It’s difficult to think of anything smaller, cheaper, and more closely associated with office mundanity as a paperclip. It’s boring. It’s non-descript. It’s easily replaced by a more-efficient stapler. And yet, in Universal Paperclips, the humble paperclip is the object upon which you will build your corporate, global, and galactic empire. You’ll start small, just by making a paperclip yourself. But through the power of automation, technology, and resource management, your paperclip supremacy will gradually grow.
Universal Paperclips is part clicker, part resource management, part incremental game that has a definite “ending,” but is played over time at a pace you can set based on your style. You begin by simply pushing a button to make a paperclip yourself, which is then sold at a price you set, at a speed determined by the current demand. The lower the price, the higher the demand, but your demand early on will be very low no matter what, and your profits minuscule.
But as you make money, you’ll be able to invest it in useful tools to help your business grow. You’ll quickly get access to autoclippers, which will make paperclips for you and fully eliminate the need to click at all. You can also invest in marketing to increase the demand for paperclips and give you more leeway as to how you set your prices. The levels quickly grow more complex. A second resource, Operations, will appear and generate on its own to be spent on various projects to improve your company. Trust will be gained by making more paperclips, and can be spent to gain Operations faster or hold more at a time for more expensive projects. And so Universal Paperclips grows and grows.
Just like a paperclip, Universal Paperclips is boring to explain…at least at first. There’s far more to this game than just paperclip manufacturing, but I don’t want to say much more about the game’s second and third stages lest I give away some of the weird, story surprises involved. These stages still involve resource management, but of a very different type that forces you to calculate risk and reward carefully to decide the most efficient course of action. I was glad to find this depth appear the further I got into the game (the amusing flavor text of the different Operations projects helped, too) because Universal Paperclips has a few gameplay plateaus that can be tough to get through without knowing there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Those plateaus occur at certain resource milestones where all your avenues have been explored, and your only new option is to sit and wait for resources to accumulate. Fair warning: Universal Paperclips is intended as a game you actively manage, even in browser versions. If you don’t have the tab or game open, it won’t keep playing while you do other things, even though it looks like it does. Don’t be discouraged by this, though. Universal Paperclips is intended to take time, patience, and trial and error. Even if you manage to royally butcher your paperclip empire somewhere along the way, there are built-in mechanisms to save you from yourself and get you back on track again. The only thing it costs you is time.
Which is where things get frustrating because while the amount of items to manage does accumulate, there are still multiple points in the game where you’re left leaving your phone open on your desk while you go do other things. Active management is encouraged by design but discouraged at particular moments. Usually, these moments come right before some new revelatory project or upgrade. You’re well-rewarded for persistence, but there’s no denying it: sometimes, Universal Paperclips is as boring as it sounds. This is made even more frustrating if you happen to run into a bug that forces you to reinstall the game and reset your run. I ran into this problem only an hour in, thankfully, but some quick research shows that issues have been reported in the second and third stages, as well. Your file is saved automatically every 25 seconds, but if you somehow lose it or otherwise run into trouble, there’s no way to retrieve the file or go back a few saves to try again.
Thankfully, these moments are few and far between. For the most part, Universal Paperclips revels in its complexities despite its simple interface. It’s a game you can optimize and strategize over to no end if you like numbers or a game you can just push buttons on until something works and you win. With so many stacking variables determining how fast you succeed, there’s no shortage of online banter and debate about the best (or most interesting) strategy. Even if there is a set endgame eventually, clever players might even restart just to optimize their empire. I understand why. There’s something hopelessly addictive about seeing those numbers go up, up, up as the paperclips accumulate. And with no ads or pay to win mechanics, there’s nothing to distract you from staring at your phone blankly for minutes and hours on end, watching paperclips slowly but surely take over the universe and your brain.