Bad Game Design – Clicker Games

Bad Game Design – Clicker Games

Today’s video is sponsored by Squarespace
– to build the site of your dreams today, go to and use the code
snoman for 10% off your first website. Let’s go! Oh, hey, sorry guys give me one second. I gotta reach the level of chocolate chip sensae. Okay…and we’re good. Whenever I think of clicker, or sometimes
called idle or incremental games, I get really confused. They’re essentially the most bare bones experiences
when it comes to actual gameplay, you just click numbers to watch those numbers go up
and then wait for other numbers to increase so you can click more numbers – so why in the
world are these games so addictive? I’ve seen countless people, myself included
get sucked into the same trap time and time again – why do we keep playing them knowing
they’re so inherently shallow? Let’s talk about it. Oooh, golden cookie! In case you’ve never played a clicker game,
they’re called that for a reason – your only mechanic is to click things on screen
and you’ll be doing it a lot. Most all of these titles follow the same structure
– you start out with nothing and need to click your way to the first upgrade which will automatically
start clicking for you, and you build from there until you have an army of enhancements
so you don’t have to click at all to gain resources. These increase in power but also jump exponentially
in cost the further you get, so eventually this leads to major progress walls where you’ll
have to wait for your currency to get high enough to purchase the next upgrade. This is where the monaker “idle games”
came in, the longer you play the more you’ll have to wait, so many people just let them
run in the background while they do other things until they can play again, and then
repeat ad nauseum. Now many clicker games get around this becoming
boring by introducing a “prestige” system that allows you to completely reset your progress
to the beginning but with a permanent buff to your click power, so you can get back to
your original state much faster and beyond to higher heights from there. On top of this, several games include little
bonus clickables that appear on screen for a limited time which allow you to have an
extra boost to your productions, while others keep collecting even when the game is turned
off, so if you go to bed and come back in the morning you’ll have a nice pool of money
to spend. Either way this system has drawn in huge audiences
that keep coming back day after day to watch numbers rise, with no other purpose than that
alone. And nowadays it’s spawned countless wikis
and thousands of different iterations, complete with memes and terrible art assets galore. Who puts corn on a pizza?!? How did something that started as a joke to
make fun of grindy game mechanics turn into an industry behemoth that’s so alluring? What caused me to drop over 60 hours into
Adventure Capitalist without even realizing it, it just doesn’t logically add up! Well we’re about to get scientific up in
here. Strap in Snobabies. There’s a few different psychological elements
going on in clicker games, but let’s start with the most obvious – we as humans love
reaching goals. If there’s something you’ve been working
toward, it feels good when you finally achieve it, and at an even more basic level we just
like watching numbers go up. They did experiments on animals in these things
called operant conditioning chambers, or Skinner Boxes named after their creator, to see if
giving a piece of food would encourage the animals to keep doing a desired repetitive
action, or in some cases punished them for NOT doing so, and wouldn’t you know it,
of course they kept doing the random simple task, because they got a treat out of it. In gaming, we see this all the time – besides
obvious comparisons like slot machines or loot boxes, this is also why achievements
are so effective – it feels good to be rewarded for your actions, and instead of only getting
that feeling of satisfaction when beating a game, this is taken to the extreme in incremental
games because you gain achievements all the time, in fact it seems to be what the entire
system is based on. So if you don’t feel like you’re accomplishing
much in your real life, whether you’re just bored or simply going through the motions,
you can boot up an idle game and feel rewarded over and over again, and with very little
effort needed. Progress feels good, even if it’s in a silly
video game. But in addition to this you’re dealing with
our need for closure and something called the Zeigarnik effect, coined by a psychologist
named Bluma Zeigarnik, but you can just call her Ms. Z for short. She basically found through her research that
people remember incomplete tasks better than ones we’ve completed – And I’m sure you
can attest that this is true. I can’t tell you how many games I’ve beaten,
but I can definitely remember the ones that I haven’t. The games that bested me stick out like a
sore thumb in my brain that desires order. We want goals and tasks to be completed, so
when they aren’t we will put in the effort to finish them – this is why you see people
like The Completionist or those satisfied when they get another platinum trophy. There’s a sense of relief when you achieve
your goals. So with all that considered, are clicker games
really all that bad? Is it hurting anyone to have games that focus
on those aspects of our brain? Well, from a game design perspective, I would
argue that yes it is, and for two major reasons. 1) There is no ending to these games and 2)
it uses real time as a mechanic. Let’s break it down a little bit. So yes while you can complete various tasks
throughout your playthrough of an idle game, without an actual win state or end in sight,
there will always be that sense of lingering desire to play more. It will never go away because there is no
final accomplishment. You can see everything the game has to offer,
but your numbers will keep going up until they simply don’t mean anything anymore. Eventually it feels like the only reason you’ll
keep playing is because of the sunk-cost fallacy where you’ll tell yourself “I’ve already
spent so much time building up my stats, it would be a waste if I quit now” and even
if you reset with an added prestige bonus, that feeling of satisfaction will quickly
become more and more fleeting as you realize the entire experience is ultimately pointless. But even from a more tangible design aspect,
it’s my opinion that using real time to drive your progress is a manipulative practice. The hilariously ironic thing about idle games
is that the best way to play them is to actually NOT play them at all. If you go away and focus on other things and
then come back after not playing for awhile, you’ll have a much larger amount of resources
to spend than if you sat there and watched it the entire time. Now I’m not talking from an optimal strategy
perspective, but simply from a perceived enjoyment point of view. When you wake up and come back to your game
that’s been collecting money all night, you can spend it on bigger upgrades than if
you kept buying smaller things as they became available. And if you stop playing entirely for let’s
say years at a time, you can come back to an inconceivable amount of cash to blow, but
what you’ll find is that when you take away the real time limitations by doing this, the
entire game design philosophy falls apart. When I was in high school, my dad and I used
to play Mafia Wars on Facebook, back when games were the main reason people made an
account at all. And we were having a fun time with it until
one day my dad got a weird glitch and when he opened the game it had given him an obscene
amount of money, way more than he could ever make normally. But instead of being excited about this, what
he found was that the enjoyment of the game had totally gone away. Without the slow progression and building
up of his assets, the game had lost all of its allure in one fell swoop. This is where games that actually get this
stuff right really shine through. When I first booted up Stardew Valley, I realized
it did everything Farmville tried to do but infinitely better because it had taken out
any element of real-time waiting. If you wanted to keep playing, grow more crops,
or gain more resources you just could right away. There was no asking your friends to help water
your garden, or waiting 24 hours for green beans to sprout, it was balanced around playing
at your own pace – you know, like what a game should really be about in the first place? It’s your time and enjoyment after all,
not Zynga’s. Plus, when you start dealing with real world
minutes and hours, it only invites other predatory practices to join in, like microtransactions
to speed up the process or buying a leg up to reach the next plateau even faster, which
not only feels slimy just to talk about, but in the case of clickers defeats the actual
purpose of playing the game in the first place! Edmund McMillen even made an incremental title
himself called AVGM. The goal of this game was to click the lightswitch
over and over until more items appeared in your room. It took more and more clicks in between each
item as time went on, eventually reaching upwards of 10,000 clicks to beat the game. And what do you receive for finishing the
gauntlet of doing nothing but clicking a lightswitch for over 30 minutes? The revelation of what the title actually
stands for – Abusive Video Game Manipulation. At the end of the day, that’s really what
it is. Do you have to play them? Of course not, and I’m not saying you’re
a bad person for playing them, I’m guilty of this as well, but when you sit back and
look at the big picture they highlight how many different games can take advantage of
our subconscious desires to steal our money at the worst, but our time at the very least. And to me, in no way can it be considered
good game design. They’ve sort of dropped off in popularity
in recent years, but I’ve noticed the techniques that they employed are still cropping up all
over the place, especially in the mobile game space. It’s no secret that microtransactions seem
to be the mainstream way to get people to pay for your free to download title these
days, but I want to encourage you to support creators who are making actual quality experiences
without predatory practices, and be sure to look out for the next big game that might
try to swindle you behind your back. We’ve come a long way from horse armor DLC,
and have accepted shady business strategies today that would have been unanimously condemned
10 or 15 years ago. I guess I’m just trying to say to be diligent,
and make sure you know what you’re getting into before you click on that next big shiny
cookie. Thanks for watching another episode of Bad
Game Design, I’ll see you guys next time. Stay frosty my friends! Huge thanks to Squarespace for making it possible
to launch my website! I wanted to make sure you knew I’ve posted
a new editing tutorial on animation that you can check out RIGHT NOW in the description
below. Not only was it super easy to use the tools
Squarespace provides for sitebuilding, but it helped me to create something I’m really
proud of. There’s so many templates and options to
choose from and I had no issue purchasing the domain through them as well. Due to being extremely helpful through customer
support and full of resources to learn from, I had the confidence to try and create beyond
what I thought I was capable of. So if you’re in the market for a website
of your own, you can go to and use the offer code snoman for 10% off
your first purchase. Buh-bye!

100 thoughts on “Bad Game Design – Clicker Games

  1. hey Snoman
    I remember a very long time ago you posted a video about a clicker game (I think it was capitalist adventure) and I wrote comment about how these are the worst type of games, and you agreed with me, I couldn't find the video now 🙁

    anyway I just wanted to add : is that this generation is used to having something running in the back ground, wither its a game or facebook notification, we always feel the need to check for something, and this is why these games are so popular now, if we started creating them in the 90's they won't be as popular as they are today.

    also this "need" to check or the constant engagement is really destroying our ability to concentrate and memorize (memorizing happens when you let your brain think about what he just learnt in the back ground) but what happens instead is when you watch a good video or read something intersting, instead of letting your brain analyze and think about what you just learnt, you switch to facebook or clicker game, cutting your chain of ideas without even noticing

  2. I just nervously chuckle as I think of when I play Crush Crush and Blush Blush 😂 The most addictive clickers I've played more then a day.

  3. Well, let's get the low hanging fruit out of the way first: I mostly agree with this video. It'd be stupid to dislike a video by title alone, and yes, that is how idle games work, mostly.
    Now fo my actual opinion: no, this isn't bad game design. It is different from other designs, but not bad at that. It isn't malicious (most games are free) nor unprofessional. Nothing says bad, and I actually enjoy putting time into these games.
    Also, how is 60 hours a lot in a game you call a time sink? Your average gamer Joe has put more into arcade games.
    The points you are trying to critizise, I enjoy in these games. Different strokes for different people. You clearly don't ebjoy these games long term, but atleast see the value in them.

    Sincerely, a somewhat irritated watcher.

  4. Ah, THIS is why I personally feel that any game that actively requires grinding (redoing the same repetitive task in the same place many, many times) to complete is Bad Design. It didn't really 'click' until now… it's because the enjoyment boils away to nothing but the fact you're getting further, and the other stuff goes away.

  5. A Dark Room does this really well! The thrill of running it in the background and making sure my bosses don't see it when they come creeping is quite a thrill as well.

  6. I feel like "clicker games" is such a broad title. It can include vastly different games: idle ones, which don't require clicking at the later stages of the game, skill and progression based ones with battles you enter and need to click fast to get through them, and so much more. Better isolate idle games in their own genre from now on, this will be so helpful for preventing misunderstandings in the meaning of the name of the genre
    (Sorry for any mistakes in my comment, English isn't my native language)

  7. Layout of every idle game:
    Things that you buy
    Random Loot
    Power ups for going through time
    Productivity 2x ads

  8. commenting for the algoriythtyhm, but corn is almost always present in the dough, sauce, +/ on pizza

  9. 1:04 Ooh, golden cookie!

    𝐜 𝐥 𝐢 𝐜 𝐤 𝐬 𝐛 𝐢 𝐠 𝐜 𝐨 𝐨 𝐤 𝐢 𝐞 𝐚 𝐧 𝐝 𝐢 𝐠 𝐧 𝐨 𝐫 𝐞 𝐬 𝐠 𝐨 𝐥 𝐝 𝐞 𝐧 𝐜 𝐨 𝐨 𝐤 𝐢 𝐞

  10. I love the little reference to DLC Quest at the end there. I loved that game for all of its commentary on how ridiculous DLC has gotten.

  11. Clickers get really boring FAST, i only like a few clickers, like for example eternal senia: hydrangea after the rain, because that game has an actual story and i was a fan of the first eternal senia game back in the rpg maker times and it has actually an end, otherwise clickers are just a huge waste of time and they are overused as shit every other game especially mobile game is a clicker

  12. There's a cool Minecraft server that's a incremental game it going to become really cool

  13. no joke in 7th(?) grade there was a required keyboarding class, but no one actually wanted to type so we would just keep cookie clicker open in a separate tab and play it while the teacher wasn't looking
    i don't remember if it was actually fun or if it just seemed fun because we were really bored, but we played it for the entirety of the semester so uh

  14. Screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

  15. One of the hardest clicker games is Egg Inc. Basically, you raise a farm of chickens, and the more chickens you raise, the more valuable your farm becomes. When your farm gets valuable enough, you can sell it for a different farm. The game has a sort of story, but it's RIDICULOUSLY hard to to get to the final egg, let alone get halfway to it.

  16. Capitalism wins once again. You have prospered by exploiting my addictive personality, and my life is now being wasted away. Yippee.

  17. Imagine Actually clicking in a clicker game bahaha what the actual fuck man you use an auto clicker if your gonna play an oversaturated boring as fuck clicker game.

  18. Also merge games, idle games, tycoon games, gacha games

    Pretty much 99.99999% of the mobile game market

  19. Mobile games, basically. Microtransactions, ads, and button games. I want to make a game that tells you "Ok. Press this button 100,000,000 times to win. The button presses itself once per second when you aren't using the game." and I bet that no one would ever actually play the game, just keep it installed ap it could play itself.
    We need to redifine what we call a game. Thanks for the video snoman.

  20. Every so often, I can't help but find myself re-watching this video. The older I get, the more I realise that time is the most precious resource you have. When I really stop and think, I'm shocked by the days and months I've spent on games like this, and what else I could have done with them; World of Warcraft, Pokemon, Toss the Turtle, Animal Crossing… Once you notice it, you start seeing it everywhere. It frightens me how little designers seem to know or care about the consequences of using Skinner box mechanics. We really should be more critical.

  21. I disagree. Yes, they are simple games with simple mechanics, but that does not mean they have a bad design.
    Having NO END, is not a bad thing itself. Sim City and Minecraft do not have an ending. I do not know what you think about these, but I pressume you don't believe they have a bad design because they never end.
    Using REAL TIME as a mechanic is more arguable, in fact I mostly agree with it. But in some of these games (e.g. Cookie Clicker) you can upgrade your click power so that manually clicking is still relevant when you are earning tons of in-game currency per second, that is in fact (for me) a sign of good balance, which is actually good game design.

  22. Okokok – Candy Box 2 is a good idle game (not really an idle game, really just an RPG where you get currency over time as well as much more from playing the real game.) It gets repetitive at some parts, but is still a good game.

  23. Real comment section statistics
    60% – People saying their 300 to 800 playtime on adv capitalist/communist
    10% – People listing idle games
    30% – People talking about the great and holy "Adventure capitalist music"

  24. I played all the games your playing while doing the video xd(except Stardew Valley), my hand hurts 🙁

  25. I don't think that clickers are inherently evil. I have used it's mindless gameplay in college to give myself a break and as a way to feel like I was getting something done while doing homework. I do agree that predatory clickers are a problem, but don't damn the whole genre for it. Think of the problems of a clicker and try to fix them. There is a game called Universal Paperclips and it is a great example of what a great clicker can be! It has many different kinds of gameplay and players can get through the game faster if they play strategically. There aren't any micro-transactions and seems like a passion project for someone. There are wait times, but seems to be a message to the player, saying it is a break time. There will always be bad genres, but don't condemn them for there flaws. Try to evolve them to a point that can make them great! That happened to battle royals with apex legends and Tetris 99, so why not clickers?

  26. AdVenture Capitalist is fun because of all of the puns and jokes hidden in the names of upgrades and the music.

  27. I found this happened to me with Torn City. I got married to a player who had been playing for 20 years and who gave me anything I wanted. I didn’t actually need to play the game at all any more. I didn’t want to play after that point. There was just noting fun

  28. "Who puts corn on pizza?"

    Hey, have you met Brazil? We put Strogonoff on pizza, we put sushi on pizza, we put pizza on pizza

  29. What really puts me off these "games" are their names. "idle" and"clicker" sounds so unappealing and doesn't make me want to even try them out. Same with the recently mainstream autochess genre. I don't want my games to be auto, I want to play them myself. I realize it might sound petty to be caught up in semantics but there it is.

  30. I searched for AVGM.
    The link for Kongregate is normal.
    The Newgrounds link, however, leads to some NSFW ads that start playing before you open the game (Warning)
    What is up with this?
    Edit: Mystery Solved. The game contains a female blow-up doll as one of the objects. Apparently Newgrounds thought this was inappropriate, but Kongregate did not.

  31. I absolutely refuse to give a second glance to "games" that utilise shady monetization, microtransactions, and freemium things. I go waaaay out of my way to do background checks on any game I pick up, because I want to know who I'm dealing with; not just the game, but the people who made it. Thanks for this video. More of us need to hear this truth.

  32. This is exactly how Social Media works. Post something, Go to sleep, Wake up in the morning and check all the numbers that went up over night!

  33. Cookie Clicker is a very,VERY, addicting game,with features like, ascends,sugar lumps,massive upgrades,and yes grandmapocalypse

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *