Tobold's Blog
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Facebook games evolve

I'm currently playing FrontierVille on Facebook. As the name suggests, this is from Zynga, the same company that makes FarmVille. And to me it is a sign of hope against the doomsaying pessimism some people have towards Facebook games. You see, Zynga is losing players on FarmVille, they are down 20% from 82 million to 67 million, and in response they make a game which is *more complicated* than FarmVille. So much for the continuous dumbing down to the lowest common denominator theory.

Now don't get me wrong, FrontierVille is still far from being a full game. But compared to FarmVille it is a huge step up. There is actually some gameplay! It reminds me a bit of Harvest Moon, just with a Wild West theme. You still just click on stuff and things happen, but there is more of a "working towards a goal" feel to it. And in full screen mode it actually is pretty enough.

Like all Zynga games, FrontierVille is also rather spammy. But it is far more collaborative than FarmVille. There are big advantages to helping your friends and receiving help in return, because now the gifts aren't just decoration, but might be useful for solving your quests or constructing a building.

So the trend I see is that Facebook games are getting more interesting, more complex, having more gameplay now than the very first generation. And that is an encouraging sign.
Indeed, just like any platform games will evolve. I'm not putting down simple facebook games because even though there is no real gameplay, if people enjoy playing them then how is that worse than any other game? But they will get more complex over time IF more complex games succeed.

I know several people who would play a simple game that involved very little involvement and single clicks, and maybe 2 minutes of gameplay at a time, who would never even consider a more complex game.

More complex games don't really work well from facebook. A flash game is ok there. It fits. But a game needing to be written in c++ and needing direct3d etc isn't really idea for launching from facebook. If yod written such a game why would it be a facebook game? it's easier just to install it on a PC and run it.

WebGL and html5 will make a difference in the next year or two, making significantly more complex games easier to write in away that they will integrate and lunch from facebook more easily
Frontiersville was designed by Brian Reynolds, the same guy responsible for Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, Rise of Nations, and Rise of Legends. That's why it has more gameplay in it.
You might want to give a game like Backyard Monsters a look. It's a Facebook game with one decent gameplay.
Keen also wrote on this topic recently.
>So much for the continuous dumbing down to the lowest common denominator theory.

This was never the case. It occurs to me now, after you discussed the information-network that a perfect mmo must have, that the 'cheap psychological tricks' Blizzard puts us through, are actually things we are putting ourselves through.

For a long time players have asked for various things: roleplay descriptions, shorter Q times on BGs, a cool mount that isn't hidden behind some stupid rep-grind or 1% drop in an instance, a ranged attack for Warriors to pull with, pvp viability for mage fire spec.

And the WoW developers, like you said, create a living, breathing game without a single, direction design philosophy. Whatever they want for the game changes based on what the customers want.

If people start rolling on pvp realms and engaging in world pvp on a large scale basis, they'll give us more places like WG and TB. If no raiding mage ever specs arcane, they'll buff it. (So why not roleplay-descs made it into the game yet? Not enough people RP to make it high enough on priority list!)

We don't get stuck in endless grind and with don't-stand-in-fire raid bosses because the developers are trying to addict us and milk us for everything we're worth (money is a byproduct, not the goal). No, we get those bosses because when presented with the first bosses of Naxx, we choose dps race over gimmick! (Patchwerk vs Razuvius.) This speaks volumes about what 'we' as a group player base will actually do in game, as opposed to what we say we'll do.

Zynga is not lowest-common-denominator appeasers either, they are not trying to milk us for what we are worth, or make a stupid game for stupid people, they are simply trying to supply us with what we demand. 82 million players demanded farmville, now that they see players demanding a more complex game, they are supplying it.

Blizzard (and Zynga, though they are short enough lived that I can't say for certain) seem to be following your perfect mmo design fundamentals.
For what it's worth, Zynga didn't create Frontierville "in response" to FarmVille losing players. Frontierville has been in development since late last year.
"(money is a byproduct, not the goal"

Not sure that's what I'd want to hear if I was a shareholder.
Damn you Tobold, you got me playing. Well, Brian Reynolds did.

The core mechanic is Energy, which seems to be from the Mafia Wars school of game design. Each action costs 1 energy. You get energy slowly over time, or you can get it by spamming your friends. Or you can "eat a meal" you buy with horseshoes. 1000 horseshoes cost $100, so each action costs about $0.08 to perform.
I think a lot of people miss the point of these games. They aren't meant to be "full-fledged" games to occupy hours of your time like WoW, or even Modern Warfare 2.

I am fairly certain that the *primary* intent is to fill up very short time intervals. 2, 5, or 10 minutes are ideal.

The prevalence of "micro-sessions* (c) increases exponentially when you go mobile. Personally, I would never play a game like Farmville on my computer. I simply could never justify that usage of time based on my own values.

However, waiting at the dentist or for an appointment is the perfect time for a micro-sesh. You would be surprised how addictive Farmville is, at least when you only play in 5 minute spurts.

Its essentially based on the WoW model actually: Keep playing, make basic choices, spend more time playing, get rewarded periodically, rinse/repeat.

Thanks for this tidbit of news, I hadn't heard of it. Sounds like a cool improvement on Farmville and I can only hope its available for my Iphone!
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