SweatShop is a clicker/idle style game developed by DUCK and published by Sometimes You.
I usually try to cultivate some sense of mystery or suspense in my reviews, but I’m going to level with you right away: SweatShop is a mess. However, it’s an instructional mess, and I think it’s worth going through everything the title gets wrong to help us understand what makes other games good.
Your objective is to make money by making t-shirts and then spend that money to make even more money: hire more workers, give them better equipment, make your processes more efficient, etc. The problem with this is that the pacing of this game is glacial. The fun of an idle game is that you get to do some stuff, go away, and come back and do more stuff. There’s automation so you don’t get bored. In Sweatshop, you have to spend $1,500 to get the first upgrade that allows you to make money without clicking. Each t-shirt earns you a dollar. To make the money from the shirts, you click the worker’s station to collect the shirts. Your workers can only make a maximum of five shirts at a time until you pick up the shirts from their station. So if you start the game with one worker, leave for twenty minutes, and come back? Congratulations, you have earned five dollars.
That means that the strategy for SweatShop, then, has to be constantly clicking to collect t-shirts and earn money. This presents another problem: The clicking in this game is friggin’ boring. When you get down to it, clicking stuff is one of the basic mechanics of PC gaming. You click thousands of times playing an FPS. Or The Sims. Or even Minesweeper. The reason the clicking doesn’t get boring in those games is that you’re making decisions. The clicking is a means to an end. You have to be strategic about where and what you’re clicking. Collecting t-shirts? Not exciting.
Other idle games get around the limits of continuous clicking by letting the automation do the bulk of the work. Clicking is an occasional thing or something you only do to make a decision in the game. Remember how I said that the first way to automate making money takes $1,500? It takes one worker without upgrades 40 seconds to make five shirts. That’s two minutes to make 15 shirts, assuming you’re on top of your clicking. It takes one worker three hours and 20 minutes to make enough money to automate the collection of t-shirts. If you have four workers? That’s still 50 minutes. If you have one worker kitted up with all the speed upgrades (which will set your progress back because they too cost money), it will take ten seconds for five t-shirts, which is also 50 minutes. That type of time commitment for a casual, idle game is ridiculous.
Even after you have the automation, the game screws you.
The automation only works for one row of workers (four workers total) at a time. To automate another row, it now costs $1,660. Also, the automation doesn’t run in the background when the game is closed, so you can’t quit and come back the next day to progress. There is no progress in SweatShop. Only clicking.
At this point, you might ask yourself, “Maybe it’s a commentary on the sweatshop industry and how much it sucks?” I think that’s highly unlikely, though. The point of sweatshops is that they exploit the incredibly poor for tremendous financial gain. If SweatShop was going to accurately depict the world of sweatshops, you’d be selling one dollar shirts for 50 bucks a pop and your blocky 8-bit avatar would be retiring to a resort in Tahiti while your workers slowly died of malnutrition. I was already hesitant about the idea of a sweatshop-themed game--I am very, very leery of video games treating human rights violations as good, fun times--so I can’t say I’m sad that the game doesn’t engage with the concept beyond the title. But it does raise the question of why the developer even bothered to bring it up in the first place? The game could just as easily have been called T-Shirt Factory Tycoon, and that’s probably a more accurate name for it.
Okay, I hate the gameplay. I hate the concept.
But I’m open-minded enough to think that games I don’t like could still be appealing and valuable to others. The final nail in SweatShop’s coffin, though, is that it’s really buggy. It frequently takes several tries to get the game to load. The game sometimes crashes for what feels like no discernable reason, since it’s simplistic enough that you could probably run it smoothly on a computer with MS-DOS if it were developed properly. I’ve lost three saved games, which is a terrible bug to happen with an idle game that wants to build on all of your previous progress. I checked the Steam reviews, and others have been finding the same issues, as well as problems with the resetting mechanism, which should allow you to restart from scratch with some added bonuses. At least it does in other idle games; it sounds like it’s completely borked here. I haven’t been able to test this myself, though, because I CAN’T KEEP A SAVED GAME GOING LONG ENOUGH TO MAKE ENOUGH MONEY TO RESET. I tried to run it all night last night to let my tiny little-automated shirt-collectors save up some money, but it crashed at some point and deleted my progress.
I feel like I should mention the one thing I did like about SweatShop: the music’s really great!
I could listen to a whole album of the 1930s-style jazz soundtrack that’s going on. It in no way matches anything that happens in the game, but as music, it’s good music. Let me know if Steam puts the soundtrack out.
In a magical rainbow unicorn future where the very large bugs are fixed, is the game worth playing? If you really, really like clicking stuff, maybe? But there are so many clicker/idle games out there that are so much more fun; this one doesn’t need to be added to your library.