Are you currently suffering from Game of War or Clash of Clans addiction? The good (bad?) news is, you’re definitely not alone, and it’s not entirely your fault. The majority of games are designed to pull players in and keep them wanting more. But when devs dangle carrots in combination with microtransactions and always-at-your-fingertips mobile access, it’s no longer just fun and games—real money is at stake, and those gem purchases really start to add up.
While many mobile games are guilty of these tactics, the hugely successful Clash of Clans and Game of War seem to be the biggest culprits of mobile player manipulation and money-grubbing.
What’s The Draw?
To be fair, Clash of Clans looks pretty good; the graphics are smooth and cute, and the interface is fairly easy to understand. And thanks to a $40 million ad budget, Game of War was able to swing Kate Upton in a tight chest plate for their commercials—playing the role of the goddess Athena.
Both games have different layers of appeal, and lively multiplayer communities that rely on building relationships up and then tearing them down through betrayals and backstabbing. While these communities aren’t as intense or widespread as something like EVE Online, the grindy appeal is still there.
Redeeming qualities notwithstanding, these games are also huge moneymakers for the app’s developers. That’s not exactly the problem; it’s more like a side effect of the real issue. The problem is that these apps are created with the sole intention of milking players for their money. This is accomplished by designing gameplay that “hooks you” early, so you’ll be willing to spend real money later on—when impatience or the lure of instant gratification trumps prudence.
Early Hooks in Clash of Clans
All games are meant to be played and to “hook you” in a sense. The difference between Clash of Clans and something like Super Mario Bros. is that the latter is a one-time purchase. In the case of Clash of Clans, the game is free to play, with microtransactions available to buy gems for faster progression. It’s entirely possible to succeed at Clash of Clans without paying a single cent—this isn’t the kind of game that requires money to win—but it is significantly more difficult.
The nefarious quality of games like this comes in the way they ease you in. When you first start the game, you’re given what seems to be tons of resources. You’re allowed to build, upgrade, and buy stuff freely, because everything is cheap in the beginning, and the rewards come quickly.
That sense of progress hooks you early. Every time you collect gold, coins fly out of your gold stores. You win stars for defeating goblin camps. It’s a sense of instant gratification that we don’t often get in real life, but there’s nothing fake about that jolt of euphoria.
Low Prices, Long Waits Make In-App Purchases More Appealing
Of course, the problem is that that sense of gratification doesn’t last. The longer you spend playing the game, the more expensive upgrades and resources are. Furthermore, the deeper you are in the game, the tasks and upgrades take longer to complete, and you only have two builders to do all the work. Here’s the catch: for a mere 500 gems, you can acquire another builder, and 500 gems are just $4.99 of real-world money. Or, for $9.99, you can get 1200 gems. At first, it’s no big deal—what’s waiting fifteen minutes for your town hall to upgrade? But when those upgrades start taking 24 hours or longer to complete, it’s easy to see why so many players take the real-money plunge. You can bet that was no accident on the dev’s part.
To be clear, Clash of Clans and Game of War are totally within their rights to charge for resources in this manner. If that’s going to be their business model, then that’s their choice—notably, it’s a business model that can bring in over $5 million per day. People make the decision to buy in-game gems, and while the company may be leading them down that path in a manipulative way, it’s still ultimately the player’s choice.
Unfortunately, the biggest problem with Clash of Clans and games of their ilk is that—for all you can spend—they just aren’t that fun. Some people will enjoy upgrading gold stores just to buy an upgrade for their elixir stores so they can afford more soldiers to attack more clans and on and on ad infinitum. But far more get sucked in because of the game’s addictive nature and MMO connections—not because they’re genuinely having a good time.
Fun and Obligation Meet in Clash of Clans
Fun is subjective, so of course there are those who genuinely enjoy the gameplay in Clash of Clans. But for others, it becomes more of an obligation—when you’ve already invested time in a game, you’re strongly motivated to see the experience through and make it worthwhile. When you’ve invested actual money too, that desire becomes even stronger.
Just like with gambling, these games build habits. Checking in daily—or hourly, or every fifteen minutes—makes you want to check in more. The gambling connection is even more blatant in Game of War, where there is an actual in-game casino.
Of course, it’s still possible to enjoy these games without spending real money. Profiting off of microtransactions is a growing money-making tool for developers, and its success means it’s likely to continue. Because many of these games lack a definitive ending, just like any MMO, they just keep raking in money as some players leave and are replaced with new ones who are willing to spend the real-world cash to progress.
Play them if you want, but be wary of how the Clash of Clans addiction can develop, and prepare to face pressure to keep emptying your pockets. It’s all fun and games, except when it isn’t.