Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Analyzing Zynga Games - Part 3


Bad Zynga, No Biscuit


Nothing's perfect. Here's the flip side of the coin.

1) LACK OF RE-PLAYABILITY

This is HUGE. After completing a goal... you cannot go back and attempt it again. (The catering jobs in Cafe World are an exception, but they're damn impossible without twenty active friends or a lot of cash anyway.) No bettering your time, no showing game character reactions to someone else, no walkthroughs, no reposting of certain items from it to help friends, it's all in the past. (Unless you count text explanations and screencaps.)

This means it's harder for people to join in late. They're either posting up requests for items that no one else needs, or posting up stuff for current quests that make no sense to them. (In Cafe World, I was greeted by the wedding of Joe and Lisa... then they were also meeting for the first time in my cafe? My wife says I missed their 'first date' event some months earlier. Currently they're at the point of having had a kid. Clever name, at least.)

This also means you can't change the layout of your farm/cafe/castle, short of moving items around in a time consuming way - which in some cases is near impossible without being able to store things, with the size of storage again being tied to requests, etc.

Zynga DOES say that if you uninstall, and don't attempt to enter the game for three months, you MAY be greeted with a fresh screen and the ability to start designing from scratch. I have a friend who tried this in CityVille... it didn't work for her. Moreover, that's three months to realize you don't need to be playing the game anyway.

I'm not saying a reset should be EASY, like a button you'd accidentally trip over, but it should be POSSIBLE, shouldn't it? Particularly for a game like "Bubble Safari", where (at a couple points), in order to get to the next level, you need three friends to respond in-game. What do you do in the meantime? Okay, trick question, in this case you CAN replay the levels you've mastered, to beat scores. Or, you know, STOP playing since nothing's unlocking. Bringing me to...

2) RESTRICTING NEIGHBOURS

This is huge for ME, since as I said last part, I only have a little over a hundred Facebook friends, and don't tend to add merely for the sake of gameplay. Wouldn't it be great if you could add neighbours in game without actually adding them on Facebook? Here's the kicker.

ZYNGA TRIED THAT. THEY FAIL.

In "Cafe World", Zynga had a 'Chef Circle', which randomly paired you off with another 7 players, and had you all working towards finishing one of the old goals. If someone wasn't around for a couple weeks, they got swapped out. There was the option to also add these people as FB friends later (I did accept a couple requests of me), but it was all strictly within game. Then... Zynga ditched it. I have no idea why.

In "Castleville", I got a notice asking if I wanted to be part of a system where others could make in-game only friend requests of me. I said sure. I gained some friends, and actually the playability of the game picked up because I could finally fulfill some quests that required unique individuals to respond. Then Zynga redesigned their "Friend Request" popup window, so that I can get "double items" from people I would never bother in the first place... meaning now none of the new in-game people show up there anymore. Excuse me?

In "Farmville", Zynga also let you start adding friends who just play the game with you. Except at first, you couldn't actually request items of them, merely visit their farms, which was kind of pointless (though you could collect stuff there I suppose). Then this changed, and the "FV Friends" were mixed in with the rest of my friends. Except a lot of the rest of my friends didn't PLAY the game anymore, so it became a tedious matter of surfing through names to find the ones I didn't recognize as actual friends. I also have no idea if any of them stopped playing.

Here's the real kicker though. My wife, who also plays those games, didn't get these extra friend options. I have no idea whether I was singled out because I have fewer overall FB friends, or fewer friends who play those games, but why wasn't this made an option for more people??

I suppose that, to keep playing, you need a balance of people to respond BOTH in game AND clicking on posts - maybe since the latter was impossible, they junked the whole system? If so, that was extremely stupid. It meant what was once a fighting chance at keeping up with Zynga's "benchmark player" became near impossible again. This friending issue SHOULD have been fixed PRONTO, not dropped. I think it's also one of the things irrevocably linking them to Facebook itself.

3) QUEST PACING

I touched on how the games started to become more Quest-oriented back in Part 1, and Zynga now has it in all their games, even Farmville. Here's how it works. You log in, and sometimes a new quest pops up; normally, there is no time stamp. Unless you're in Farmville (or for some in Cafe World), when you've got a week. (There are also some exceptions around specific holidays, when you have 'x' days to try to get through a sequence of events.) But usually, you just work through at whatever pace you can. Great!

Then suddenly you log in one day and the Zynga game tells you: "Oh, you've got four days left to complete that set. Good luck." Um, what? Yeah, that one sequence of quests that you'd set aside to deal with something else (in my case usually something a little easier, needing fewer friend requests), it's going to expire. Well, that sucks. Why do they do this?

You might think it's because they need to assume you've "completed" that quest, but no. Stuff like the "wedding" which must come before the "honeymoon" has the built-in timer at the start. This is simply a bunch of rewards you'll never get the chance for again. (Except maybe in a "return special engagement" or something.) I mean, did they need to free up that code? I ask again, WHY the expiration??

It's not because you can only have a certain number of active quests. (Or that's dubious, as goodness knows I've got something like 50 ongoing in Cafe World.) Is it because they want to instill a sense of urgency for completing goals and randomly chose that one? (I suppose it shifts my focus, but it's being shifted away from the quest they're expecting me to be working on right now.) Is it because they don't want to support comments or complaints about certain quests anymore? (I confess to not monitoring any of their help boards.)

Well, this can sink them. The nail in the coffin for "Pioneer Trail" was when Zynga suddenly decided to expire a map (their first of several) that I'd been slowly but surely working through over the course of a few months. I suppose to give them some credit, they slashed all the requirements in half at the same time they slapped the time stamp onto it, but I knew it wasn't going to be enough. All those months of work, and I wasn't going to complete this set? Screw it. Between that and a limited number of in-game friends, I didn't return.

Still on pacing, Zynga also comes out with NEW requirements *WAY* too fast for me. It's like they think of an idea, and immediately implement it, instead of staggering their releases. Sometimes you get three new quests rolled out in a week, then nothing for the next two. (Also, if you wanted to spend cash to bypass one portion of a quest, like "three clicks" it didn't used to matter whether you had already received some or not, but that seems to have been adjusted.)

Ultimately, this rapid fire questing is going to create a divide, between the "haves" of the game and the "have not"s. Those able to complete more quests have more coins/stoves/items -- which makes it easier for them to complete the next one and get more coins/stoves/items! Those NOT able to complete these goals fall behind, or perhaps are at least standing still in comparison to those getting more and more. As the divide grows, how can you possibly hope to please both sides of it?

There's probably an allegory for the economy somewhere in there.

4) PLATFORM RELIANCE

I'm starting to get into some of the lesser problems, but for a while, Zynga would feature pop ups along the lines of "We'd like to store some files on your computer so that the game loads faster!" Um, no. It's YOUR job to make the game run on the platform YOU chose. Invading my computer is not a good workaround. Plus my computer is already cluttered enough. Declined.

Their latest is trying to get you to upgrade to Flash 11, or whatever the latest version is. They're at the point of offering you "in game rewards" if you upgrade! Um, no. Not falling for bribery. Moreover, some of their popups gave you NO option but to accept... the decline being on the NEXT popup screen, or possibly in the form of the tiny X in the corner. So now we add deception onto bribery.

Their coding also doesn't seem to be quite functional in places. In some cases, this is simply an amusement:
This one seen EVERY TIME a certain game loads. FIX it?

In others, it is somewhat confusing:
Sorry about molesting you. Lost my head.
Size is relative?




In yet others, it is a real problem. If you ever suddenly get a popup saying "SAVING GAME"... you're screwed. I've waited for half an hour on that window (doing other RL things, of course). The only recourse is to exit, then re-enter the game, and repeat the dozen or so actions that were lost leading up to the interruption.

They also need to update their loading screens more often. Cafe World has been offering a "Winter Sale" since I don't know when. It's AUGUST. Change the screen! It makes me wonder how portable their games are outside of Flash, for that matter. Not to mention they do seem to be slowing my system down more and more. (More so than the usual slowness for having a three year old laptop.)

5) PROOFREADING SKILLS

This graphic either refers to a label or a table. It appears EVERY single time a certain menu list pops up.

Can you spot both the problems with this this Holdiay?

There's also the fact that a number of their real time events are tied to American holidays. (Hi, Thanksgiving and Mothers Day are different depending on where you are in the world!) And of course, the general critique is that people not playing tend to get endless requests from those who do. (Again, I have tried never to do this.)

So does the GOOD outweigh the BAD? My best answer is "sometimes". I am still curious as to what Alastair finds in his mystic book, even though this particular quest line has him trapped in a magic circle at the same time as he is apparently fine and well and consulting with Yvette about unicorns. Of course, I suppose I could simply check some online sites to discover how things wrap up with said book.

Which may be one more disadvantage, not only for Zynga, but playing storyline games in general. You can find the answers out there. Concluding thoughts next time.

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