Hidden Object Games: History and Analysis

October 31, 2023

"More and more of the gaming experience has been monetized, but some titles continue to enchant." - This is how an article about the best video games in The New Yorker magazine begins. We couldn't agree more, because today we are going to talk about Hidden Object пames, and how they have earned millions of fans all over the world.

Hidden Object Games (HOGs) are a popular genre of casual puzzle games that challenge players to find hidden objects within complex scenes. HOGs have evolved over the years, incorporating elements from various puzzle-solving games and finding inspiration from different media. It all started with print editions and location sweeps in magazines and has grown to become iconic games that are on the phone of every 10th person on the planet. So here's a brief history of the genre.

The roots of HOGs can be traced back to puzzle-solving books and illustrations that required readers to find specific objects within cluttered scenes. Books like "I Spy" and "Where's Waldo?" (known as "Where's Wally?" in some regions) were immensely popular, engaging readers in visual exploration and search challenges.

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The transition of Hidden Object games into the digital realm began in the mid-1990s with the advent of CD-ROM games. These video games featured interactive scenes in which players had to find hidden objects in order to advance the story or solve puzzles. Quests such as “Myst” (1993) and “The 7th Guest” (1993) featured compelling find-and-apply gameplay, which appealed to a wider audience, coining the genre of point-and-click adventure games.

The immense popularity of casual games and the emergence of digital distribution platforms in the mid-2000s led to Hidden Object games becoming mainstream. Big Fish Games played a key role in popularizing the genre with their brand Mystery Case Files series, which combined seek-and-find gameplay with a variety of mini-games and the elaborate storyline. As the genre gained momentum, more developers and publishers began creating their own Hidden Object Adventure games. Other notable franchises include “Amazing Adventures” (PopCap Games), "Hidden Expedition" (Big Fish Games) and "Hidden Mysteries" (GameMill Entertainment), each offering a combination of hidden object scenes and mini-games, and bringing their own unique twist to the genre.

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Game developers kept experimenting with different themes and gameplay mechanics. As the twisted storyline provides context and motivation for Hidden Object gameplay, the adventure naturally revolved around treasure hunt, crime investigation and mystery solving. Thus, supernatural elements, historical settings, and fantasy worlds began to appear in HOPA games. To enrich the player experience, more puzzle mechanics were introduced. Morphing objects and find-and-apply elements in hidden object scenes, became a trend. Collector’s Edition games were released, offering bonus adventure quest, replayable Hidden Object scenes and mini-games, game walkthrough, downloadable game OST or wallpapers , and much more.

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With the advent of smartphones and tablets, Hidden Object games quickly made their way to mobile platforms. Premium puzzle-adventure games retained their niche, with top HOPA franchises brought to mobile. But the casual nature of the genre combined with short play sessions made it ideal for mobile gaming. "The Secret Society" and “Mystery Manor” were among the first hit free-to-play Hidden Object games.

As the genre matured, more puzzles and skill games merged with the seek-and-find gameplay. For instance, with the rise of Match 3 games with the mobile gamers, some HOGs offered switching between Hidden Object scenes and Match 3 puzzles to achieve the level purpose. Thus, some developers managed to acquire a wider audience, successfully appealing to the fans of both Hidden Object and Match-3 adventure games.

In a word, Hidden Object games have gained popularity among casual gamers due to their accessible gameplay mechanics, relaxing nature, and suitability for short play sessions. The genre keeps evolving, as game developers’ imagination knows no limits. If you want to know how they manage to come up with new ideas and bring them to life, stay tuned, and get a sneak peek on the development of Hidden Object games in our upcoming articles.


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