Tobold's Blog
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.
Haven't crafting systems offered this sort of thing in the past? I never played SWG, but from what I heard it sounds like there were a lot of social/crafting roles available.

For crafting to be a social networking feature, it might actually make sense to get rid of central auction houses, which depersonalize the process. Replace the auction houses with player-run stores, and networking would become much more important.
This seems like an intriguing way to make the worlds of MMORPGS more fleshed out. I think, however, that it might be more appealing to casual game players if the farming/non-adventurous aspect of the game was offered as a facebook game. In other words, it would be almost exactly like FarmVille except that actions taken there would have consequences in the 'normal' game world.

I really like the idea of finding a way for players to create quests themselves. If you think about the kind of quest that is offered in the lower level zones usually, people are just doing errands for local farmers/traders/whatever anyway, why not have those farmers or traders be real people?
I think many people play those games because they are very accessible, being played in a browser. Running a fullscreen application sort of .. blocks you from using any other software (yes you CAN minimize wow or play in a window but not many people use this feature).

But that put aside i would really like to see more player crafted equipment in WoW, though creating stuff should not be too grindy. That could open up a lot of nice features like open pvp raids to steal ressources.
However, i don't really expect this to happen as it wouldn't fit with the current wow (not enough room, blizz doesn't want player housing anyway) but it might become (virtual) reality in some next-gen-mmo :-)
Hmmm of all the people I know on FB it's mostly the bored housewives you find in Farmville though. None of the people I know as gamers are in it, it's just too boring...

I don't think you'd get many people attracted to playing a farmer in an MMO that otherwise has heroes and such. Or not many anyways. And definitely not the same people you find on that Facebook game. Many of those people have never ever bought a game in their life and I don't see them starting now, even if it is rather cheap..

Tolthir has a point though in that SWG had actual pure crafters/farmers though. And so does EvE. It's definitely not the type of gameplay that would attract me for all that long. I had a go at mining/crafting in EvE for a while and it just gets tedious after a while.
I don't think you can take this idea too far, before you know you've created such an open ended system that essentially you've recreated Second Life.

After which the marketeers will come in and create virtual banks, branch offices and ill-hidden adverts all over the world. Then the players leave because they realise there isn't actually any gameplay.
Who would want to be a farmer when you can be a hero?

SWG also comes to mind. Did many people choose those crafting roles or was everyone playing the fighter roles?

A farmer mmorpg is a nice idea though. I always liked builder games like Caesar, Anno 1602, tropico,... Doing that in an mmorpg environment could be a lot of fun. Cities XL is trying to do that. Anyone tried that game?
Ehm... this idea and the farmer sample is very similar to the posted two days ago in other blog isn't it?
In my opinion this an absolutely brilliant suggestion.

One aim of a MMO is to be attractive to as many different player types as possible.

Instead of reducing everything to the smallest common denominator a good game design aims to include several games into one game. Each game can be designed to be appealing to one type of player, but they work together flawlessly.

This is a perfect example that this is not only possible, but actually not even very hard.
Tobold, the Blizzard of MMO blogging?

(I'm going to assume you missed my post, but damn man, you would have a hard time convincing a teacher this is original work)
@syncaine: I'm afraid I started reading that post, saw it was you reminiscing about the early days of UO, and never got to the part where you propose farms.

I must say an ecosystem would be a great idea. Not only would there be adventurers killing wolves for the farmers, but there would be an actual effect of the wolf population on the sheep population, so farmers would make more money if they got more adventurers to kill more wolves. Brilliant!
The only question i have is, how do you get the network started? I don't use facebook, but i have to assume that it's social popularity comes in large part because the social network is already built in (facebook friends). In order to entice people to play a farmer in MMORPG, how do you get it all started?
If you actually make crafting a fun game in itself, you don't have to force people into doing it out of necessity. The problem with crafting in MMOs is that it's usually marginalized by how ruthlessly boring it is.

I'm all for making virtual worlds more worlds and less baubles by expanding the number of verbs a player can use to interact with the world. I think it's the way of the future.
This is a great idea, and I would agree with a previous poster that the key would be to incorporate the farmer portion into a highly accessible flash style game on a network like facebook.

The master stroke would be the incoroporation of two radically different kinds of players into a single game world via two essentially seperate games. Reguar WoW and WoWville. Each game supports the other but supports radically different play styles.

It's actually not that far fetched either, as the Armory already crudely demonstrates a relationship between the core game of WoW and a graphical web based interface outside of the core game client.

I loved Syncaine's post on ecosystems and your tying quests into Facebook really has a great deal of potential. Excellent ideas are coming out this week!
Why not do this and do it for all crafting options, blacksmithing, mining, leatherworking, you name it? Farming as a class would need an appropriate "end-game". Money? Being able to build an ever bigger house and have an ever more successful farm? I can see it working. Diminishing returns would make it into a grind of epic proportions that might work but be really annoying in the long run.
Well, yes, you could try to marry a FarmVille-like portion with a WoW-like portion. Or you could instead integrate the two. It's been done in a single-player game already.

FarmVille sounds a lot like a simplified version of the Harvest Moon games. A recent spin-off of Harvest Moon is Rune Factory, wherein you do all the usual farming and social stuff, but also play the RPG hero. They've integrated an epic storyline RPG with the HM farm/social sim surprisingly well. Everything is interdependent: monster parts needed for upgrading farm implements, special grown plants needed for some of the best weapons, and so on.

I never had any interest in Harvest Moon, yet the Rune Factory variation has hooked me. I've played all three so far (two DS, one Wii). I've often wondered if it would fly as a MMORPG. I'd certainly give it a try, even though I've given up on MMORPGs in general.
An ecosystem would be pretty cool, but it's hard to balance things and make it fun for everyone. Just like Nature is not fun for the ones at the bottom of the food chain.
Bit off topic but I thought I would share since this post is about the social media games.

I've been playing Mafia Wars (same people who make FarmVille) and I guess the developer is having some trouble with RMT. People are creating fake FB accounts and selling loot items and such for real $s.

This is really quite funny considering that the game has sanctioned RMT. In fact, that's the only way the dev makes any money off the game.

Illegal RMT in a game that has sanctioned RMT... There goes the theory that this type of stuff stops if the developer provides it. Someone else just does it cheaper.
Second thoughts, if I may.

After giving it more thought I now lean towards pessimism regarding any translation of Rune Factory to MMOG. The charm, atmosphere, and unique elements of single-play (such as being the very special hero) would be lost in multiplay, perhaps in the same way The Sims Online lacked what made The Sims popular. The remaining gameplay that can cross over basically equals UO with a farming emphasis. Not that that would necessarily be a bad thing, but it wouldn't resemble Rune Factory anymore. And given the current mindset of MMOG developers they'd tack on PvP and a raiding endgame (everyone knows one or both those things must be included in all MMORPGs). No thanks.

I guess it's a good thing for me that all the folks who've been chanting "single-player games are dead!" for the past two decades continue to be proved wrong. Else I'd have nothing I want to play.
Oops, mixed up the "PC games are dead" meme with the single-player one, which is much less than two decades old. Sorry 'bout that.
In extension of your idea, it could even go to include raid-level encounters and epic quests.

Farmers could upgrade to something like a lord or similar position. Perhaps they eventually can have their own NPC soldiers to protect their lands when they are offline and the like.

Then these lords could work towards gaining prized artifacts and such to increase fame, stature, and the size of their lands and keep. These artifacts could be gained from sending adventurers on quests.

The lord has a "quest-giver" chain as well: the first quest gives a book that tells about an artifact, the next quest is a key to get into the artifact's dungeon, etc

Would make for much more immersive gameplay and a true sense that players actually run the world.
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