Artificial Scarcity in Clicker Games

What Are Clicker Games?

Clicker games, also known as idle games, are a subgenre of video games where players perform simple actions like clicking to earn rewards. These rewards then facilitate even more rewards, creating a loop that keeps the player engaged for long periods.

The Psychology of Player Engagement

The fascination with clicker games isn’t just by chance. It’s deeply rooted in psychology, particularly the principles of reinforcement and reward. By understanding how these elements interact with artificial scarcity, we can gain a clearer picture of why these games are so addictive.

The Role of Artificial Scarcity

Definition of Artificial Scarcity

Artificial scarcity refers to the intentional limitation of resources or opportunities, often to increase demand or engagement. It’s not a new concept, but in the context of clicker games, it’s taken to new heights.

How It’s Implemented in Clicker Games

Time-Limited Resources

Many clicker games include events or resources available for a limited time, encouraging players to engage more intensely during these periods.

Exclusive Rewards

These games often feature special items or characters that can only be gained through specific challenges or payments, fueling a sense of scarcity and hence, engagement.

Comparisons with Real-world Scarcity

While real-world scarcity stems from limitations in natural resources or production capabilities, artificial scarcity in games is a design choice aimed at maintaining player engagement.

The Pull of Incremental Progress

The Skinner Box Model

Remember B.F. Skinner’s famous experiments with rats and levers? Clicker games employ a similar mechanism to create compulsion loops that keep players coming back for more.

The Reward Pathway

Dopamine and Reinforcement

When players achieve a goal in a game, the brain releases dopamine. This “feel good” neurotransmitter then reinforces the behavior, making players want to continue playing.

Ethical Considerations

Addiction and Compulsion Loops

Artificial scarcity can lead to compulsive behavior, resembling addiction in severe cases. This raises significant ethical questions about the responsibilities of game developers.

Financial Exploitation

Some games include microtransactions that exploit the scarcity mechanism, potentially leading to financial harm for players.

Time Consumption and Opportunity Cost

The considerable time investment required by these games can also be seen as a form of scarcity—of time, which could be used in more productive ways.

Industry Perspective

Financial Benefits for Game Developers

The use of artificial scarcity as a tactic has proven beneficial for the financial health of many gaming companies. But at what cost?

Customer Retention Strategies

To mitigate potential backlash, some companies employ strategies like offering ‘cooling-off’ periods or implementing less aggressive scarcity models.

Challenges and Backlash

Despite these strategies, developers still face criticism and challenges related to the ethical aspects of their design choices.

Player Strategies

Awareness and Countermeasures

Being aware of the mechanisms at play can help players approach these games more responsibly.

Building Community Wisdom

Online communities often share tips on how to enjoy the games without falling into the traps set by artificial scarcity.

Ethical Gaming

There’s an emerging trend of players and developers advocating for more ethical gaming practices.

Final Thoughts

Artificial scarcity in clicker games serves to enhance engagement and profitability, but it’s not without its ethical quandaries. The onus is not just on the developers but also on us, the players, to be aware and make responsible choices.


  1. What is artificial scarcity?
    • It is the intentional limitation of resources or opportunities to increase demand or engagement.
  2. How does artificial scarcity affect player engagement in clicker games?
    • It fuels a sense of urgency and exclusivity, encouraging more frequent and prolonged engagement.
  3. Are there ethical concerns with implementing artificial scarcity in games?
    • Yes, issues like potential addiction, financial exploitation, and time opportunity costs are relevant concerns.
  4. Can players do anything to mitigate the effects of artificial scarcity?
    • Awareness and community sharing are effective tools for responsible engagement.
  5. Is the gaming industry doing anything to address these ethical concerns?
    • Some companies offer ‘cooling-off’ periods and less aggressive scarcity models, although challenges remain.

Related Posts