Smart Casual: Cow Clicker

By Jim Rossignol on July 22nd, 2010 at 10:14 am.


The bizarre response of the games community to the success of Facebook games – a mix of hysteria, hatred, and irrational claims about it “destroying” the games industry – has been a hot topic for 2010. One of the calmer and more concise discussions of the phenomenon is over on Mr Ian Bogost’s blog. He didn’t just write about it, however, he did what game designers do, and made a Facebook game of his own: Cow Clicker.

You get a cow. You can click on it. In six hours, you can click it again. Clicking earns you clicks. You can buy custom “premium” cows through micropayments (the Cow Clicker currency is called “mooney”), and you can buy your way out of the time delay by spending it.

It’s not entirely satire, but it’s pretty funny.

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34 Comments »

  1. humble says:

    The complaints aren’t really that bizarre. The more people that get their daily gaming fix from Farmville or other similar games, the smaller the audience for big retail games becomes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the worst kind of casual gaming growing steadily over the next decade, diminishing the sales of “traditional” games in the process. Not a major disaster as such, but perhaps cause for concern?

    • Premium User Badge AndrewC says:

      You’re suggesting that there’s only a fixed number of people who game. These Facebook games are mostly making non-gamers gamers. They are increasing the number of people who game.

    • humble says:

      @Andrew C
      True. Still, in my experience, people tend to go for the easiest and most accessible choices, regardless of quality (don’t mean to sound like a cynic, honestly). Compare the situation to film or music. The audience for the newest Hollywood blockbuster remake or Top 40 hit song is vastly bigger than for their more interesting and challenging counterparts, which I believe is mainly due to marketing and accessibility. I don’t think it’s too far fetched to imagine that gamers, who used to buy retail games, are swayed towards what their less gaming-inclined friends are playing, group-thinking and all that. I’m not really too concerned about this matter – wouldn’t consider myself a gamer anyways – but I can understand why some think this is the beginning of an unfortunate development.

    • HexagonalBolts says:

      I guess I think of it as us liking intellectual movies, and then they start putting on eastenders, and the masses come and consume that as well. As in video, there are vast numbers of peoples involved in both of these markets and there are people with a passion for making both – which is more than enough to healthily sustain both big videogames and casual ones. So I wouldn’t get all het up about it, just think of it as a nuance to the medium.

    • Baboonanza says:

      It’s a bit of a ridiculous argument though. If people are going to choose a free but unbelivably shallow Facebook game over your multi-million dollar AAA game what does it say about the quality of your game?

      In reality the market is totally different. The only people who should be worried are those that make more traditional casual games like PopCap. But even then surely there is only so much someone can play Farmville before getting disillusioned and either look for a deeper experience or going back to Windows Solitaire.

      I hate these games, but I don’t fear their impact on the games market. The reason I hate them is because they use all of the psycological and sociologic tricks available to fleece people of their money without giving any sort of meaningful experience in return. They are like drug dealers offereing free tasters to get people addicted followed by referal bonuses for addicts to rope in their friends.

    • Xercies says:

      @Humble

      I actually don’t think that is true to be honest…people like smart things as various polls of great movies seem to bring up the same things as Godfather and the like. And it seemsInception maybe bucking the trend in that was very heavily marketed, is very smart, and it seems people are definitly going to it.

      I think people can like shit…and also they can like great things! Imagine that.

    • Jhoosier says:

      @ Baboonanza:

      I’d say that they probably don’t have enough time to play AAA games. I don’t, though I hate Farmville-esque Facebook games and rarely play the other social games, so mostly I just don’t get to play much anymore :(

      To say that one eats the marketshare of the other is to not understand the nature of the games. It seems to me the two audiences are mostly separate. I don’t know anybody who plays both, at least not habitually.

    • bob_d says:

      I’m not sure that’s the issue so much as development money going towards Facebook games, which are potentially far, far more profitable than traditional PC or console games now (e.g. EA lays off a number of developers but buys a social gaming company). Living in the San Francisco bay area, which was once an epicenter of AAA game development, I’m seeing AAA companies disappearing and being replaced by smaller social game companies. A number of my out-of-work former colleagues are turning to social games to find work, as the jobs just aren’t to be found anywhere else.

  2. Frankie The Patrician[PF] says:

    Mooo…about as meaningful as other (PopCap excluded) FB games…

  3. Blandford says:

    Oh man, I clicked that cow and got another click, but I can’t wait 6 more sodding hours!
    Should I buy another? I’m trying to save the mooney to get a better cow…
    Decisions, decisions…
    I wonder if they plan to add hats…

    • itsallcrap says:

      This is precisely as far as I got.

      I think I’ll use the 5 I’ve got left over plus the fifteen for my next click to buy a Holstein Cow.

      Man, this shit is way better than Farmville.

  4. Mike says:

    The Bling Cow -best cow in the game- costs 10,000 mooney. It costs $6.92 for 1,000 mooney.

    £69.20 to buy an image. Well done, you succeed at life.

  5. MikeP says:

    It gave me 15 free mooney, I spent 10 on another click. I have the buyer’s remorse.

  6. WingNutZA says:

    Awwww man, I read it as Cow Licker… now I am disappoint.

  7. Navagon says:

    Bah, you need one of those Farcebook thingumies to see it.

  8. Ben says:

    Maybe if I set daily alarms at 6-hour intervals I can optimise my clicking and win at Cow Clicker.

  9. Batolemaeus says:

    Funny, this reminded me of Eve Online’s Planetary Interaction “feature”.

  10. Premium User Badge Harlander says:

    Did anyone see the epic rant defending Farmville et. al. in the comments on Mr. Bogost’s blog? Yowza..!

  11. Tei says:

    You mean this one:
    http://www.bogost.com/blog/cow_clicker_1.shtml#comment-59182

    Is a interesting view :-)

    • Wulf says:

      Wow, shades of Ebert of days past, there.

    • Hidden_7 says:

      Yikes! Now THAT’S a viewpoint.

      What a delightful mish-mash of populist worship, proud anti-intellectualism, and bizarre conservative viewpoints.

      Fun Highlights!:
      The bit where he seems to hate the games industry because their choice of subject matter is vile. Violence, and terror and negative emotions. FarmVille is great because it is wholesome, and taps into the regular, normal, good people’s desire to own a farm. Also Mafia Wars is fine.

      The bit where he suggests that game designers are losers just like rap musicians and tattoo parlor owners, shunned and looked down upon by the rest of the regular, normal, good people.

      The bit where he suggests that anyone “who wants to give up 10 hours of their life” must be “Losers, dropouts, the unemployed, and gamers.” I can think of plenty of books (which he seems to be ok with) that have taken ten hours of my life from me. Also, course work? I don’t get the problem here. Is it that no one should want to do any one thing for that amount of time? Is it that shorter attention spans are better?

    • Raum says:

      I just listened to Mark Kermode praising the general public for understanding Inception, and that the movie industry should take note, and not produce endless streams of mindless crap.

      Then I read this.

      At least I was cheering for the general populace for a few minutes. It’s been a while since last time.

  12. bill says:

    But is it making money???

  13. Premium User Badge Flimgoblin says:

    I’m tempted to buy a cow just to pay the man for the laugh.

    Strangely appealing to buy a new cow too… (I now have an angus cow… hmm better go click it…)

    • Premium User Badge Flimgoblin says:

      and now I want a t-shirt… these things are dangerous…

    • Raum says:

      I’ll gladly buy a t-shirt, but that only proves the satire is excellent.

      I think his views on the game as an actual functioning experiment is rather strange. It obviously won’t give any usable data.

  14. Antistar says:

    … There are games on Facebook?

  15. Tei says:

    So basically, all these Facebook games work on the “There must be a pony somewhere here!”. People keep clicking, in search the “endgame” that never comes?.

    Lets quote the classics:
    http://gregghake.wordpress.com/2010/02/28/the-pony-in-the-dung-heap-ronald-reagan-eleanor-roosevelt-and-you/
    A friend of mine recently told me a joke popularized by Ronald Reagan. It makes a useful statement on what to do when things look bleak in your life. I looked it up and thought you’d enjoy the full context:

    An excerpt from “How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life” by Peter Robinson:

    Chapter One
    The Pony In the Dung Heap
    When Life Buries You, Dig
    Journal Entry, June 2002:

    Over lunch today I asked Ed Meese about one of Reagan’s favorite jokes. “The pony joke?” Meese replied. “Sure I remember it. If I heard him tell it once, I heard him tell it a thousand times.”

    The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities — one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist — their parents took them to a psychiatrist.

    First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. ”What’s the matter?” the psychiatrist asked, baffled. “Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?” “Yes,” the little boy bawled, “but if I did I’d only break them.”

    Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his out look, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. ”What do you think you’re doing?” the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. “With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere!”

    • Tei says:

      To be honest, there are more on these games than that. I would do a diservice to honesty not accepting that FarmVille give to the players more than take.

  16. Cunzy1 1 says:

    This is like a more interactive version of Myst.

  17. deadpan says:

    I can’t play any game that requires extra investment or an ongoing subscription. The entire experience always seems to be designed to deny me fun and enjoyment. If I actually have fun I might become satisfied and stop playing the game.

  18. Raum says:

    How is it not entirely satire?

    I think including a way to pay the man is pretty obviously just a glorified “donate” button (or a “I liked the joke” button, if you will). The fact that people will actually play this just makes this a satirical performance, but not any less satirical.

  19. Dhatz says:

    You have to understand the inferiority of all facebook games in all dimension, then you realise it can only(in fact nothing has only one effect) dissolve skepticism against gaming in countries where needed,
    I know that, cuz I live in Czech republic(“the belly of the world”) and there is bare minimum of game propaganda compared to german TVs.