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Eat and be eaten: How to survive and thrive in Agar.io

In an age when games strive for massive scope and microscopic detail, Agar.io seems like an unlikely candidate to become an Internet sensation. The game is comprised of colored blobs on what is essentially a sheet of graph paper, and any screenshot looks like it could have been a 20-second art project made in MS Paint. Yet, this simple multiplayer buffet has become a hit, even serving as a tool for Turkish political parties to attack one another on the virtual battlefield.

Best of all, you can play Agar.io for free in your browser, or using the dedicated app available for both iOS and Android. Simply go to the game’s websitelog in as a guest or through Facebook, and enter a username for yourself. You can also use the Settings button to change your server.

start screen

Once you’ve entered the game, the controls for Agar.io are simple:

  • Move the mouse to move your blob. Your cell will automatically move toward your mouse cursor.
  • Press the space bar to split your cell, or cells, in two. 
  • Press “W” to eject mass.

In the beginning, you are a tiny cell sitting in a vast expanse. Typically, your cell will generate as a random color donning your username. However, entering certain names will give your cell an alternative look or “skin.” For example, entering your name as “Earth” will change your cells skin to look like Earth. Entering the name “France” will give your cell the appearance of the French flag. There are many skins available, covering an odd variety of themes such a countries, world leaders, and even Internet memes.

alternate skin

A cell starts off small, but gets bigger with each pellet (or player) you consume.

Movement is simple, though it takes some getting used to. As you move your mouse around, your cell will automatically move toward your mouse cursor. The game area is dotted with tiny, colored pellets. When your cell runs into pellets, it will consume them and grow larger. Eating pellets will also increase your score.

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Agar.io is also a multiplayer game, meaning you will likely run across other players as you move around. You can eat cells that are smaller than you, and vice versa, bigger cells can eat you. Eating another player provides a significant growth spurt to your cell, far more so than eating pellets. You can’t eat cells that are the same size, or very near the same size, as yours. The cut off for this is a 10 percent difference in diameter — so, you can’t eat cells that are more than 90 percent of your size. 

danger zone

Other players come in only two forms, either threats or food.

As you consume more and grow larger, your cell will move more slowly. This can present a conundrum given consuming smaller cells will make you larger, but those same cells also move much faster than you. It is possible to catch them through the right maneuvers, though. Steering a smaller cell toward another big one, for example, might place them in a  situation where they will likely be eaten. You can also corner small cells near the edges of the map.

There are two abilities that allow larger cells to move more quickly. The first is to eject mass by pressing the “W” key. Doing so will cause your cell to drop some mass in the form of a pellet, shrinking your cell and thus allowing you to move faster. This can be  useful technique when you need a quick burst, whether to catch a smaller cell off guard or to escape from a tight situation. Be warned, though, other cells can eat the pellet you drop, so may end up feeding your competition. 

ejecting mass

By ejecting mass — shown here as a red pellet — the cell can shrink down a bit and gain some speed.

Pressing the space bar will also cause your cell to split, with one piece shooting out in whatever direction you are moving. Unlike when you eject mass, this new cell will still be part of you. Every such cell under your command will move in unison. The new cells can consume pellets and smaller cells, so splitting can allow you to quickly get the jump on a smaller cell that is outrunning you. As with ejecting mass, this technique carries risks. Split cells will be smaller and thus more vulnerable to other players. Luckily, split cells will eventually recombine, provided you can keep them alive. 

By splitting, the Earth cell shoots out a clone of itself to catch the smaller orange cell.

By splitting, the Earth cell shoots out a clone of itself to catch the smaller orange cell.

Scattered around the play area are large green blobs covered in spikes. These are viruses. They do not move, and eating them is… inadvisable. If you are larger than a virus, consuming it will cause your cell to split into many smaller cells. As such, viruses present hazard to large cells and a sort of safe haven for smaller ones. If being pursued by a larger cell, you can take shelter behind a virus. Large players will often be wary of risking a split, especially if there are other players nearby who can gobble them up.  


Viruses have a distinct spiky form and present a hazard to large cells.

The game keeps track of your score as you go along, and moreover, even provides a real-time leaderboard that displays the top performers on any given server. However, there is no lasting progress to be made. When you lose, you have to start over from the beginning.

The game is relatively simple in its design and so ruthlessly compelling, though, so starting from scratch hardly matters. Playing Agar.io taps into the most basic elements of competition. Eating another player evokes a primal glee, like a lion must feel crashing down on the back of an antelope. Death comes quickly in Agar.io. With quick reflexes and a Machiavellian appetite, you might survive a while.