It’s possible to appreciate clash-likes for the way they make money. The standard trick is to ruin a perfectly good game with a bunch of limits, then charge for skipping. They usually feel fake: “You’re out of daily attempts. Spend 12 gems for another?” Clash-likes make them feel natural — of course I have to pay to attack more — how could it be otherwise?

Clash-likes make the daily free gem dispersal into a little game. As we know, giving free gems is a vital part of convincing players to spend cash, so this matters. Your base starts cluttered with “obstacles”: rocks, trees, bushes, funny stone monoliths … . A builder and some spare gold can clear them, possibly finding some gems. This is a clever way to shower you with starting gems. Most games say “here’s 50 gems”; a clash-like seeds the ground with 50 gems in little piles. Later on, obstacles randomly appear, and may have gems when cleared. The game is giving you a few gems each day, but making it fun. I like to stockpile just the trees, then dig them up all at once when I need gems fast.

Clash-likes have one of the best monetization tricks of all, built-in. The idea is that people hate losing more than not winning. The classic experiment is playing a game to win $5 vs. getting $5 and playing a game to keep it. Both are the same, but the one where you can “lose” $5 hurts more. This is great news, since in a clash-like, people are always trying to steal your money. Every morning you pray you didn’t lose too much; and certain flukes can spike your loses. Everytime you have to go to school with $2 Mil sitting in your vaults, terror makes you buy a shield, or rush a builder, or something, anything! Other games need to artificially add a fear of less, known as “inflicting pain” (what a charming term).

An old trick to sell anything is providing a “bad” option, or giving lots of options. If you want to sell a cow for $4, offer them for $5, 2-for-$8 and 3-for-$18. Clash-likes have so many cute ways to do this. For example, buying immunity to attacks is turned into a game. The week-long shield is only available once-a-month; the 4 hour shield, once a day; and so on. You can almost cover every hour of the day, if you work at it. There are also three different ways to buy gold. You’d think that one of them would be something simple like “spend 50 gems for 10K gold.” Nope:

  • There’s the standard “Not enough gold. Buy the rest?” button when you try to upgrade. The cool part is, in a game where people can steal the extra, buying only what you need feels smart.
  • You can buy gold directly into your gold vaults, but only funny percents: to the max, fill up to half, or fill by 10%. It doesn’t even tell you the actual amounts those are. And clearly, 10% and 50% are there to make “full” look like a better deal.
  • You can buy a 2x speed-up for your gold mines. They get a little glow for 8 hours. That feels more fair, like you’re working inside the game, but you’re still just paying for gold. It’s the best, right? It has to be, since it takes longer. But no one will ever really know.

Training times have 2 ways to speed them up. You can pay gems to instantly have your army ready. Yawn. Or you can buy a 2-hour x4 speed-up. That’s enough to attack almost constantly, unless your army is all dragons. Maybe you think other ways to spend gems are cheating, but this seems fair — you still earn all of your gold by stealing it from strangers. Serious players will always buy it, adding up to maybe $5/month. It’s basically a subscription, but more fun.

Every other type of game makes money with gambling chests, the ones that give a random Common, Uncommon, or Rare item. Those are super-annoying, and Clash-likes don’t have random stuff to win, so good riddance. But some clash-likes find a way to add them: take the identical Giant Barbarian Guardian everyone gets, and turn it into a random collectable hero. It’s the worst, but you have to respect the ingenuity.

Many freemium games use something known as pay-for-progress. Reaching level 10, where the game gets good, takes either a month, or $10. That’s considered fair if every level 10 player is on an equal footing. Clash-likes cash-in on this. You can’t pay to jump ahead, but you can rush each of the 100’s of steps, paying each time. I think it’s over $1000 to get to level 10. People have done it.