Wednesday, October 21, 2009
FarmVille in a MMORPG?
FarmVille is a flash game ("application") on Facebook. It has over 60 million "monthly active users", which is 5 times as much as World of Warcraft, but as you can play the game for free the average revenue per player is probably a lot lower than WoW's. But then FarmVille was a lot faster and cheaper to make than WoW, so it is certainly extremely profitable. Gameplay of FarmVille is primitive: You plow land, plant seeds, and come back X hours/days later to harvest for a profit. That's it. But of course you can spend Farm Cash and Farm Coins on decoration to make yourself a prettier farm. And as especially the Farm Cash is hard to get just by playing, you'll be tempted to buy it for real money, or "earn" it by signing up for something you didn't need in the first place. That selling so little gameplay for so much money works at all is due not just to the Tamagotchi-like aspect of tending your farm, but mostly to the social aspects of the game. You invite your Facebook friends to be your neighbors of your farm, and the more neighbors you have, the bigger you can make your farm. You can visit your friend's farms and help them rake leaves or chase away pets, and you can send each other gifts.
There are a lot of similar Facebook applications, many from the same company, using social networks, and having very little actual gameplay, many of them with millions of users. That contrasts sharply with the world of MMORPGs, most of which are much stronger on gameplay, but comparatively low on social networking. The only MMORPG I can think off which is even remotely similar to FarmVille would be A Tale in the Desert.
But the success of games like FarmVille makes me think whether there isn't a way to integrate such low-intensity gameplay, high social networking, into a MMORPG. People often remark that everybody in a MMORPG is a hero, apart from some alts for crafting and banking. The game is in the foreground, the virtual world just a background. So what if we expanded the virtual world aspects of a MMORPG by introducing farmers?
Imagine a virtual world with enough space for players to build farms in designated, relatively peaceful areas. Farms could be used to grow both food, which adventurer characters would need, and alchemy ingredients. Playing a farmer would be low-intensity gameplay, logging on for half an hour each day to tend your farm, and should cost a lot less than a full adventurer account. A farmer would be completely helpless against occasionally appearing menaces likes orcs or wolves threating his sheep, but he would be able to offer rewards to adventurer players to rid him of these menaces. You'd basically replace static quest NPCs by real players giving quests. Adventurers could also be hired to bodyguard the farmer transporting his goods to the city.
Well, that's just a couple of ideas, but I think the basic concept is clear: A virtual world in which there are both peaceful professions and heroes interacting with each other, making the virtual world feel a lot more alive. Moving away from directed gameplay where every player experience is scripted, to more player created content through social interactions. I think that even those who would never want to play a farmer would gain a lot from adventuring in a virtual world where they aren't just questing for NPCs but interacting with farmer players. And then of course there could be pure crafter players, etc., etc., until you have a virtual world that feels truly alive.