Builders & Upgrades

As we all know, freemium takes a perfectly good game and throws in arbitrary timers, energy bars and other limits to stretch the game out. People hate them, or, at best, see them as a necessary evil. The brilliant thing about clash-likes is how they do all that and more, and make you like it.

With troop training times, class-likes make you wait between each attack. That’s worse than the games that give you 5 tries a day. But people enjoy playing with it: when you go to bed, start training a bunch of cool, long training-time troops. You get to use them for 1 attack in the morning. Then switch to boring fast-training ones for the rest. It feels as if you have control.

When you finally get the cash to buy an upgrade, another timer makes it takes hours or days to happen. Then finally the limited number of “builders” kicks in. If I want to upgrade my Farm, I have fight a timer to earn the gold, then the game tells me I can’t spend it since the upgrades I started yesterday aren’t done. That’s so mean. But people love builders with their little tricks:

  • Builders prevent you from playing “just one more”. When every builder is put to work, you’re done for the day.
  • Build times, once they’re several days long, form a little rhythm. Some days none have finished, other days 2 builders are ready and you’ve got to hustle to get the gold to put them back to work. That doesn’t seem very exciting, but it’s less monotonous than other “check in once a day” games.
  • Time vs. gold cost can vary. Most notably, gold mines take a long time to upgrade, but don’t cost much. Casual players like the “don’t cost much” part, while aggressive players focus on the “takes a long time” and skip them. It feels like a smart choice, either way.
  • Wall upgrades are like a mini-game. If you have a free builder you can upgrade as many walls as you want. People actually discuss when to put the last builder to work, and when to keep it open in case you have a extra hour for walls.
  • When you start a new clash-like, you know getting more builders is the most important thing. A fun bit of insider knowledge. Even if you’re mostly a free player, you’d be a fool not to buy the $1.99 starter bundle with an extra builder.
  • Defenses don’t work when upgrading, giving you a choice. You can upgrade one defense building at a time, swapping positions so vital spots always have coverage. Or you can upgrade a bunch at once and be helpless, just to get it over with. People love that meta stuff.

A fun thing about builders is how they make sense at first, then make no sense if you actually think about them. Things I enjoy:

  • Buildings start tiny and get small upgrades. Your lvl 8 barracks is a shack with 7 additions. That’s not how buildings work. It’s really, really not how cannons work.
  • You aren’t even allowed to build the good versions. If you know how to build level 5 cannons and a new cannon slot opens, you’re required to make a small cannon and enlarge it 4 times.
  • Real buildings are not out-of-commission while being upgraded. For your defensive buildings, the king should explain to the contractor how keeping it on-line is of paramount importance. It should be shut down for a few hours at most. If the DOT can keep 1 lane open, only shutting completely down on Sunday night, so can my builders.
  • Why can’t 2 builders work on the same thing? WarCraft, which this was copied from, allows it. One builder-per-building isn’t even realistic by game standards.
  • Our base has builders as permanent employees. Why? Buildings aren’t made of gold, so we must be spending it to have iron and concrete brought in. Why not bring in an independent contractor with the lumber delivery?

There are good gameplay reasons for doing things this way, and that’s the point. Builders never had anything to do with realism – they’re just clever ways to justify putting limits on the game.