…game about Facebook games. It’s partly a satire, and partly a playable theory of today’s social games, and partly an earnest example of that genre.
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. You can publish feed stories about clicking your cow, and you can click friends’ cow clicks in their feed stories. Cow Clicker is Facebook games distilled to their essence.
While many interesting articles could, have, and will continue to be written about Cow Clicker, this post is going to examine the effects that two events in the game’s editorial calendar had on its player base (or Monthly Active User pool as it is referred to in Facebook jargon).
Here we see a trend chart, courtesy of Appdata.com, displaying Cow Clicker’s Monthly Active Users from 8/23/10 to 9/22/10. I’ve highlight 8/26 & 8/27 as the chart shows that something caused the game to lose nearly 8000 players in a single day.
An obvious question to ask is, “What traumatic event could cause a game to lose 16% of its player base in a single day?”
The less obvious answer is, Ian Bogost.
Those familiar with Ian’s work, and I am an unadulterated fanboy, know that Ian isn’t prone to the rhetorical whimsies of game design that suggest that a designer should constantly strive to appease the player and provide him/her with pleasure and other forms of gratification. Quite the contrarian, Ian believes in breaking through the fourth wall of fun in order to make [sometimes] constructive points on the medium’s ability to do more than simply entertain. It would seem that Ian’s attempt to do just that on August 27th did not sit well with a sizable portion of Cow Clicker’s player base.
In the first few months following Cow Clicker’s release, Ian maintained a fairly consistent editorial calendar that consisted of adding 1 new collectible cow into the game each week. As much as players looking forward to each week’s release can be used to help explain the game’s rapid ascent to 50,000 MAUs, defying those expectations also helps explains the loss 8000 in 1 day.
Early that morning, Ian introduced Stargrazer to the cow clicking community. What made Stargrazer unique was that she was almost identical to the plain cow given to all when they first started playing the game except for two operative differences:
- Stargrazer faced the opposite direction of Plain Cow.
- At 2,500 mooney, Stargazer was one of the most expensive cows in the games.
Insidious madness you say? Well, this is an Ian Bogost game. I don’t know if Ian has noticed the correlation between Stargrazer’s release and his player base degradation, but I do eagerly await his comment on this observation.
Returning to the MAU trend chart, there is another observable event in it that warrants discussion. Between Sept 3rd & 6th, Cow Clicker managed to offset the harsh attrition rates it was experiencing and maintained a player base of 36,451 for four days. While Labor Day weekend likely attributed to this local stabilization, the release of a new, fan-friendly cow is most likely the driving force in this short term success.
On Sept. 3rd Ian released Zombie Cow. While I don’t have access to any sort of proper sentiment analysis for Zombie Cow, I can say that the Cow Clicker players I know personally were quite pleased with the addition to the barn. Despite this rekindled enthusiasm, very few players seem to have purchased her.
While I’m not ready to close the book on Cow Clicker just yet, I think it is very likely that its hay-day has come and gone and Stargrazer’s release is as clear of a BC/AD moment as one is likely to get. In an alternate reality, I wonder how long Cow Clicker’s growth could have been sustained if Stargrazer were never released? What if Ian simply continued releasing cows designed to simply gratify player’s base expectations rather than play against them?
Well there is no knowing in this instance, but at least we had some interesting data to analyze.