Clicker Heroes 2 (CH2) is an idle game that we released in Steam Early Access on July 16th, 2018. At release it was the result of 3 years of hard work by a small team of talented developers, designers, and artists.
Currently, the game is not in a state that we are very happy with, and this is mostly a post about what went wrong. We are outlining a series of mistakes we made and learned from, and hope our players can forgive us.
In 2014, when we began work on CH2, the idle game genre was still in its infancy. At the time, Clicker Heroes 1 (CH1) was still a relatively small, unknown project. Our ambitions with CH2 were similarly small, and we used CH1 as the project base. For those who aren’t familiar with it, CH1 was written entirely with Adobe Flash. At this time, Flash was still a popular development platform for games on the web.
Once we launched CH1 on Steam, we realized how massive the audience would be, and how much revenue we were going to make from the project.
It slowly became more clear to us that we had big shoes to fill, and that it would be a challenge for us to live up to expectations. So we decided to spend a lot more effort on the sequel. We hired some developers and grew the scope of the project.
Mistake #1: We used Flash.
We could have started over from scratch, once we realized the scope needed to change. But we kept with Flash, because we had a reasonable prototype. In retrospect, continuing the larger scope of development with Flash was our biggest hurdle, and possibly our biggest mistake. We should have started from scratch, with a new platform, or we should have kept the scope as small as we initially planned for.
A few years later, with a rapidly declining community of Flash game developers, modern tools and supporting products became difficult to find. Many high quality development tools that most developers take for granted on other platforms (like Unity or Unreal) just weren’t available for us.
This noticeably slowed down our development, in part because maintaining CH1 (which is also Flash) took up more of our time than we expected, and CH2 became increasingly difficult to develop.
Mistake #2: Clicker Heroes 2 was too different from Clicker Heroes 1.
When designing it, we weren’t sure how novel we should get. We did what we felt would be fun, but it is likely we went a little bit too far. For many players, Clicker Heroes 2 doesn’t resemble Clicker Heroes 1 enough. A lot of the new game mechanics were risky decisions, which in the end, turned out to be the wrong choices for our audience.
Mistake #3: We underestimated how complete the sequel needed to be to launch in Steam Early Access.
Before launch, we were very excited to get the game out to the community so we could start interacting with them and getting feedback. We like developing games with a community, and we had felt we had kept the game behind the scenes for long enough and wanted to get real player feedback to validate our game design.
However, especially considering the game was a sequel, we vastly underestimated how complete the game needed to be for Early Access. It had a few days worth of content at the time we launched it.
We should have realized that many players would assume the product was complete before they bought it. Some who purchased it didn’t know what “Early Access” meant, and it was their first time installing Steam. Many players simply bought the sequel without any research, expecting a finished game (for an idle game – this means “infinite” content), and they were terribly disappointed. This was a failure on our part.
Mistake #4: We charged money for a sequel to a free game.
The initial price was too high for many players, but even when we lowered it later on, and had significant sales, the price was always the biggest problem for the players when they reviewed it. It felt especially offensive to the players who were expecting a complete game. We even received more than a few death threats.
We wanted to try a new monetization model, but doing so with Clicker Heroes 2 was not a wise decision. Had we made the game free to play, it would have been more acceptable to our audience. It would have also made more money which would have been put towards development.
Due to our mistakes, player feedback was understandably negative. However, this greatly damaged company morale, further slowing development speed and progress, which was already slow from the platform we were using.
In an effort to salvage the project we attempted to address the primary problems with the game. To do this we redesigned the core gameplay several times. Each change took a monumental amount of effort and time, delaying work on additional features. After all this work, the changes still didn’t make a dent.
This led to an increasingly slow development cycle, which would (understandably) further increase player negativity, which further hurt morale, in a terrible cycle that led to updates happening at an extremely slow pace. This is not to say that people weren’t working – it was going, but at a snail’s pace.
Without happy players, it becomes incredibly difficult to get very motivated to improve the game. It’s painful to work on a game with the goal of avoiding player negativity, as opposed to pleasing an already happy audience. The feeling one gets is that of “why work on a game that everyone hates?”.
With respect to this project, we have dug ourselves into a hole so deep that we can’t come out of it.
So far, we spent much more money on the project than we made from it. And we continued to work on it, aware that it would likely be a loss, but no matter what we did we were never able to budge the review scores much.
It was the best we could do, and we are aware that for many of you it may not have been enough. But at this point, it has become impossible for us to continue fulltime development on it. For that, we’re sorry.
As some of our players may have already heard, we recently laid off a large portion of the team because we can’t afford to keep everyone on anymore.
We don’t know what the future holds for Clicker Heroes 2. We are very glad it still has a following and we don’t want to abandon the project, but we cannot promise very large updates going forward. We simply can’t afford it, we already spent much more money than we made from it on the updates we already provided.
In its current state, the game has a significant amount of content, and there are lots of players who like it, and lots of players who expect more from it. But we’ve reached a point where we can’t afford to make the same scale of updates that we have done in the past.
We truly hope that players who expected more from us can forgive us for not living up to those expectations. We will keep making games with the hope that we learned enough from our mistakes. We hope that we can redeem ourselves in the future.