(Obligatory disclaimer: these are my thoughts, not Playdom’s/Disney’s.)

One of the things that has impressed me the most about Cow Clicker is the culture that has sprung up around its wall posts. Wall posts are offers of bonuses and/or requests for help that games encourage you to post. And in my experience (which, I should add, is a guess, I haven’t looked at the numbers for this), people generally don’t follow games’ suggestions to post to their walls most of the time; and when they do, they generally leave the post as is, instead of adding a personal message.

With Cow Clicker, however, my friends seems to be posting to their wall a fairly high proportion of the time that they’re invited to do so, and almost universally add a message when they do so. Why is this?

The first part can, I imagine, be explained by a combination of the second part and the considerable help that posting to your wall gives you in game. (It’s basically impossible to make enough money to buy the better premium cows without either paying or clicking on lots of others’ posts or having lots of people click on your posts.) So really, the interesting bit here is why this culture has arisen of personalizing the posts. And not personalizing them in a random way: as with the example here, the personalizations almost always consist of wordplay of some sort, typically riffing on the type of cow that you currently have.

Some theories I have:

  • It’s a satirical game, and those of my friends who play it are generally word-loving people who don’t play many Facebook games. And so they’re relatively unacculturated to Facebook game norms and not burnt out by viral requests, so perhaps they’re more likely to take the time to add a message.
  • The standard message (“I’m clicking a cow”) is ridiculously bare; maybe that void encourages people to fill it.
  • The art style is quite witty in a dry way; maybe that encourages people to follow up similarly.
  • The game itself has a fair number of jokes: the currency (Mooney), the cow types (the Oil Cow, the Holy Cow), and many of those jokes are puns; maybe that encourages people to follow up similarly.
  • Maybe my friends are just a bunch of weirdos, and other people playing the game don’t behave that way. (To clarify: certainly my friends are a bunch of weirdos, and maybe this is a manifestation of that fact.)

Not sure what’s going on; seems like a place where experimentation is called for. If you want virals to be posted and clicked on, then it’s certainly a good idea to make them extremely useful for in-game progression; but, beyond that, it may be helpful to leave so much space that players feel uncomfortable if they don’t fill it. (And giving them a nudge in the form of latent humor doesn’t hurt.) I doubt that’s the only way to proceed along these lines—I’ve been impressed by the copy writing in City of Wonder (but does that game’s good copy writing show up in its virals? I honestly can’t remember right now)—so probably going out of your way to make the default viral text stand on its own is also a valid approach. It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if most games end up in a middle space between those two ends and that said middle space is less productive.

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