Saturday, June 19, 2010

Time Out for Facebook Games

I first registered on Facebook in order to be able to view family photographs posted by a very good Harvest Moon friend. I confess I do not spend much time on Facebook, although I neglect to 'log out', causing people to believe that I am hovering there somewhere in the ethernet.

When I first arrived there, my friend sent me all sorts of invitations and virtual items. I didn't have a clue as to what was going on and sadly did not respond in any way. It was only yesterday, having seen a number of postings by different people about places like 'Farmville' and 'Farm Town' as well as some sort of Cooking game that I decided to investigate personally.

I therefore accepted the very old invitation by my Harvest Moon friend and attempted to claim the old 'gifts' she had sent... I downloaded a game bar for Farmville that does not work and cluttered up my browser with all sorts of Zynga 'apps'. So this is the world of apps that is advertised endlessly... Is it worthwhile to interact with them?

The answer, if one were to weigh REAL games like Harvest Moon, Rune Factory and The Sims, in a balance with these 'apps' would be 'No.' They are simplistic and lack any of the depth, humour or philosophy that is so much a part of the games I like to play. Incidentally, I explored a combat RPG called Castle Age at the same time, seduced by the rather lovely graphics.

I suppose, however, that these 'apps' are not intended to be compared to real games at all. They are not designed for uninterrupted concentrated gameplay. They are little time-fillers, a way to amuse and entertain oneself while one is multi-tasking on Facebook, having conversations with Facebook friends, 'creeping' on people or otherwise whiling away a lifetime online without really accomplishing anything. Places like Farmville and Farm Town give one a sense of DOING something at least, by harvesting crops and earning coins, even if there is no real depth to the experience.

All these games are free, by the way, but the entire purpose, disguised beneath cute graphics and offers designed in the spirit of universal friendship, is ADVERTISING. Furthermore, although there is no overt negative motivation on the part of the creators of these games, they are designed to give access to the players' personal information and details. I do not share my information on Facebook to any one apart from my friends, but Zynga immediately demanded access and received it as there is no alternative if you wish to gain access to the games they produce.

Basically, they ask you to promote their games by sending 'free gifts' to your friends, thereby introducing them to the game. There is nothing nefarious here, but it is marketing dressed up as gaming. You begin any game with a few assets and the ability to earn coins by playing the game, whether it is a matter of growing crops (Farmville or Farm Town) or working in a factory (Yoville) or embarking on Quests and fighting enemies (Castle Age). HOWEVER... if you are seduced by the superior goods that cost far more than you could hope to earn in the near future, you are offered an opportunity to purchase MORE 'Cash and Coins' with your REAL money, whether through PayPal or credit card transaction. Apart from this direct exchange of real currency for fake currency, there are a host of advertising offers from diverse companies, from Discover to Shoe Emporiums and Survey Groups, promising you game currency if you apply for a credit card, buy footwear or sign up to participate in surveys. Is this any worse than the adverts that clutter up the internet, forcing their way into your consciousness whenever you compose an email, perform a search or visit YouTube? I daresay it isn't and at least it is fun.

The interesting part of these games, to me, is the way they promote the entire concept of Facebook by giving you the opportunity to interact with your 'friends' on Facebook in a myriad of different settings. In other words, your friends can become your neighbours in Farmville, part of your army in Castle Age or neighbours and co-workers at the local factory in Yoville. Some of the interaction is generated by the game itself. Your 'friends' actually may not be online when they ask for assistance in raking leaves or frightening crows on their farms. It does give you the illusion that you are part of a community, however, and this may be comforting to individuals who live in real isolation or have few chances to socialise in the real world.

I never had much free time to spend on Facebook and I very much doubt if I will have time to work on my farms in Farmville or Farm Town or perform many Quests in Castle Age. I expect I have but skimmed the surface of these games and that there are more delights in store for a player who actually devotes many weeks to them. I certainly will try to visit my holdings in the Zynga universe from time to time to see how the games unfold, but I can't imagine that I will be doing so on a daily basis.

So far, of all the games I have explored, I liked Farm Town the best initially because you could plant crops and Trees and have both ranch animals and pets without being forced to use any 'real' money to invest in the enterprise. You evidently can purchase fishing locations as well in the form of ponds, rivers or beaches. If you receive a gift from a friend that you do not like, moreover, you can trade it for another one. With the fishing option, at first glance, it appeared to resemble Harvest Moon therefore more than Farmville, but in fact, I only have scratched the surface of Farmville. With respect to Farm Town, I don't like the look of my avatar much and the graphics in general are fairly simplistic, but any one who played early Harvest Moon games knows that satisfying gameplay is far more important than graphics. The incredible graphics that now grace any Harvest Moon or Rune Factory game are simply the icing on the cake.

Actually, people who are experts at Farm Town have utilised the rather simple graphics in some incredibly creative ways. One farmer created his farm in the form of a turtle and another created the figure of a dragon in his.

Although the graphics in Castle Age are lovely, they are static rather than interactive, like illustrations in a picturebook. The game really appears to be designed for multi-player action, something that never works well for me, because I really do not have the time for it. You can duel against other players or work with them to fight boss enemies... My problem with this particular game is the fact that any Quest or duel takes energy and you then have to wait for the gauges to refill. Again, though, it is a game to play while multitasking, not intended to occupy your attention fully.

I actually played a couple of computer games that are somewhat similar to these Zynga games, although they had more fully-defined goals. One was Virtual Villagers and the other was Fish Tycoon. I enjoyed both very much and. They worked in real time as do the Zynga games and of the two, I liked the Fish Tycoon best as it allowed you to create a magnificent aquarium on your desktop. Both games required some effort and concentration, however, as death was an element in each. You needed to keep your Villagers and Fish healthy and happy. The Fish Tycoon ultimately was released on the DS platform but I never had time to play that version. One of the reasons I liked the game in the first place was the fact that it could be on the desktop of my computer, giving me joy as I worked.

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