Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, February 06, 2013
Cityville 2 closing down

Over the Christmas holidays I had checked out the progress of Facebook as a games platform, started a few new games, and in fact found improvements over earlier generations. But then of course I quickly got bored with most of them and quit all but one: Cityville 2. I'm in a mood for building games, and Cityville 2 is a stop gap solution until the new Sim City comes out. As Cityville 2 only came out in December, I was somewhat surprised today when I got the message that the game was already shutting down again. No new players accepted from today, and the game shuts down in a month. Two more Zynga games also were announced to close down, in addition to the 13 they shut down in December. Doesn't look good for Zynga.

The announcement was made during an analyst conference call, and the move is of the kind that makes sense to financial analysts: Release lots of games, then cull the weakest performers. But I think they are overlooking some aspects of that which are specific to social games. People don't just play one Facebook game, they usually play several ones. By shutting down 16 games, many of the players of Zynga's remaining games will probably have been affected. And especially everybody who spent money on those games will be highly annoyed: If you spend real money on virtual goods in a freshly released game, you expect your virtual property to stick around for longer than 3 months.

So I think that there is a good chance that this strategy of releasing and then shutting down lots of games will backfire on Zynga. Players will trust their new games less, and especially the "whales" will be reluctant to invest money in a new game that might not survive long.

There is also a lesson to be learned by Zynga in terms of gameplay. They released Farmville 2 and Cityville 2 nearly at the same time, and Farmville 2 did a lot better than Cityville 2. And the main difference between the two games is the amount of requests you need to spam your friends with to progress: In Farmville 2 it is relatively low, but in Cityville 2 it is extraordinarily high. I got around that obstacle by having lots of fake friends invited just for that game, but as Facebook is cracking down on that practice, and many people would rather use their Facebook page for real friends, that isn't an option for everybody. Zynga will need to make their games less aggressively viral in the future to succeed.

It really does expose the truly naked purpose that drives these people, with a dramatically unflattering spotlight.

As gamers, we know that people are in the business to make money. But when we play games like Heavy Rain, or Mass Effect, Shadow of the Colossus, Planescape: Torment, Portal... Games that evoke powerful emotion, games that are labours of love, or games that are expressions of pure creative genius at play... When you experience those sorts of things, you can believe for a moment that these games were made because ART dammit. Art.

And then along comes the emergence of facebook or mobile gaming, and it makes DOLLARS by tapping into some rodent-shared brain short-cicruiting, in a way that grabs the folks who don't appreciate games as art, on the go, in a medium everyone already has.

And the folks at the head of the publishing houses that run the Art games decide, "THIS is where the money is! Tablets and mobiles are the future of gaming!"

Which to my mind is like saying that drive-through is the future of fine dining.

In their zeal to get to the bucks, they don't even pretend to be about the art in the slightest anymore.
It's obvious by now that the only FRANCHISE that Zynga is left with is Farmville.

If their gambling plan doesn't work, you might see them go back to games but right now, every game that is not a hit is automatically a miss and is culled, swiftly and ruthlessly.
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