Can you hear the people click? Clicking the song of angry men? The Clicker Heroes devs couldn’t, but they’re nonetheless changing their business model so that the studio can have a “cleaner conscience”. Clicker Heroes 2, the sequel to the idle game that Graham describes as “Diablo’s metagame with the participative act of exploration and combat removed”, will have an upfront cost of $29.99 rather than in-game purchases.
The a blog post by developers Playsaurus argues that “Games are inherently addictive,” and details the ethical and game design reasons behind the shift. Despite designing the first game so that you never had to spend rubies, a currency that could mostly only be attained with real money, the devs still found that some people spent thousands of dollars on the game. While they note that this is obviously ok if those people happen to be rich, they suspect that probably wasn’t true in most cases. While Playsaurus say that they’re happy to offer refunds, they’re aware that those most in need of one might not be prepared to ask.
We really don’t like making money off players who are in denial of their addiction. And that’s what a large part of free-to-play gaming is all about. Everyone in the industry seems to rationalize it by shifting the blame, assuming way too much cognizance on the part of their victims. People can make their own decisions, right? But it just doesn’t sit well with me. Despite very few of our players having complained, it felt wrong when we started doing it and it still feels wrong now.
While I think it should be acknowledged that not all free-to-play games are exploitative, recognising the reduced autonomy that can be inherent to addiction is certainly praiseworthy. Actively stepping away from it is even more commendable, especially when the new business model should make for a better game. I’m all too familiar with the “ugly cloud” that hovers over games in microtransaction form – while I hardly ever indulge, I still get the nagging feeling that I could be having a better time if I spent some more money. That said, I’m not sure Clicker Heroes (which I haven’t tried) would be one of them. As Graham notes:
I can understand why someone would become engrossed in Clicker Heroes, even if I (hope I) won’t allow myself the same. I can understand why someone might spend hours maximising a numbers game, even if it’s far too dry for me. I cannot understand why you’d spend money to shortcut the only system Clicker Heroes has – unless the game’s dopamine drip has bypassed your common sense.
Playsaurus have confirmed that they won’t be changing anything about the free-to-play model of the first game, though they do reiterate that their “unlimited refund policy still stands”.