Monday, 20 August 2012

Analyzing Zynga Games - Part 2


Good Zynga, Have a (web) Cookie


Continuing from part 1, here are some of the things I think went right, which other social media games might want to (or do) emulate.


1) SIMPLE

You click where you're supposed to, when you're supposed to, you win stuff. Winning stuff is good, it releases dopamine and all that. You also level up really fast near the beginning, and it's only as time goes on that the games become gradually more intricate and complex, generally with the unlocking of other aspects. But this isn't really unique to Zynga these days.

2) CONVENIENT

You're on Facebook anyway, scrolling through your feed. Why not load up a game in another window? Click a bit, watch the little characters doing what they do. It's also not difficult to click on the feeds of others (in fact I think there's apps and bots out there to do it) and again you get that nice feeling of helping someone else out. But again, not really unique to Zynga.

3) CLEVER SENSE OF HUMOUR

I think this is where Zynga starts to pull away. Note that I enjoy puns, so this might be a disadvantage for some of you. The actual names of their quests, for instance, might involve wordplay. (Some examples from Castleville include "The One Tower" and "A Brambling Man".) Also, if you take the time to read some of the feeds, the one about free trees might refer to "branching out" or being "out on a limb" or whatnot. (I made those up, I don't have examples on hand.)

The commentary might also contain double entendre, which (hopefully) the younger kids don't pick up on, but which may amuse the adults. Widening your demographics certainly isn't a bad thing. On top of all that, their little picture icons (not necessarily game characters, just the ones next to the feeds) were kind of funny to look at as well.

Though sometimes they might go a bit too far.
Seriously, Zynga?

4) MORE PENETRATION

I mean market penetration. For example, a year or so ago, a friend of mine started playing 'Gourmet Ranch'. So I joined too. Then she left. And no one else was playing. So after a couple weeks, I gave it up too.

That doesn't happen with Zynga.

Now, part of my situation is the fact that I only have a little over a hundred people I've friended on Facebook. (And part of that is because early on I decided I wouldn't friend colleagues, preferring to keep that part of my life separate from my history and my hobbies.) I've added a FEW people I've never met in person (less than a dozen) through games, stretching back to (Lil) Green Patch (anyone remember that one?). But in general, if I don't know you, I'm not adding you.

Still, out of 100 people, at least a couple of them would be playing/trying the latest Zynga game. Generally, that's enough to keep logging in. More than that, you start to feel like if you leave, you might be letting down the other people still playing. Plus it becomes a topic of conversation - my wife joined Farmville because of me, while I joined Cafe World to help her out. And it was convenient and fun.

Popularity breeds more popularity. Well played.

5) CASH REWARDS

You can win "real cash" in Zynga games. Often you get it for leveling up, though in Cafe World you can win it on a free spin. Again, other games do this to a degree, but I've been able to use the banked "cash" more effectively with the Zynga games. My strategy is to save it up until I hit something that I can't accomplish otherwise, because I have a limited number of friends playing. Then "spend".

I played "Farm Town" for a while along with "Farmville", and I rather enjoyed it too. But one of the issues there was every "coin" building they rolled out often had a "cash" building too - and some "coin" buildings couldn't make certain items unless you had a corresponding "cash" building. That was a downer. Then it became impossible to expand to a third location unless you had ten(?) friends playing. No way around it. (Or if there was a cash option, I'd already had to spend the cash on their buildings.) So, never went back to that one. (Well, actually I did after a bunch of months, but it hadn't changed, so I didn't resume.)

With Zynga, I always feel like I've got that little reserve that's been building up, which I can use to vault past any blocks that I really want to succeed at. Plus, there's those gift cards that people bought for me. And I know they put on picture competitions and the like (at least in Farmville) which is another opportunity to get game cash. And if you're subscribed by email and don't log in for a while, you also seem to get cash incentives to start playing again (at least in CityVille).

It does sort of make me wonder what their business model looks like, but anyway, people like something for (practically) nothing.

6) CHARACTER ARCS

Yeah, Zynga games have these. Not necessarily life altering storylines, but events offering insights into the way the characters think. With some of their more recent games, Zynga's even put out videos promoting their characters... here's one for Castleville's Sonja and George.

I like when the NPCs have personalities. Hank, the store owner in FrontierVille. Ruth, the pigeon lady in CityVille. They've tried to reverse engineer some characters (like "Truffles the pig" in Farmville), but that hasn't really caught on. So it's more in their later endeavours.

Still, it makes me feel like someone at the company either put a little extra thought into the designs, or at least had the foresight to toss in a stereotype that a character could be built around. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that there was fanfic out there about Zynga characters.

And the visual look of the characters is good too, again, in my opinion. Be they the in-game ones, or for some of the games, the ones you design yourself. They're nicely cartoony with just a pinch of realism. Your mileage may vary.
Which is the NPC?

Of course, this is also where the bad starts to run into the good, as a cute character arrives in the storyline... then arrives for a second time, as you haven't actually completed the quest where they leave yet... buh?

More on the BAD in the next part.

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