Why Clicker Heroes 2 is abandoning free-to-play

November 20, 2017

We had to choose one of two models: Paid upfront like traditional games, or free-to-play with a real-money shop like Clicker Heroes 1. We chose paid upfront, for $29.99 (fully refundable for a year after launch), and we are in a situation where we have to explain ourselves to a massive number of players who were expecting/hoping for a free sequel. There are several reasons why we are making this decision.

Ethical reasons

Games are inherently addictive. That alone is not a bad thing, until it gets abused. In Clicker Heroes 1, we never tried to abuse players with our real-money shop, and for the most part we designed it without the shop in mind so that you never have to purchase rubies to progress. Despite this, we found that some number of players spent many thousands of dollars on rubies. I can only hope that these people could afford it, and that they were doing it to support us, and not to feed an addiction. But I strongly suspect that this is not the case.

We made a lot of money from these players who spent thousands. They are known to the industry as "Whales". Great. If you're rich, please be my guest. But we don't want this kind of money if it came from anyone who regrets their decision, if it made their lives significantly worse as a result. Unfortunately, those who have a problem are usually in denial about it, and would be too ashamed to ask us for a refund. We would give the refund in a heartbeat. It's not like we have artists drawing each ruby by hand. It costs us nothing but payment processing fees.

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.

That said, we're not going to change how we monetize Clicker Heroes 1. It would destroy our studio if we did. Most people are OK with how we've handled it. Our unlimited refund policy still stands. But going forward we're going to at least try the paid-up-front model for our business. It may or may not work. It probably isn't worth nearly as much money, but at least we can do it with a cleaner conscience.

Game design reasons

We want the experience to be good. The mere existence of real-money purchases puts an ugly cloud over the player's experience, with the persistent nagging feeling of "My game could be so much better if I just spent a few dollars". That alone feels terrible.

Also, if we have a real-money shop, we are limited to only rebalancing the game in ways that people who just spent money would approve of. People paid real money to get the current state of their game where it is at, and they've developed an expectation that it would be good for a long time. If we make changes to the game that are better for the game but *feel* worse for any one particular player at any stage of the game, we get backlash from that player. We've experienced this many times in the past. As a result, Clicker Heroes 1 is kind of a frankenstein of a game, our hands always having been tied by the fact that we couldn't easily change things that people paid for.

With Clicker Heroes 2, we plan to work on at least a few major updates without too much regard to player progress, similar to the way Dwarf Fortress, Rimworld, Factorio, and other games do. New updates can change the game to be incompatible with old saves (which will be rare, maybe once or twice a year), and there will be plenty of advance warning when it happens. Players then have the option to continue playing on the old version, or start fresh on the new version. To help make things more interesting, Clicker Heroes 2 is designed with multiple characters for you to choose from. So when you start fresh on one of these updates, you can play a different character, which will be a much different experience.

Also, we like games with mods and we want mods. Real-money shops make little sense with mods, when you can just download a mod to quadruple the number of rubies you get. Also, it is simply too easy to cheat. To facilitate modding, we would be giving lots of easy access to the source code, and very easy save editing.


Final reason: Pre-orders don't make sense if a game is free-to-play. Pre-orders qualify for full refunds for up to a year after we launch: https://www.clickerheroes2.com/.

- Fragsworth