Friday, 24 August 2012

Analyzing Zynga Games - Part 4

Where To Now?

To reiterate what I said back in part 1, I think the main issue with Zynga games is that you're expected to play the games THEIR way. No restarts, finishing their quests within a certain amount of time owing to the 50 friends you also have playing (though regardless of how many you have, the games are designed to encourage more), and logging in (at least) once a day just because.

I can even extend that one more. Often their quests will dictate the actions that you take, or the buildings that you build. Did you just chop a bunch of wood and erect a new house yesterday? Well, that's too bad, because today's quest is for you to do that. And the stuff you did yesterday (often) doesn't count because we weren't monitoring it back then. So it's almost like you can't do something for fear that you'll have to do it all again tomorrow.

Do other social media games NOT do this? Well, I admit most of the non-Zynga games I've played I either stopped playing, or they were removed. Lil' Green Patch? Gone. Country Story, the only game I actually spent money on? Gone. (In fairness, the only reason I spent money there was because I had 'Free Facebook Credits' expiring, and decided to pick one game for them; came up a bit short, had to supplement.) Green Farm's gone too. Farm Town and Gourmet Ranch I've already spoken about. Bejewelled I stopped playing at some point. Bubble Island just got too tricky. But I cannot recall a time with any of them that I felt like I had to finish something NOW NOW NOW (and not yesterday!) or lose it forever.
Country Story was awesome. Hard to say why.

Sim: Angel or Devil?
Then there's The Sims Social. Which I went to after CStory folded. That's about the only one (aside from CastleVille) that I'm still investing any time in. And while some of their quests expire, the items that you can create related to them do not. Their quests also don't overlap (they're weekly), so there isn't a concern that by spending inventory for one, you're sabotaging your chances on another. You also get daily rewards for logging in, and after five consecutive days, a random amount of in-game cash. (Farmville has started daily rewards, but it's more in-game useless items; similarly Cafe World has useless items 90% of the time.) I've used said cash to get through a quest if I had to (my Sim now has a halo!). I only have two friends (still) playing this game along with me, but for now, that's good enough.

Of course, I know there's even more games out there; some of them even donate to charities and the like for playing. (Yeah, Zynga has occasional features, where you if spend money on them, money will also go elsewhere, but why not donate directly?) Feel free to comment on them for me! Also, is it just me, or are ALL social media games "beta" these days? Never going to have a final version of them, huh?

Here's one suggestion for anyone starting a new one up though. For anyone who's played "Settlers of Catan", one of the nice features is that if you get too much of one particular item, you can "compress" them down to get an actual useful item (the number of items needed being 4 unless you have a port). Extending, if some people are working on Quest 15 and others Quest 3, how about allowing the Q15 people to compress down items from Q3 to get the stuff they need? Or at least generating SOME way for people to get the necessary items aside from cash, or randomly posting something up and hoping for the best?

To conclude.

Zynga seems to have been really good at hooking people at startup (using their 'good' tricks)... a lot less so actually retaining them (because of the 'bad'). Sometimes it's aesthetics - Empires & Allies turned me off pretty quick, perhaps as I'm more of a pacifist - but sometimes it's the divide between who Zynga THINK is playing and who is ACTUALLY playing. Or, even worse, perhaps Zynga don't CARE who's playing as long as there are MANY. It's been pointed out that their business model is "success over ethics", and having started through scam advertisers, it's hard to argue. The main trouble with these social games is, as soon as a few people leave, it becomes much more difficult for those still playing (what with no one responding to requests), leading to a lot MORE leaving, creating a domino effect.

This "continuous rollout and see what sticks" marketing plan has led to Zynga having something like two dozen new games (or new layouts in old games), spreading themselves thin, rather than *trying to improve the gameplay of what they ALREADY have*. I don't think we have to look any further than their newest venture in the past week - ChefVille. They already HAVE a Cafe style game! Also, isn't this Chef one rolling out pretty fast? People not buying into the Ville to the degree they wanted? Or an attempt to make a bit more money, fast? I've even heard talk of a "Farmville 2". They're now cloning their own games?

I think Zynga's been on autopilot for too long. When the going gets tough, you don't give up and seek out a similar shiny thing. You push through, LISTEN to the consumer, maybe change things up a little, and emerge all the better for it.

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