Clicker Heroes — It’s a Trap

Mistakes are easy.  You just go along minding your own business, then BAM!  Turned down the wrong road and got stuck in traffic, followed a link and what’s been seen can’t be un-seen, or maybe spent all night watching TV or reading rather than getting a decent amount of sleep.  Or maybe there’s a free game on Steam that looks kind of interesting, a quick download just to see what it’s all about can’t cause any harm, right?  The worst thing that can happen is it’s a bad game, and god knows I’ve played enough of those to know when to walk away.

Clicker Heroes is a free game that popped up on Steam the other day, and it’s a time-killing monster.  The initial premise is beyond simple.  A monster shows up on screen, you click on it a few times at 1 point of damage per click until it disappears.  You get a single gold coin, which will either auto-collect itself or you mouse over it to pick it up.  Another monster appears, you repeat the process, and so far there’s no reason to care.  Clicker Heroes’ promise of doing “quadrillions of points of damage per second” seems like hyperbole, but maybe it’s worth holding on for at least a few minutes.  Once you’ve clicked away the first few monsters, though, two things happen.

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The second thing that happens is a new area opening up.  At the top of the screen is bar with the levels in it, although each level is only a single platform on which a monster appears.  Open up a new level and you get more of the same monsters but they’re now level 2, with more HP but also more gold.  The more important thing that happens, after the first five monsters are dispatched, is that you can buy your first hero.  This is the proper start of the game, and the first hint of the massive idle-game that Clicker Heroes is going to become.  Heroes fight for you, doing a set amount of damage per second, and gold is the key to upgrading them. It’s a very simple cycle, really- kill monsters, get gold, spend money on heroes, fight tougher monsters who drop larger and larger amounts of gold.  It’s a feedback loop that works far better than it has any right to, and it’s almost endless.  The reason I say “almost” is because, according to a forum post on Steam, the game bugs past level 4724, which is an insane amount of progression using numbers that make the 9,200,000,000,000 per click damage and 306,000,000,000,000 damage per second (DPS) by my heroes at level 74 look utterly insignificant.

The journey from 1 damage per click and hero support of 1 DPS to numbers in the trillions isn’t as long as you’d think, but it did take me three days of a couple hours here and there per day to come this far.  New heroes add their abilities to the DPS, and as you level them up they not only get stronger in the usual way but also get new abilities that usually double (or better) their attack.  It’s a gradual progression from normal numbers to ludicrous ones, and very hard to resist.  It doesn’t help that, being an idle game, you can just leave it running and it will kill critters in the background for you, letting you check in now and then to allocate cash to new heroes and skills.  There’s a surprising amount of math involved, too.

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Take an ability that “Increases your click damage by 0.5% of your total DPS”.  At the time I took that my DPS was 32,574B and click damage equalled 814B.  It was an expensive skill to buy, no question, but when I was done that 0.5% translated into a per-click damage of 977B.   (When the numbers get out of hand the game starts abbreviating them: M for Million, T for Trillions, Q for Quadrillion, etc.)  I also got curious about the money received per dropped coin, which at this point is over 300 trillion apiece, with most monsters dropping three to five coins.  So-

According to this BBC article, the total amount of gold in the world is, at the absolute top estimate, 2.5 million metric tonnes.  According to the ever-helpful Google, an American Gold Eagle one ounce coin containt 31.1 grams of pure gold, with the remaining 2.8 being other alloys.  So that means you can make 32,154.3 coins per metric tonne, or 80,385,852,090 out of the top estimate of all the gold in the world.  I’m making on average 14,928 per monster more than all the gold on the entire planet.

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I can probably play more of Clicker Heroes, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea.  The simple reward structure is too easy to fall into, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s available yet.  Eventually I’ll be able to ascend my heroes, which starts the game over from scratch but keeps certain power-ups, making each cycle through the levels that much quicker and lets me reach higher levels before the grind becomes far too long to be worthwhile.  There are boss variations, permanent hero enhancements, summonings with a wide variety of stat enhancements, and numbers that make my currently-ludicrous abilities utterly negligible.  For a game you can ignore while it plays itself in the background, there’s a lot going on, and it’s got a highly addictive reward cycle to boot.  Clicker Heroes isn’t fun in the same way that a game like Not A Hero or We Are Doomed is, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s not really satisfying to see those numbers get bigger and bigger as you progress.  It’s a little too distracting, though, because it’s always there in the background, maybe with a bonus item floating across the screen or enough gold having accumulated to buy a new hero or ability.  Clicker Heroes doesn’t demand my attention but it’s always there, being a thing that could be paid attention to, simple and rewarding with minimal effort.  Much as I like the game (and hate to admit how much I do) it’s probably a distraction I just don’t need.

Also, if I change my mind, the game keeps count of the away-time and gives a huge gold bonus for it, so there’s going to be an awfully nice stockpile of cash waiting to be turned into pure hero power if weakness overcomes my resolve.  –Update–  Which it did, because I have all the iron resolve and pure willpower of your average 3 year old, apparently.