The Cookie Clicker Phenomenon and Games that Steal Our Attention
How much CpS are you churnin’ out these days? A few hundred million? A billion? Just tell me how many time machines do you have. Are you going for 100 of everything? What’s the new upgrade they added?
These are the comments that I’ve been reading (and making) daily in Twitter conversations, TwitchTV chat rooms, group Skype conversations, and plenty other places as a simple browser-based game by a dev named Orteil about clicking and making cookies makes its rounds.
And that’s the interesting part; it’s not just capturing the attention of the people out there playing games but people on every side of the gaming industry. PR, developers, writers, broadcasters, and even just consumers of all that content having this huge conversation… about virtual cookies.
While at its core, it is a fairly young game in its development and not exactly looking to be the next smash-hit cash-generating indie title, it accomplishes something so many games strive for: spark a conversation across demographics and unite them in love or hatred. Whether you think Cookie Clicker is the dumbest thing on the face of this beautiful Earth or a fantastic little time-killer, you have an opinion on it. You’re forced to have one, because too many people are talking about it to ignore it. This isn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last time we see something so absurdly simple take off in our greater community.
We don’t even have to travel further back than 6 months to remember the last instance the gaming community was taken hostage by sweets. Candy Box, a game in which you simply wait for candies and have the option to eat them, throw ten of them on the ground, or use them as currency to buy items from the mysterious ASCII candy merchant (among plenty other actions), absolutely exploded not longer after its release. Its creator, who goes by “aniwey,” was just a 19-year old student from France when his two-month project went viral all over the world. If you want to know how huge a small indie game experiences can be, and how much attention they can grab, look no further.
Google Trends usually tells a solid story on how popular something has been at a given moment and Candy Box’s results are no exception. Just a month after its release, it had a huge spike in search queries related to the game, and the term “candy box” had already been seeing regular hits since it is, you know, the name people call boxes of candy.
Not long after the game releases, it absolutely captivates us, and then we seem to slowly move on after we collectively beat (and discuss) it. What should be interesting to keep an eye on in the future is Candy Box 2, the sequel planned after aniwey found such success with the original. We haven’t really seen a game that has this sort of flash-in-the-pan life cycle reclaim its prominence. Never have tiny little projects made by teenagers gained as much traction as they have in today’s internet, “hey check this new thing out” era.
A season passes, and we’re here again. As August rolls around and we have long since dropped the candy and lollipops, we focus our precious attention instead on cookies, grandmas, and cookie portals to the cookieverse.
This time, the game that steals our attention is not a finished product like Candy Box, but a work-in-progress, capturing the excitement of constant updates only games like Minecraft have executed well before. Despite our quickly darting eyes though, Cookie Clicker has managed to keep our attention with not just weekly or monthly updates, but full-on daily updates, and a huge roll-out upgrade from the original ASCII art to a beautifully organized interface, complete with a new drawing of an utterly disturbing grandma.
And as always, Google Trends tells one hell of story on Cookie Clicker (a much more distinct search term than Candy Box).
Since its release, it has been updated literally almost every day. Only three days since its huge update and re-release, which was on August 24th, has there not been some sort of change made to the game. It’s a living, breathing game with our feedback and Orteil‘s own studying of game mechanics as they evolve. Now there’s plenty of different cookie types to be made, the grandmapocalypse (for original Cookie Clicker players) has returned in its full, absolutely terrifying glory and they’ve added milk (and kittens of course). It’s a game that so long as it has users will never stop evolving, or at least until Orteil finds a new experiment in ruining our collective productivity.
It’s fascinating watching these games sweep through our communities like wildfire and leave before a month has passed. If it were not for PAX Prime, I believe Cookie Clicker would have maintained a great deal of momentum through its updates, though alas, real life has gotten in the way for so many of those players. Whatever made Cookie Clicker the phenomenon it was and still is, it made Candy Box look like a blip on the radar by comparison.
So what’s the way to our hearts? Do we have some sick obsession with ASCII art and sugary treats? Until we see more Cookie Clickers and Candy Boxes, I’m not sure we’ll know just what element these simple little browser-based confectionery-centered games possess that so many others do not aside from their availability, but they’re worth studying. How does a game so mundane quickly sweep across the internet, not as a joke but a legitimate way to pass time? Would a game of similar setup about kielbasa have had the same success? We’ll never know unless someone makes Kielbasa Clicker, which I would totally consider playing for the exotic sausage casing options alone. Until then, we’ll see more unique experiences thrown at the internet wall and see what sticks.
One big moment for this new breed of gaming experience we seem to be clinging to will be Candy Box 2. Can it capture as much or more attention than the original, or is Cookie Clicker’s evolving game model more appealing to us? What else has taken over our communities from which we could learn some lessons?
The only thing we know for sure, is I’m still generating more cookies per second than you. Seriously, 428.9 mil per second. Eat my delicious white chocolate macadamia nut dust.