Farmville – First Impressions

Press a button…watch the progress bar move. Press the button again…watch the progress bar move. Collect stuff…watch the progress bar. Replant seeds…watch the progress bar. Seeds will grow so you can press a button and watch…that’s right…another progress bar. Rinse…repeat. That is Farmville in a nutshell and so far…it’s not a game.

For me, a Game has a couple of aspects:
1. Fun (subjective…clearly)
2. Challenge (mental or physical)
3. Some kind of interaction with AI or real people

Farmville fails #1, for me personally…and again this is a subjective call on my part because I don’t find pressing a button and watching a progress bar that much fun. Sure, you can say that other games I do find fun have the same thing, i.e. MMOs. I’m pressing a button in most of them (1-2-3, 1-2-3) and there are progress bars moving all over the place…both visible and invisible to the player. EXP bar, achievement bars, skill bars. I’ll give you that one…pretty much have to…but it’s kind of like saying a slug has the same intelligence as a human because it too can move on a horizantal plane. So…anyone who thinks Farmville is fun…good for you. I’m happy that you find it fun…seriously I do.

Where Farmville really falls on it’s ass is that it is not challenging. There is no challenge to the player…at all. What it offers to the player is the opportunity to create habits, not challenge. Obsessive compulsive habits. You plant seeds and some, if not all, of these seeds take time to grow. Some of them take days and some just take hours. So, once I plant these seeds I have to wait for them to grow so that I can harvest them at the end of the growing cycle. Oh…but wait. If you wait too long, the plants can wither and die to you have to watch them or your effort is wasted. Think Eve Online when you’re just in a skill training stint and you’ve pretty much got the essence of the challenge and habit forming patterns we’re talking about here. No Eve player will ever tell you skill training is fun or challenging but they will tell you that they try their best making sure they optimize their skill training time. The act of planting, harvesting is always the same. The act of playing Farmville is always the same. Farmville will never go up to the player and throw a curve ball. It’s predictable and all it does is teach the player a habit, which is different from offering the player a challenge. A two year old probably has more challenge putting together a four piece puzzle of Dora The Explorer than Farmiville players have planting seeds. I’m concerned that the Facebook game designers are confusing habit forming gameplay with challenging gameplay. But hey…that’s where the money is so why question the distinction.

I have heard that Farmville is a strategy game of sorts. I can see that. It does have a certain degree of strategy element to it but I wouldn’t even put it above tic-tac-toe at this point. There is no high level organization or thinking required to play Farmville that you would see in even the most basic strategy games. Is it really a strategy game? Depends on how low you bring the measuring stick.

Farmville is another example of the push towards the lowest common denominator in order to make more money for the “recession proof” gaming industry…and that is it. It’s a habit forming activity disguised as a game and monetized, quite brilliantly I might add, to support habits that gamers develop while “playing”. There is a thought that games like Farmville will bring others the world of gaming….well…maybe. If you believe that WoW brought others to MMOs like Everquest or Eve, then I see no reason why you wouldn’t think that Farmville will get more people to pick up games like, say…Civ IV or Assassins Creed. Debatable point to be sure and fun to talk about, but the argument is all hand waving.

On the interaction side, Farmville barely passes. Sure, I can send gifts to my friends. Sure, I can have friends as my neighbor to help chase those pesky raccoons away. The question for me is this: do the interaction choices available to me in Farmville give me the social ties that I am looking for? The answer is “no”. If you’re looking for a social experience, and I’ve said before, there are better offerings out there than Farmville…or any Facebook game for that matter.

“Darren…you douche…you hate Facebook…and Farmville…and babies…and eat kittens”. Honestly, I don’t…hate Facebook ;). Like any tool, it’s just being used incorrectly and for the wrong reasons. Farmville is not a game nor was it designed to be a game. It was clearly designed by people who forgotten what a game is actually is…and unfortunately, the four or five Facebook games that I’ve played so far are all falling into that category. It’s a gold rush, and designers don’t seem to mind trampling all over the concept of good game design in order to be among the first to put picks in the ground. Now, that being said, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a good game will be made nor does it mean that there aren’t any good ones that are currently buried under the noise that is Farmville…..just, don’t hold your breath.

D out.

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