Virtual Flowerbeds

Farhad Manjooo:

Zynga feels like a firm without a purpose. The major difference between today’s Internet companies and ones that were founded during the dot-com bubble of the 1990s is that modern firms believe they’re changing the world. Though their claims may be dubious, Facebook and Twitter genuinely believe that they’re going to make a killing and they’re going to improve the lives of billions. By that standard Zynga is an unfortunate throwback to the best-forgotten bubble years. All the gaming company does is convince suckers to spend a lot of time and money tending virtual flowerbeds—and it didn’t even invent those virtual flowerbeds. If you’re looking for this generation’s Pets.com, Zynga is pretty much it.

A Look At Negative Game Mechanics

I was thinking of writing about how the point of old-school arcade games are NOT fun. Their purpose is to get people to pump quarters into a machine, so they employ all these design mechanics to ensure that they get a steady flow of coins. It sounds like Zynga games.

But this article is better than what I would have written.

Most machines were designed around metrics to determine how far someone should get on a single quarter, and then the mechanics were tweaked to meet those metrics. One of the early examples of negative mechanics was in beat-em-ups, in the form of special attacks. Special attacks were designed to cost the player some of their energy with each use, bringing the player closer to death faster. Items that would restore health were few and far between, meaning that the player will usually die before finding more health.

Me too, John. Me too.

John Siracusa’s home screen.

Q: Which app is your guilty pleasure?

I feel somewhat guilty every time I play Words With Friends and see the embarrassing, persistent bugs and the annoying in-game come-ons to purchase more stuff. I tried the official Scrabble app, but it was even worse. I’m sure there are other, better alternatives, but Words With Friends is where my friends and relatives play, and it’s hard to dislodge them.

“How Words With Friends Beat Scrabble At Its Own Game”

I know I’m a few years late on this.

I had resisted Words With Friends for a long time, opting instead for Scrabble (the REAL thing), but within the past week I installed it and played a few games. My suspicions were confirmed: Words With Friends just feels like a cheap Scrabble ripoff.

Not just the game, by the way, but the Scrabble app on iOS is just better (more colorful, the sound effects are better, and it’s nice to get features built-in with Scrabble that are in-app purchase with Words With Friends). The Scrabble app’s only downside, besides that everyone plays Words With Friends instead, is that the iPad app doesn’t support EA’s own login system, which is pretty silly.

If you’ve never played a Zynga game don’t start. Every time you’re done playing moves in Words With Friends you’re constantly prompted to start another game. You wouldn’t be wrong to think of what Zynga’s CEO said when you get pestered by these prompts.

Silicon Values

Bill Davidow:

I’ve become increasingly concerned about one thing that is seldom discussed: the valley is no longer as concerned about serving the customer, and even sees great opportunity in exploitation. We are beginning to act like the bankers who sold subprime mortgages to naïve consumers. In such an environment, we are less likely to create the role models of the past who guided the valley to its future.

Click Machines

Some people argue that Zynga’s signature games — FarmVille, FishVille — shouldn’t even be called games. As Nicholas Carlson of the Web site Business Insider wrote: “They are click-machines powered by the human need to achieve progress by a predictable path and a willingness to pay small amounts of money to make that progress go faster. They are not ‘games.’ ” But you could argue that games like FarmVille are in fact just the logical end of gamification: gamified games. They have the appearance of games, they inspire the compulsions of games, but for many people they are not fun like games.

I think Diablo was successful because you had to click a lot. But Zynga takes it one further.

“Talking Copycats with Zynga’s Design Chief” by Kris Gaft

Zynga thinks of their games as inspirations from other games, like the similarities between Command and Conquer and Warcraft, or shooters like Quake and Unreal: games that came out at around the same time that built upon elements from each other.

Gaft questions the comparison. This excerpt reveals a lot:

Well, that’s the thing, though. With that example in particular, you’ve got “some of this” and you’ve got “some of that” and it’s got some new stuff thrown in. The games in question are games that are being accused of taking too much, and not adding enough.

Like Dream Heights — it’s being accused of not taking anything from anywhere else, that it’s not taking a little bit from there or a little bit from here or adding new stuff. A lot of people are seeing, “Hey, this is a reskinned Tiny Tower,” and I think that’s the difference, though, between the example you gave and what’s happening now.

[PR steered the conversation away from Dream Heights at this point.]