AdVenture Capitalist is a free game, in theory. AdVenture Capitalist is an idle game – i.e. one which plays itself – in theory. AdVenture Capitalist is a satire of everything that is wrong with Skinner Box games and free-to-play games. In theory.
In practice, I have dishonored myself.
Hyper Hippo’s financial management game (let’s call it that for now even though it’s not entirely helpful) came to our attention because it was an unknown quantity suddenly doing very well for itself in the Steam charts. It was free, it seemed to be a managementy thing, it seemed like it might be mocking the world of high finance, and so I reasoned it was a reasonable way to spend a little bit of my time in between other features.
I’ve been playing it for getting on for six hours now. I say playing, but what I mean is ‘watch numbers roll in and occasionally press a button when one lights up’. This is a game which solely concerns itself with the acquisition of money, which is then spent on buying things which mean more money. Speculate to accumulate and all that. An infinite snowball effect – buy a small industry, spend its profits on a larger industry, and then a larger one, and onwards and upwards until what began as a handful of dollars trickling in every second becomes billions.
All you have to do is click a button to buy/found/invest in/not sure but it doesn’t matter I guess a new company as and when you have the cash. So initially you’ve got just one lemonade stand, but its profits get spent on buying another one. Make it to 25 and the speed of its profits double. Same again and 50, 100 and 200 (and beyond, but I’m not there yet). Or you can wait a while longer and unlock a whole new industry – newspapers, pizza delivery, donut restaurants, all the way up to banks and oil companies. Each ‘new’ industry brings in vastly more sums of money, but at a slower rate, at least until you upgrade it. So you sit there waiting for these little money timers to reach their end, then you click again, repeat and repeat and repeat, spending everything you earn on making everything you own earn more.
With enough cash, you can hire managers to do the cash collection click for you. At that point, AdVenture Capitalist is supposed to become an idle game. It runs in the background, making lots and lots and lots of oh my God sickening amounts of money, and every so often you dip back in and unlock something more, in order that the next time you go back in you’re earning orders of magnitude more cash all over again. You can even exit the game and when you load it back up it’ll have calculated what you’ve earned since the last time it was open. It’s Fable III without the fighting, basically.
But I didn’t do that. I didn’t exit. I barely even alt-tabbed. I just sat there, watching, waiting, hungry for a button to turn orange so I could buy more of something. I was ravenous for more cash; cash which only had a function within this accursed game. Every line I write in this post, I flick out to see if I can buy anything else. And then I end up staring at these green rows, all refilling at varying speeds.
The lemonade stands on top left move like lightning, earning $762 a second, while the oil company at lower right will give me $89 billion every 10 hours. By tomorrow morning I can have upgraded the oil co enough that it’ll be making me something like $200 billion every five hours. By tomorrow night, I might see my first trillion. A few of them and I can triple profits across the board.
At some point, I’ll sell all my shares and start over, this time with a horde of angel investors impressed by my monstrous ability to make monstrous profits, their input meaning I’ll make money even faster, even bigger profits this time around. And it will go on and on and on and on and on and maybe that would be OK if only I could stop watching. If only I could tell myself I didn’t have to be there, watching, the second another button lit up, that it doesn’t matter if I don’t buy an upgrade as soon as I can afford it, that the world will not stop turning because I’m not at maximum revenue efficiency every second of every minute of every hour of every day.
It’s just numbers getting bigger. It’s the cynical serpent curled aroundthe heart of every social game, every action RPG, every MMO, every gambling machine, but at least it makes no pretence that it’s about anything more than that. There’s this thin veneer of Monopoylisms with a touch of sardonic Fallout nonchalance and lazy references to famous figures, but it’s just set-dressing and it knows it. This is an experiment in how venal we can be.
I know that, even by the standards of videogames, nothing I do in it has any meaning, that I could never begin to justify the time I spent with this. In my only defence, at least I’ve resisted the entirely optional in-app purchases which would make everything happen faster still. It feels like cheating, but I know that even so all I’m doing with this game is cheating myself of time and life.
Yet in an hour I can upgrade my Bank to 25, which will double the speed it cashes out, and that’ll mean something like $60 billion every half an hour. It would be wasteful for that bank to spend even a minute performing beneath this amazing potential.
A lifetime ago, I was making $2 every few seconds from lemonade sales. What a nobody I was.