Wasting time: Turning clicks into cash

Productivity enthusiasts everywhere are still trembling from the aftershocks of the Farmville Incident, during which millions of people across the planet put aside their responsibilities to tend to their crops and beg their neighbors for help.

The concept of a timesink is nothing new, dating back to the earliest days of assisted procrastination. Today, games like Candy Crush dominate the distraction market, keeping men and women just like you and me from doing the duties assigned to us. It is an epidemic beyond compare, and today, I am reluctant to admit that I have been infected.

I first discovered Clicker Heroes a few weeks ago when making my usual rounds on the internet. The premise is simple enough: fight monsters by clicking them, then spend your gold to upgrade your clicks and hire minions to click for you while you’re away. Like most games, it starts out small. Click a monster a few times to take away its measly ten lifepoints. Now, on the verge of reaching level 100, I face a monster with one sextillion lifepoints. Written out, that equates to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 points of health to take care of. Where did it all go wrong?

It’s actually a carefully constructed system of work and rewards. In any timesink game, you begin feeling powerful. Upgrades are cheap and levels are easy. Slowly, they begin to turn up the difficulty. You’re still flying through the competition, but now you have to think and plan out your time. Before you know it, you’re waiting several hours for the next level to unlock, or sending Facebook invites to your friend asking for an extra life so you can beat just one more level on Candy Crush before you turn in for the night. It’s a vicious cycle, and one that is not easily broken. By that point you’re invested, and if the creators are lucky, willing to pay a dollar or two to make that long wait go away. The scary part is that it works; in its first fiscal quarter, Zynga, the creators of Farmville, reported that the game had generated about $235 million in revenue. That comes from in-game purchases and ad revenue. It’s estimated that only 1-3 percent of players actually pay, but simply by opening the page, you’re paying them through ad revenue. That’s a lot, given the 236 million players they had in the beginning.

So why am I still playing Clicker Heroes? Truthfully, I don’t know. Part of me is stubborn. Part of me likes the feeling of success, even at the cost of my time. But in the end, I’m willing to bet that if you ask someone why they’re playing Candy Crush, they’ll look at you and shrug, making some kind of excuse about how it’s something to do. We say we’ll stop after the next level, but the next level never comes. It gets pushed back and redefined. We live in a world that wants to give our time away, and there are plenty of companies out there willing to turn that into their own profit. After all, it’s just clicks, right?

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