Tobold's Blog
Thursday, July 12, 2012
 
Building a kingdom

The internet is full of Free2Play games that let you build a kingdom. Unfortunately about 99% of them then have free-for-all PvP in which the kingdom you built is inevitably destroyed by some big alliance you don't stand a chance against. Games in which you just build a kingdom, period, and there either is no PvP at all, or the PvP takes place on a neutral battleground and doesn't destroy what you built are extremely rare. That tells you something about how nice a place the internet is. But I'd rather talk about the few exceptions.

I am not currently playing The Settlers Online any more, but that is mostly because I have already been playing it for a long time, since it was in beta and only available in German. Very nice game, and one of the more fair Free2Play models: The first money you spend has the biggest effect on your kingdom, then diminishing returns make overspending less attractive and thus less likely. The Settlers Online has PvE, first to conquer your island for your kingdom, afterwards in instances where you fight for resources. Interaction with other players is often cooperative, like with trade, in guilds, or cooperative PvE instances. All the fun of online kingdom building, without any of the ganking the majority of kingdom building games offer.

The majority of non-PvP kingdom-building games on the internet are found on Facebook. One game I have been playing since it came out in November 2011 is Castleville by Zynga. Somewhat surprisingly that is one of the best kingdom-building games out there, in spite of being made by Zynga. Zynga took the basic Farmville concept (click on stuff every X hours to collect rewards) into an actual game by making you collect resources with that clicking, which are then transformed through crafting buildings into various items. There is an endless stream of quests asking for these items, and rewarding you with decorations for your kingdom. It is the most peaceful game to build your kingdom, with no PvP whatsoever, and very limited PvE in which you occasionally slap around gloom creatures blocking access to your resources. The game appeals to me because it is all about resource-management, and doesn't involve any twitch or button-mashing skills.

The only thing that is extremely weird about Castleville is its business model, of which I fail to understand how it could possibly work. I've been playing for free for many months now, with no incentive whatsoever to give any money to Zynga. You *can* buy stuff, but everything is so expensively priced and more easily available by other means that I don't see who would actually be buying that stuff. Castleville is based on the old Zynga/Facebook game principle that has you asking your "friends" for the stuff you need instead of paying for it. But as every one of the many millions of Castleville players has the same problem, it is very easy to find lots of "Castleville friends", people you don't know at all, but who are perfectly willing to send you virtual resources in exchange of you sending them back what they need.

Lately that has gotten even weirder, because Zynga is trying to get away from Facebook, and allows you to play their games on Zynga.com. And there you get a sidebar of random strangers asking for stuff, and can make fake friends with a few clicks, even easier than on Facebook. Plus if you are actually using Facebook to communicate with real friends, you can have all your fake friends and game spam on Zynga.com instead. And every friend you have makes it less likely that you buy anything from Zynga. Well, I guess if you have so many millions of players, even 35 cents per player per year adds up to serious money.

Now I only explored PC games. There are more peaceful kingdom-building games on mobile platforms, as looking after your kingdom on your iPhone for 10 minutes from time to time has obvious advantages over doing so on a PC. But I'm wondering why there are so many more peaceful games on mobile platforms, while the PC games are so dominated by games that are all about bashing each other's skulls in. Apart from A Tale in the Desert I'm not aware of any cooperative building games out there. Isn't that sad?

Comments:
There are no co-op building games out there because everyone is running Miecraft servers.
 
Without PvP, how would resources be destroyed? Everyone would build his kingdom until diminishing returns make further improvement invisible and stop playing.

Now you build, lose it, rebuild...
 
Some of the sales models baffle me. I am hopelessly addicted to Triple Town on Facebook but will never pay a penny or even accept gifts from friends - only by avoiding that do I have a static arena to test my skills! And the prices they charge for stuff are insane - something like half a dollar to a dollar to forecast your next five items for example. I can only assume they have a tiny fraction of players who don't mind forking out such sums. And perhaps a larger fraction who pay about a dollar for 500 extra moves, which is probably a reasonable tradeoff if you are not on a budget.
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
The most pleasant game i played was Nil Online (http://playnileonline.com/). It had very limited PVP and also had an optional "end", where you "won" the game if you choose to.
 
I am hopelessly addicted to Triple Town on Facebook

Triple Town is weird because the same game exists with different business models on different platforms. I paid a modest sum for the iOS version and got infinite moves. Well worth it.

Without PvP, how would resources be destroyed?

In Castleville the resources get destroyed by the quests. You hand in resources to solve the quest and receive points or decorative items in return.

Other models are certainly also possible, e.g. wear and tear. The real world certainly appears to function well even in the absence of war.
 
I can absolutely relate to your frustration. I've pretty much given up on the internet for games that let you just grow and become stronger. You can only find good ones offline in the single player realm.

Even the best online ones, like settlers online, use this weird "we're not going to let you play our game for very long!" model, where you get limited actions per hour or it takes hours of real, non-playing time to get anything done.

I know you have a thing for the tale in a desert game, but I have to admit I despise that game for hiding all of it's best content behind glorified popularity contests. I similarly refuse to whore for farmville/facebook-game 'friends'.

It's sad that so few games let you build up without also requiring you to smash random other people. I just want to build and build. Can't wait till sim city 5. :o
 
@ Gevlon

Conflict is necessary to keep you engaged, but PvP is just one tiny possibility for how to deliver it.

PvP is the easiest form of conflict and competition. It's cheap, quick, and player-generated. But it brings an influx of people that you typically wouldn't want to meet in real life. It's fun, but it's not the only way to drain resources.

An example is SEED, a (failed) non-competitive cell-shaded MMO that focused on player cooperation in order to survive. The "enemy" was natural disasters and the harsh environment. The focus was on cooperation.

They had a replacement for PvP conflict, but it wasn't engaging enough. It can be done though.
 
What about Wurm? Don't they have PvE-only servers?
 
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