UnCasual: Farmville 2 and SimCity Social
Posted by Jordan
Welcome, Dear Reader, to the second installment of Uncasual. As promised last week, your intrepid guide and writer (that’s me) has ventured deep into the world of citybuilding and farm construction in an attempt to answer one simple question: Why bother?
Here’s the answer: Don’t, if you value your soul. These games will swallow you whole, force you to break off relationships with your friends and family (both real and virtual) and leave you with nothing more than a craving for just… one… more… baby bottle for your goat.
I’ll be looking at two games today: Farmville 2, and SimCity Social. We’ll start with Farmville 2. Now I never played Farmville 1, so I’m a little sketchy on the backstory, but it seems that you have been bequeathed a large parcel of land which is mostly covered by tall grass which can only be removed by goats. In order to get the goats to clear your land, you must harvest vegetables, make recipes, buy animals (although you can’t buy the goats which cut your grass), make more recipes, and tell all your friends about the entire process. Oh, and did I mention baby bottles? Each animal can only mature after being fed a certain number of bottles, which can only be garnered by pestering your friends for them. Oh, the joys of farming.
This whole process is strangely addicting. The process of harvest-‘create’-sell is soothing in a cathartic Zen sort of way. It is utterly predictable, never changes, and has no end goal. What happens once you have cleared all the land? Nothing. You never find out why you have this land, where your family went, or why the grass can only be cut by goats. This is one of the central problems that plague Zynga games in particular, and Facebook games in general.
When I game on my Xbox, I do so for the story – I’m one of the few people that actually likes Desmond’s story arc in Assassin’s Creed. I love western RPGs, such as Fallout 3 and Skyrim. I love story and I love choice. I love a narrative even if, such as in the case of Skyrim, it’s a narrative that exists mostly in my head. An interesting world allows a narrative to revealed or created – a boring world does neither of these things. Facebook games have boring worlds.
It doesn’t need to be this way, and it kind of confuses me at times why this is. The only answer I can come up with is that Facebook has not yet become a platform for true creativity, but instead is focused on revenue generation. There are a couple exceptions to this, but not many. On Facebook, story takes a backseat to the almighty dollar, and fun a backseat to compulsion. Now excuse me, while I go water my crops.
Alright, I’m back. Enough about Farmville. Let’s talk about SimCity Social. This is the game that started it all for me. I’ve been a fan of SimCity for a long time – ever since the original. My favorite has always been SimCity 2000 – if you’ve never played it, you should find a copy. You can buy it on Good Old Games (gog.com) for about 6 bucks – well worth the price. SimCity Social is most definitely not SC2k. Instead, it is a clickathon, collect-random-junk, pester-your-friends, zero-originality addiction. You could say that EA out-Zynga’d Zynga with this game.
The SimCity games were never about story, but it was possible to create a narrative. You could build a thriving metropolis, or a dystopic city in the middle of nowhere. And when you got bored, you could unleash earthquakes, monsters, and aliens, and start all over again. They were fun. Something about the new Free-to-Play model of Facebook games has robbed the heart and soul of these games. Why couldn’t you just transplant SC2k into Facebook? The technology is there to do this.
The problem is that there has been no work done in alternate forms of monetization. Money is made in Facebook games by selling you random bits of stuff to progress… and by making the game drag horrendously if you don’t pay up. The reason that games like Farmville and SimCity Social force you to pester your friends is because the game creators know that they only need something like 2% of the gaming population to pay for a painted tortoise shell or a dilithium crystal generator in order to turn a profit. It’s a numbers game, pure and simple – the creators are betting that someone in your circle of friends is impatient enough to pay to water their crops instead of waiting 24 hours.
This is depressing, but I still have hope. I hope that there are at least some games out there on Facebook that invest in narrative and that worry about monetization only after they worry about whether the game is actually fun or not. So far I’ve been pretty disappointed, but I will continue on, hoping to find that holy grail of Facebook Gaming, and hoping that I have the chance to tell you, dear reader, about it.
Next time: To WAR! Fighting the good fight on Facebook.