Hardcore Farmville and the games that play themselves
Posted on 21st Jan 2013 at 10:13 by David Hing with 13 comments
When the iPad arrived in my possession, I could see that traditional console developers had a while before they needed to be too worried about this thing. Mobile gaming has definitely come a long way since my first foray into the Apple App Store, but despite that, its landscape is still peppered with one particular type of game.
This is the type of game that plays itself. The game that tells you when you can and can't play. The game that holds back and says "well, if you buy these gems, I might be able to do something for you" whilst flicking a coin and chewing on a tooth pick in the corner.
This is the despicable, oft derided, rarely loved and much maligned Farmville clone.
In my naivety, I ended up downloading and trying quite a few of these and in many cases, the much maligned tag is justified. I thought Godfinger looked like it had a bit of a Populous thing going on, giving you powers to remodel a little planetoid and affect the weather, but after 30 seconds of playing around with the terrain it told me I'd run out of energy and would have to come back later, meaning this particular god I was roleplaying must have been asthmatic. This was a shame because I was enjoying it now and was likely to discover a hundred other games between now and later and highly doubted that I'd want to come back to the wheezy out-of-energy deity who could no longer raise mountains from the earth.
I thought Castlecraft had an interesting Settlers look to it and might be worth a try. Then it told me that I had to wait six hours for my blacksmith to build and that no, there really wasn't anything else to do between now and then and so I found a common theme.
Dragonville looked a bit interesting in a Theme Park with dragons kind of way. It was interesting enough to make me pick it up long after I'd learned about this particular type of game and it held my attention for slightly longer than I care to admit, but there was still that moment that when I was most engaged it said "nope, come back later".
Obviously, this is a very conscious trick. They get you to what they hope can be described as hooked and then tell you to pay up. It's a prime example of "the first one is always free" tactics and in someone that didn't know there were infinity-plus-one other games out there on pretty much every electronic device they own, maybe it would work.
From my little foray into the world of pay-to-not-wait-around games (PTNWA - pronounced Peh-Ter-Nwa) my early conclusion was that any kind of delay in gameplay or any kind of stop sign that gets thrown into your face was the quickest way to kill the title. I thought I had turned into some kind of low attention span digital entertainment junkie, refusing to wait for anything until I found something with an incredibly similar that I was truly hooked on.
Eve Online doesn't give you a farm, or a micro-world, or a kingdom, or whatever the particular flavour of digital terrarium is giving you to manage. Eve Online doesn't slowly feed you asinine tasks to show you just how much content there is out there. Eve Online gives you a universe that feels legitimately huge and tells you to go, without really telling you where. This is a world that you really need a friend who has been playing it slightly longer than you to tell you what to do.
So why do I think it's a hardcore version of Farmville? Well it's mainly the patience and waiting around aspect. So many things you do take a serious amount of real world time. Training skills once you get to the juicy and useful ones can take a minimum of five days real time, installing manufacturing jobs can take full days without any queuing up that you might need to do before they actually start, and physically moving from one side of the galaxy to another can take an age. There's also even the option to speed things along by paying money into the game, albeit in a slightly more abstract way - instead of speeding things up, you can just buy bits of currency with real world money. With the general goal of Eve Online being the acquisition of ISK, paying for it pretty much cuts out the middle man.
Eve Online does one thing that the Farmville types always get wrong in my opinion. You might have to wait for things to happen and things might take a long time to go anywhere, but you're never once outright told "come back later". There's always something else to do, or to look into, or to investigate. It is a huge universe and whilst you're waiting for your hybrid charges to finish building you can always go hunting for pirates in low security space (or rather go looking for people to blow you up) or go mining, or scanning for abandoned space stations and unstable wormholes.
None of us have any shortage of media. It is a very brave game that throws a road block up at its players and demands that they leave and come back later. I suspect we would all love and cherish the likes of Farmville if they didn't do that. At its heart, it is a game we have all played and enjoyed before, but unfortunately this particular iteration is one that tells us to bugger off from time to time, and nobody wants their entertainment to do that to them.