions of other players. The team has also done away with the “friends bar,” so that players can connect with people they actually want to play with, instead of spamming friends with requests.

In anticipation of the launch of Idle Worship, the startup is also announcing today that it has hired Michael McCormick as Director of Game Design. Idle Games was able to steal McCormick away from Zynga, where he was Lead Game Designer for CityVille, which currently ranks second among social games, with nearly 47 million monthly active users (according to AppData).

It’s a big score for the young startup, as McCormick has more than 20 years of experience in game design, having previously worked at EA, Backbone Entertainment, Playfirst, and HumaNature Studios (where he was Design Director on MMOs based on DreamWorks movies).

McCormick will take the lead ahead of Idle Worship’s launch in two weeks, overseeing further development of the game, which has created its own proprietary social mechanics to connect gamers with both friends and strangers, enabling them to battle swaths of opposing (or friendly) gods in realtime.

As the team puts it, they are trying to encourage others to wage a “holy war agains social games that suck and/or aren’t actually social,” basing that on their proprietary distributed simulation platform that endeavors to combine an “unsharded” game world with synchronous and asynchronous mechanics. (Idle Games already has five patents pending.)

For more, check out Idle Games at home here, and stay tuned for more on Idle Worship.