Sunday, August 30, 2009

Spotlight on: FarmVille

Today's spotlight is on none other than FarmVille, the latest Facebook application from Zynga, creator of Mafia Wars and all-round professional IP copycat. Zynga corporate strategy seems to be thus: churn out K.C. Munchkin-esq clones of every popular online social game out there. Their Mafia Wars was so identical to Psycho Monkey's popular Mob Wars that the latter developer sued over the coincidence. Their latest coincidence, FarmVille, is a clone of Slashkey's Farm Town, right down to the doofus copycat title. As in Farm Town, users labor to create successful harvests from crops and livestock, which in turn allow them to pimp out their farms. In other words, they both had ripped off the basic elements of the Harvest Moon series, so it, like, all karmically works out.

Unlike Farm Town, however, FarmVille is far more social, viral. FarmVille encourages you to make "neighbors" of your fellow Facebook users, transforming them into players with their own farms of which you can visit (and indeed, my own introduction to FarmVille was through one of M's friends, whom in turn is now playing herself), which in term provides gameplay rewards like expanding your farm plot (which means more neighbors, which means more gameplay opportunities and so on). Add to this a massive online ad push, a design that makes sure you can't so much as fart in your farm, let alone adopt that poor stray black sheep, without FarmVille trying to tell the Facebook universe about it, and it's easy to see how the application has begun to attract over 11 million daily users.

is also smart enough to know that Facebook is 2/3rds female; Zynga's app is more social, and has a cutesier, more charming and cleaner look from Farm Town (not sure if I've even seen more adorable videogame cows). It also manages to be even more streamlined than Farm Town is, which means the non-gamer girls that proliferate Facebook have no "global marketplace" or any complicated strategies to familiarize with; just fire it up and start growing those plums and strawberries so you can build pens for the flocks of ducks your friends keep sending you.

These sorts of casual games tend to grate on actual gamers; Harvest Moon fans in particular will likely see FarmVille as a ridiculously basic shill. Beginning players can easily abuse the game design early on for quick gold and experience (ProTip: Buy a frickload of Rest Stands and Hay Bales and you'll be sitting pretty past Level 10 in no time), but you'll otherwise not gain anything cool anytime soon unless you start paying real money. However, it terms of just keeping in touch with your friends via goats and artichokes, it serves that purpose well (and hey, there's always Farm Town if the other one doesn't work out).

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