Cookie Clicker, just like Cow Clicker, is a parody of certain casual game mechanics. Players start by clicking a cookie to earn a couple points to spend on an upgrade to earn extra points. Eventually, you’re earning millions of points per second, and saving up to buy that billion-point upgrade that will increase cookie production even more. Whether it’s hiring your first cooking-baking Grandma or opening a portal to the cookie dimension, the mechanics don’t change. Points, upgrade, more points.
Everything else is window dressing on that mechanic. Players start out buying an extra cursor, for extra clicks, or hiring a grandma to bake more cookies. As the game goes on, all semblance of a consistent gameworld is gone. Grow a cookie farm. Mine for cookies. Open a portal to the cookie dimension. Whatever! Just keep clicking to bake cookies!
Actually, you don’t even have to click. Soon, your extra cursors and cookie farms and cookie mines will start producing click-free cookies. And Cookie Clicker even rewards you for alt-tabbing over to your work. Finish that email, and you have enough cookies to build a Cookie Farm (Apparently cookies grow from cookie seeds.) Leave it running all night, and you’ll be able to buy a Cookie Lab (or 10) in the morning.
With a casual game like this pared down to its simplest form, the motivators in a lite builder become extra clear. Of course you receive achievements, with funny one-sentence flavortext. Scores are massive, so you can gaze happily on your bajillions of points. There’s no learning curve for new players, either, making it extremely accessible, while the ever-increasing points provide that feeling of improvement, even though the game doesn’t require more skill. Future upgrades are greyed out, and the need to find out what zany improvement will come next is a powerful motivator.
Cookie Clicker is a genius parody of exactly how casual builders work.