Cookie Clicker is now a Genre. WTF?

Pointless clickers is now officially a genre. There was a point in time where I spent lots of background browser time working my way towards Grandma Apocalypse with Cookie Clicker. It was stupid fun and very addictive and it was meant to be that way. Cookie Clicker was a great math model where the costs and rewards increased exponentially in a way that you always had an available action to complete, hence satisfying the OCD side to everyone. There’s always *something* to do and you’re always progressing so there’s no real good time to stop the game and that creates the addictive hook to it.

This week, I got acquainted with Tap Titans and Bitcoin Billionaire, pretty much clones around the same concept. I’m about 4-5 days into Tap Titans and I really wonder if the game’s missed the whole point about Cookie Clicker because the mechanics without alteration translates pretty badly as a F2P model. I’m looking at the revenues estimated by ThinkGaming and I think players aren’t really buying into it either.

Tap Titans revenue

As a player, I’ll only be compelled to buy something if I know what I’m getting from it. For clickers, the addiction comes from plain tapping, not necessarily winning. If you’re buying a faster rate of tapping, because of the nature of the mechanic, it’ll even out with the cost of damage of the tap after a while, resulting in exactly the same rate of progression as before your purchase. There’s no real benefit to the purchase except for maybe another cool character onscreen and even then, it isn’t as visually fun as Cookie Clicker which made it more fun because of the ridiculous number of creatures hogging the screen.

There’re minor currency sinks in Tap Titans where your ‘heroes’ can be killed by a boss character (randomly no less, which TBH feels like cheating) and also in compulsory bonus upgrades but I don’t feel they’re effective because the game, well, is still going on without a lose state and really, there shouldn’t and can’t be one.

I have huge respect for Orteil, the guy behind Cookie Clicker because the non-game is art to say the least. The game as a genre? At least try to understand what the mechanic is about! Tiny Towers had a similar mechanic and it works!


*EDIT* Ok, after playing a whoooole lot more, I’ve come to realize that this is probably making a mountain of revenue from ads. Maybe this should be my future plans instead of actually making games…

What Game Designers Do and a Look at Tsum Tsum

Usually when I say I’m a game designer, I’ll either get asked about Flappy Bird, Candy Crush or Angry Birds. The ones I went to school with will assume that means I program all the games they can find on Facebook or that I spend 40 hours a week playing games. For the sake of everyone who has no clue what I do and also since I’m not writing a lot about anything anyway, I’ve decided to put in more work-related content in here which explains a little about what I do for a living. (Also, feel free to debate my points!)

These two weeks I’ve been playing a lot of LINE’s Tsum Tsum.  It’s a match-3 game that features the cutest Disney characters in even cuter art and music so happy you wish you could hug a llama there and then. I’m quite convinced that the monetization aspects is secondary to using the game as a platform to sell more merchandise since the pricing of items is not very well-balanced and that obviously makes for a great study in how to design monetization loops!

There are 4 main currencies in the game – Coins, Hearts, Gems and Time. The only currency that has a direct exchange rate with real-world money is Gems and you will have to buy Coins and Hearts with Gems. There are 5 bundles you can purchase and here’s how the Gems are sold:

To expand on this, let’s look at the exchange rates between Gems and Hearts and Gems and coins.




I’ve highlighted in yellow the coin deals that can be purchased if a player were to purchase the amount of gems afforded by the column header.

Note that there are just 2 blind box items you can purchase with Gold in the game – a basic boxed Tsum costing 10,000 and a premium one costing 30,000.

Now let me explain 3 main reasons why the monetisation aspects can be better designed.

1. The middle bundles aren’t very different and leads to confusion.


It’s expected that the lowest-priced bundle is going to be the priciest per unit currency and the most-expensive, the best deal there is. Usually, there’s an in-between that pushes the player towards buying the most expensive bundle. Even without looking at the curves, it’s hard to visualize the difference between the last 3 bundles and worse, makes the $68.98 bundle seem less of a deal than it actually is.  The jump between the $6.98 and $30.68 bundles is so ambiguously small, I wouldn’t actually purchase the higher-priced one since I can already afford a premium box with just the $6.98 item. Also, because there’s a rather similar gap in price between the three highest bundles, it makes me believe that there’s the same lack of bargain between the $44.98 and $68.98 bundles. Players are probably more likely to buy the $6.98 bundle in this case and I’m not too sure why the designers would want that.

What might work better: There’s no price option that allows for players to chase for the basic 10,000 coin boxes. While the intention is for players to go for the seasonal premium boxes, I feel it is still worthwhile to introduce a price range that allows for players to purchase above 10,000 coins for completionists. This would also allow for a Gem package that’s between the $2.58 and $6.98 range, closing the gaps between the two. On the premium front, I would opt for a bundle that’s closer to $10 and the best bargain bundle at a price point of $20. This makes it clearer to players what they should be getting to get at the items they want and the push would be towards the bundle that’s between $2.58 and $6.98 and the $20 bundle instead of solely centered on the $6.98 one.

2) Heart purchases are redundant

Hearts are quite easy to come by in the game. You’ll gain one every 15 minutes and since a game takes roughly 2 minutes, as long as you have 6 friends who are playing at the same time as you are, you’ll be assured of a neverending supply of hearts. Let’s look at the time costs of the 2 blind boxed items available, compared to the number of games (hearts) needed to achieve them assuming an average gain of 300 coins per game.


At the moment, I’ve 4 other friends actively playing the game at intervals through the day and it’s not unusual for my inbox to be filled with 20+ Heart gifts/requests to gift Hearts every time I log in.When you gift a Heart, you receive one as well so it serves the same purpose of granting you a heart.

The way the current numbers seem to be balanced seems to take into account only the amount of hearts you can expect to have every time you login. If you have 20+ hearts at a go, chances are that you’ll be just slightly short of a few hearts and will be driven to purchase some more hearts.

I’m speculating though that an average player won’t spend above an hour at a time on the game so it’s likely that at each login, the player will always have sufficient hearts every single session to never feel this drive.

What might work better: Instead of merely balancing based on Hearts costs, it might be worthwhile to cut back on the minimum time costs for the Happiness box and also to reduce the number of Hearts that players can earn from their friends at each login. At the moment, I can get as many as 5 Hearts from the same friend at each login (possibly more).

As long as the player feels that the most basic box is within reach, he would probably be more compelled to continue on to reach a target.


3) The Hearts packages are counter-intuitive

The only currency that truly matters are coins which are used to purchase more Tsum Tsum characters which gives you a better score. Since players will not naturally purchase gems for hearts, the only situation they’d spend on hearts is when they run out of hearts and happen to have just enough gems to purchase hearts but not coins.  Hence, it would make sense to sell packages that can pay for coins and some amount of hearts (or continues).

Let’s look at what a player can purchase with the gem bundles:

  • 20 Gems = 2 * 6000 coins
  • 65 Gems = 1 * 39600 coins + 5 Gems leftover
  • 300 Gems = 1 * 195000 Coins + 50 Gems leftover
  • 460 Gems = 1 * 195000 Coins + 160 Gems leftover
  • 800 Gems = 3 * 195000 Coins + 50 Gems leftover

Since a full bar of Hearts is 5, it is quite unlikely that a player will ever buy the 20 or 50 Hearts sets. With the leftover amounts, there’s also the propensity for the player to purchase more coins with them instead. Again, buying a full set of 5 hearts with 5 Gems makes sense, bargain or no bargain and the rest of the Hearts package just serves to clutter. The reason why players buy Hearts isn’t to seek a bargain, it’s really to seek the enjoyment of the game.

What Might Work Better: Using coins to purchase Hearts instead of Gems might serve the intended purpose of getting the player to spend more on coins without realizing it. It adds a gambling aspect not unlike the power-ups that’s already in-game. In fact, perhaps using Gems to purchase power-ups might be more effective in persuading players to part with their spare Gems and also to get players to dissociate between spending an amount of coins for a power-up that doesn’t give enough in returns.

If Gems are to be used to purchase Hearts, perhaps the interface could be simplified to be a one-click purchase to refill all Hearts so the player doesn’t second-guess his judgment.



Windows for Dummies

I have been running a Mac for the last 7 years and last week, I fixed up a Windows PC for the first time. I learnt a couple of things you should NOT do.

1) Don’t EVER try fixing up a PC if you don’t have a DVD-ROM drive. 

In this day and age, I had thought that optical drives were optional. After all, my Macbook Air came without one and I get most of my stuff from downloads.

WRONG. Oh my goodness, how big a pain is this. First of all, some motherboards these days come with this newfangled BIOS mode called UEFI that’s completely not like the BIOS I know. You can’t just command it to boot from USB or an external hard drive because it won’t. Or maybe it’s just Windows doing its thing. I wouldn’t know because I can’t get it to work.

I’ve tried reformatting my USB/external drive, swapping out the directories of boot manager files, force-detecting my drives as “optical” instead of USB/Hard Drive… nothing works. NOTHING.

I gave up in the end and thought ok, I’ll burn the friggin’ ISO into a DVD and then use an old DVD drive. The motherboard I have runs on SATA plugs and my drive is an old one with IDE connections. I bought a SATA adapter but apparently the ones on the market here don’t work presumably cos they run on the old SATA format while my motherboard’s on the new format. NOTHING WORKS.

What did I do in the end? Hook up my hard drive on an old PC with an optical drive and install Windows. Does it work? Yea kind of, except it now detects phantom peripherals that I can’t uninstall and every now and then tells me that Windows Update has failed.

2) Don’t EVER try to customize anything. EVER.

Some installation program needs to alter a registry file via some command line scripts. Didn’t work because I lack the proper permissions. Please could I contact an admin although I’m the ONLY person who’s registered and is using the same PC. I try correcting the permissions in Explorer but can’t because they’re all greyed out. I try setting my hard drive as ‘Active’ which is apparently the wrongest thing you can do.

Windows has grown so bloody smart it now decides what to partition your hard drive into and which can be active and also that you shouldn’t have permissions to the drive. Who does? I don’t know!

Anyway, changing permissions caused Windows to fail to boot which brings me back to the useless BIOS screen again. Repeat all the actions in Problem 1.

3) Don’t EVER try to install anything if you don’t have an internet connection.

A computer in every household my ass. If you don’t have a reliable connection to the internet, Windows will insist that your software is illegal and remind you of that with pop-ups every few minutes. If you don’t own an internet connection, you’re OBVIOUSLY too poor to own Windows, peasant.

4) Use your mouse scroll button like how you’re expected to use it! Conformity is very important to Windows users!

My scroll button is in reverse. Let me invert it, I thought naively. After looking up the Control Panel, Google tells me exactly what it takes. Simple stuff.

5) Shutting down in a hurry? You can’t because Windows decides when it wants to shut down.

Automatic updates that run by default on shutdown. I don’t even want to elaborate.

Maturity Explained.

We went to Prince Edward Island. It’s so sloooow and sleepy and pretty awesome if you’re into canoeing and mountain biking and oh yeah, Anne of Green Gables.

Anne of Green Gables


Art Appreciation at the MOMA

Like every other pretentious tourist, I really like visiting museums when I travel. If my art teachers back in school knew the number of art museums and galleries I’ve been to the last few years, they’d probably roll in their graves. That is, assuming they’re dead which they’re probably not but hey, I didn’t invent the saying.

Through all of it, I’ve learnt that people really like taking photos. No one really cares if a painting’s good or bad. If it bears a familiar name, say Van Gogh or Picasso or Left-Handed Lab Monkey #3847, there’ll be a crowd admiring the work through their iPhone screens.


“Picasso should have totally used the Retro filter.”

Of course you can get a picture of the exact same painting in higher rez by Googling for “Picasso painting MOMA” but it’s not the same because there’s no frame in those stock pictures! The frame! WILL ANYONE THINK OF THE FRAME???


Hehehe, they’re nekkid.

I can’t say I can ever fully comprehend modern art but I know for sure that this Andy Warhol piece is performance art.


People fascinated with a celebrated work by an artist fascinated by people fascinated by celebrities.

Some of the other paintings are useful too as backgrounds for passport photos.


Eyebrows! We need to see your eyebrows!

Yea, I like art museums. They’re very educational. I’ve also learnt that day that some of the best artists can’t draw dicks.


Not hung like a horse