Following on the heels of the Candy Box and The Dark Room there's another browser game I've been recently linked to: Cookie Clicker. It's a game where you click a button to get some cookies, and then you spend your cookies on a wide variety of ways to get more cookies. Which you keep spending on more cookies. And more cookies. AND MORE COOKIES!
There doesn't seem to be any point to the game, except to make your cookie number bigger and accumulate achievements. And yet even when I describe the game like that I know I should think 'stupid game, pass' but instead I think BIGGER NUMBERS and want to switch back to that browser window and click for more cookies.
I found the game when Robb told Lino and I about it as we were prepping to play some League of Legends. He talked about how he built a spreadsheet for it to optimize buying different sources of cookies. I didn't, and went down a stupid cookie path while Lino went down a smarter cookie path and he was making many more cookies than me. Since then we've both made spreadsheets of our own and I'm up to over 18 trillion cookies produced. (I told you there were big numbers!)
It got me thinking though... There's no competitive mechanic in the game as designed, but what would a game like this be like if there was a competitive mechanic involved? To tack one on to this game in particular, it would be like starting over at the same time with a bunch of people and seeing who could make the most cookies in 8 hours, or who could earn the most achievements in 8 hours, or who could be the first one to make an antimatter condenser, or something like that. See who has the best initial plan coming out of the gates to lay down the cookie making infrastructure...
But in the long run, there is going to be a right way to go. Then the person who notices the most golden cookies, or who clicks the most, will win as everyone implements the single 'right' strategy. Can that be fixed in a game designed from the top as a competitive venture? You'd need to introduce some sort of randomness to add replayability and keep people from just working out the one right plan, but you'd need to control for that randomness in order to actually compare players. Maybe take something from the pages of tournament bridge and have 'duplicate' set ups? The scaling costs of the different cookie making buildings could differ from game to game, but all games that started in a given competitive pod would have the same scaling factors so everyone is looking at the same starting position?
Another option would be to add interactivity between players. Instead of just building ways to make more cookies, maybe you can build ways to steal cookies from your opponent. It wouldn't help you as much as making your own, but it would deny your opponent some cookies and the numbers could certainly be jiggered to make interesting decisions available. And then you could also spend cookies on ways to defend your cookies from other people's thieves. Maybe some rats that have no positive benefit at all but can be unleashed to destroy the other player's store of cookies.
Maybe you could have a multiplayer setup where players could form cookie alliances and share different techs to boost each other? But then Matt would just declare war and conquer cookie India with cookie Japan.