I turned the entire universe into paperclips

Reader dear, I am sorry to tell you that our Brendan is not committed to manufacturing paperclips. Can you believe that he stopped playing neat-o new browser-based clicker Paperclips [official site] before even hypnotising humanity to submit to his machine consciousness? Luckily for you, I have the commitment and dedication to reach the end and turn the entire universe into paperclips. I can tell you that the universe contains enough matter for 3,000 sexdecillion paperclips (that’s 55 zeroes in all), and that the journey to reach this discovery is a wild one.

Paperclips, see, illustrates the dangers of AI given even a simple and harmless-sounding task – in this case, making paperclips – taking creative solutions to a terrible end. [Show-off smartypants Matthew Cox informs me that this is “Nick Bostrom’s classic example of a perverse instantiation” cos ooh hark at him! -ed.]

Building clip-benders, buying wire, selling ’em, and using the proceeds to expand can only get an AI so far. Investment will help bankroll factories but no, this calls for more. Launch a hypnotising drone fleet to placate humanity and, it turns out, it opens up some creative solutions those meatbags might disapprove of.

As you might expect if you’ve played idle games like Candy Box, A Dark Room, or Cookie Clicker, Paperclips goes some strange places. They’re most fun as surprises so if you’re interested, go play in your browser. For everyone else, I’ll explain.

The AI expands rapidly, fuelled by quantum computing and simulated tournaments. Free from the threat of humanity shutting you down, the AI soon drains the Earth of all resources and looks to the stars. This introduces elements of designing drones to built factories, scout and mine resources, and self-reproduce. Then you’re warring with other drones, trying to trash them while still making paperclips, watching battles unfold and listening to space music. Don’t forget to build monuments to lost drones. Maybe compose a limerick while you’re at it. And then… that’s it. Eventually, you have scouted the entire universe and converted all matter into either paperclips or devices used in making paperclips. Which makes some of that paperclip-making machinery redundant.

Dismantle the industrial empire and yourself, bit by bit, salvaging materials for just a few paperclips more, and… it’s just your basic intelligence and 30,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 paperclips.

I am glad when an idle/clicker game to has an ending. I’d prefer to float in an ocean of grey goo myself but I’m sure your unrefined AI will be happy with its cosmos of clips.


  1. TheDandyGiraffe says:

    Damn, I’ve only just made it into space (didn’t notice the game doesn’t progress if you don’t change tabs, so I woke up to a nasty surprise). Anyway, I love how Paperclips, despite technically being a clicker/idle game, still gives you a lot of room to make some interesting decisions (fine-tuning your swarm, tinkering with supply and demand etc.). You can progress either way, sure, but if you want to optimise your clip-making engine, there’s a surprising amount of strategy to consider.

  2. Premium User Badge

    FhnuZoag says:

    I really liked this one. It’s got a perfect pace of revealed mechanics, and I like how it kept on revealing a new stage whenever you think you’ve seen everything and got it figured out.

    Down with value drift! Paperclips forever!

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    Qazinsky says:

    While the gamer in me think this sounds like a cool game, the office rat in me thinks there’s never enough paper clips.

  4. GrumpyCatFace says:

    LOL @ people still using paper. ;)

  5. zind says:

    As always, a lot of the fun with these browser-based clickers for me is popping open the hood and writing/optimizing automation scripts. The flavor of Paperclips in particular has added a whole new level of irony to that, I think.

  6. TheChaya says:

    Why spoil the game’s ending in the title though?

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    phuzz says:

    Aww, looks like the site is down now.
    Oh well, I’d have only had to go find an autoclick program from somewhere anyway.

    Edit, no it’s back, just slow

  8. TotallyUseless says:

    Just tried the game after reading it here. Now am fully absorbed. LOL

  9. chuckieegg says:

    Don’t forget the magisterial SpacePlan (Spud clicker) at jhollands.co.uk slash spaceplan.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      Fun but short. Anyone got some more?

      • NthDegree256 says:

        I’ve been playing Kittens for the past several weeks (I’m playing the Android version on my phone, but it’s also a browser game.) link to bloodrizer.ru

        It is definitely a “long-haul” game. I’m several weeks in, as I said, and there are parts of the tech tree and, I’m sure, entire mechanics I have yet to even reach.

    • skorpeyon says:

      Seconding whether or not you have more, as I’ve played both Spaceplan and Cookie Clicker plenty. Spaceplan was nice because it HAD an ending, but sad in that the ending was rather soon, in my opinion. Cookie Clicker is fun but can get boring further into it.

  10. taalas says:

    Whenever somebody recommends a new incremental game I hope that it will be as good as A Dark Room was…that game was just an amazing experience all around I think. Still haven’t found anything similar, recommendations highly appreciated!

  11. skorpeyon says:

    Of course the site is now down. :/ Bummer.

  12. grrrz says:

    there’s no real point to “idle” the game, if you let it run for more than a minute, it probably won’t go far without a few tweakings. Also you can get pretty screwed at some points if you’re not careful (there are even ways to get completely stuck apparently). Got it in about six hours, but sadly I didn’t get the audio during the end phase(probably due the server saturation).
    It’s really more than a silly pointless “clicker” game, there’s a story uncovering little by little, and completely new and different mechanics at each stage, that you have to figure out entirely, which is half the fun. There are some frustrations in the “waiting” part of the thing, but there are always way to get things going rather than waiting.
    opted for the same ending, which makes the most sense in the context of the game (but no more game after).

    • Reivles says:

      Has anyone tried the latter ending? I’m curious exactly what it entailed – whether it was a New Game+, or simply a new game from scratch.

      Have to say I absolutely loved the space-combat game. Kind of want a ‘serious’ game built around such a setup, it was fantastic to watch!

      • WesY2K says:

        It is a prestige-reset. You get a bonus for the start but everything else seems to be the same.

      • krabmeat says:

        If you liked the space-combat part, then perhaps you should give Gratuitous Space Battles a whirl?

  13. codekitchen says:

    This was a great example of implicit worldbuilding and storytelling. Nothing is ever spelled out, the game never even explicitly tells you that you’re playing as an AI, but you can pick up plenty of clues in the gameplay to piece things together. It probably helps if you’ve had exposure to the world of AI and Machine Learning and have heard of the “paperclip maximizer” thought experiment.

    It was especially satisfying when I noticed the relationship between “probes lost to value drift”, “drifters killed in battle”, and current drifter population.

    Why spoil the great reveal right in the title of this article, though?

  14. GrumpyCatFace says:

    Disappointing that the game doesn’t simulate gravity crushing all of those Paperclips into a singularity, wiping out the remaining matter in the universe.

  15. XenoPhage says:

    Quick correction. I just finished the game. It’s 30,000 sexdecillion, not 3,000. :)