Zynga’s CityVille – Groundbreaking?

Zynga launched CityVille recently and I first got my hands on it this morning. I had to pinch myself, because I found myself saying “This is actually impressive” about a Zynga game. I’m not Zynga’s biggest fan, I’m still not a fan of the company itself (and all of the cheated game developers it climbed upon to get to the top), but I am a fan of CityVille. So far…

Beginning with my Nightclub City post, I’ve been thinking more and more about metagames and hidden complexity that can be added to social games. These mechanics are invisible to the casual player, but the core player can switch their vision modes and seek out more complicated and strategic gameplay behind the facade of simplicity. This allows core players to experience true strategy, without scaring off the casual players who think “aaaaah this game is like a real game! I’m not a gamer!“.

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Any complexity in here?

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CityVille on an initial look is just a simple social game. It doesn’t look like it breaks any ground, or that it does anything but pretty up the standard town-building game (and it is very pretty). But, even from the first 25 minutes of gameplay, I realized that there is a lot of smart thinking behind it. What’s amazing is that I could just switch off my game designing brain and enjoy it for the simple experience that 90% of the audience will desire. Yet, when I switch it back on, there’s a lot to think about. I actually wanted to stop playing it in the background, grab a pen and start thinking about how I could manipulate the numbers through planning and achieve faster progress.

The reason why I want to start planning, for a social game I care nothing about, is something for another post. Why do I care about being awesome when all my ‘friends’ are fake (I play Facebook games on a fake account)? I still want to beat them… which is interesting. What I would like to go into, over the next week or so, is how I can plan to ‘beat’ a social game. If a social game has enough strategy to facilitate planning, then it must be more advanced than the typical example of a social game. What makes this different to the strategy in social strategy games (i.e. Verdonia, Evony, Kingdoms of Camelot) is that this is Zynga and that they aim for the mainstream. Once the mainstream embraces complexity then the revolution will begin.

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Looks simple, right? You don't get 'Holy Smokes' for nothing!!

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I’m going to look in-depth at a number of features in CityVille and how they provide satisfying strategy but remain invisible to the casual user. I hope to get a second account running and will try and test just how much quicker a hardcore player would progress compared to a casual one. In doing this, we can really see the effectiveness of its hidden complexity. Who knows, perhaps it will turn out to be hidden hidden complexity!

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Sam

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