Navbar

Andy's Workshop


Game chat and stories along with some articles probably for the more geeky among us,
all written by me, Andy.

Click here for my Frontierville Addiction Therapy Guide

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Five Step Plan

[As usual, all thoughts in this blog are mine and mine alone. They do not necessarily represent the views of the admins or members of Frontierville Express.]

In this post I'm going to try and split myself into two minds, the easy one, as a player, and the harder more serious one, putting myself into the mind of Zynga, the mind of a game developer or manager.

I know what WE want, but I don't know the business plan etc of Zynga, so I'm going to have to run on a few assumptions and guesswork, but hopefully I hit fairly close to the mark.

So, why am I doing this? Because there's a negativity over the game at the moment, we see that every release day, actually every day.

Don't get me wrong, I still love the game, I'd have to be insane to spend the time I do working a fanpage if I didn't. I also know we've had a lot of things lately go our way, smaller builds, smaller amounts of crafting, more homestead items... things have happened purely for OUR sakes.

I still think there's a lot of things to be positive about in the game, but I also think there's a few things that consistently appear when people are complaining, and need looking at.

So, because of this I've designed a five step plan I think could help the game. Am I arrogant enough to think this would make it the best in the world? No, course not, but doing any of these would, I think, enhance the fun of the game.

It won't be perfect for both sides because what we as players want, and what Zynga as a business want are different... but we'll see.

If you agree, please use the Like box, share it to friends, send it around... if I get enough likes maybe it'll help.


Step One: Players want to PLAY.

How annoying is the word "Buffering?"

There you are, on NetFlix or LoveFilm trying to watch a great movie and it st...ut...te...rs... and up comes the spinning circle and that word buffering.

Well, recently that's how the game has felt, especially loading. We're gamers, we want to game! Instead, each time we load we have to go through the gaming equivalent of previews before a movie. Popups about games, animals, Horseshoes, even forcing us to go to a build before we can even start playing the game.

Despite what people think these don't cause a big issue with loading times or performance, but they do harm the fun of gaming. By piling these on at the start you instantly break the enthusiasm of the players, we go into the game wanting to play, and then you stop us playing, you give us something that 99% of us just X out of.

Popups are never good things, forcing people to get through them when they're enthused enough to want to play the game? BAD strategy, both in gaming terms, and simple psychology. I see the reason for them, I really do. But why not slip them in through the game?

Have a think, do we REALLY need this popup? Will popping up the carnival games manager make people want to play carnival games or give them a negative feeling towards the feature? I think I know which.

Equally, Letters? Those annoying things with a yellow arrow over them. There is nothing that infuriates players quite as much as trying to get on and play the game just to see "Don't ya want your letter?"

Little garnishes like that are all well and good, the idea of the letters is quite cute... but making us click them before we can do what we WANT to do turns them from a cute bit of fluff into yet another annoyance "buffering" our game... just remove the "must click" aspect of them, let us play our game and then go click that later.

Step Two: Giving people what they want.

It used to be that the Barter Depot was the most misused phrase in the game, but these days the most disingenuous phrase is "Free Gifts".

Let me explain, Tomorrow is my sister's birthday. I've bought her something she wants and needs. If real life was like the game her birthday "gift" would have been something I wanted her to give me back for Christmas.

We don't really get to gift any more, it's just become a third method of requesting items and has become a race, who gets to ask first and get back what they need.

I understand that you need us to send free gifts for statistics, clicks etc, we get that. However, the current setup is excessively frustrating and again, takes away from the fun of the game. There's two things I think you can do to help this.

1) After 2-4 weeks, make free gift crops or animals available in the market for coins. We get at least one new free gift crop a week, standard players will always have to request something, and right now most players are stuck in the frustrating position of having to decide which they want, knowing they can't ask again until tomorrow.

They also know if they're a few missions behind, they're most likely to be "gifting" this crop to people who don't even want it. Giving someone something they don't want, that's not gifting.

2) We know those things that pop up in game are to make us gift. Problem is it's ALWAYS rubbish, breakfasts, crops we don't really need, broken things... Keep those gifting popups but make it something GOOD, remove the Level 100 limit from giving Dinners for example and put them in.

Gifting works best when we're giving people things we know they'll like. So make gifting really worth it with some great things to send that will make people happy.

Step Three: A few less rocks in the landslide.

OK, I'm just going to come out and say it. Why not try one release a week? There, it's in the open.

I see the problem that some folks, by fair means or foul, can get through a mission thread in a few days to a week.

But just think this way... Players with nothing to do can be distracted with favours, more school missions, more mastery... stuff that doesn't HAVE to be done but can be a filler.

Most players can't do the missions that quickly and overwhelming people just doesn't seem to make sense for business reasons, gameplay reasons, even just design reasons.

On the business side you want new players, you want to widen your interest base and from that, gain more marketing across Facebook. But instead of what used to happen, a drip feeding of missions in a story tree, new players, once they hit about level 15-20 become overwhelmed.

If, by that early stage, they're not emotionally invested (and there's every chance they wont be at that early level) it's very possible that they'll look at the massive mission list and just decide it's not worth it, in fact I'm worried for the future as I don't think I'd have fallen in love with FTV if it threw as much at me so early on as it does today.

There's also the simple fact that you spend a LOT of time designing these features, and we don't really get to enjoy them. Not only do people just want to rush through them knowing another one is coming soon but each release now is greeted with negativity because people are feeling overwhelmed. That's not great for your publicity and your PR.

Give us one mission thread a week and then give the folks who do rush something else to occupy them. Better favour missions (less crafting heavy) or more mastery, things they can do but don't HAVE to be done.

Also think of threading more missions, the Mae/Birdie arc was ridiculous when you were finding out (SPOILER ALERT) that Birdie was innocent and they were making a Sheriff Academy, often before a player had even completed the set of missions introducing Mae.

If we're going to have a story like that, a full on cliffhangers and episodal story, have them spawn off the back of each other like the old days, limiting the amount of simultaneous missions while allowing players to go at their own pace.

Players would greet new missions with more positivity if they knew they wouldn't have to do them until AFTER they've cleared some out.

Honestly, I hear "no more missions!" enough that it's something to look at.

Also see my Open Letter To Zynga: http://andy.frontiervilleexpress.co.uk/2012/03/open-letter-to-zynga.html

Step Four: Shorter Shopping List

I am going to say something that's going to sound a bit nutty. Work with me.

When people complain about the amount of items needed, they're not complaining about the overall amount of items needed.

What they're complaining about is the amount of items needed PER thing, whatever it is they're building or crafting.

We want to feel like we're achieving things, and having to collect so many wall posts and direct requests to finish ONE mission or build becomes monotonous. By the 4th or 5th item we craft it just feels like a repetitive trudge.

If your metrics or stats say you want THIS many posts or clicks, then spread them out over more missions, at least then we'd feel like we're getting somewhere, not spending a week or two requesting the same item, over and over again with nothing to show for it.

You'd be laughed out of the room if you tried to sell a game that was based solely around clicking things on Facebook's wall, but that's what FTV has become, we spend 10 times as long NOT in the game "playing" it as we spend IN it.

I know you love a lot of wall posts and virals like that, it's what YOU want to get out of the game. But what if it's costing you players? Isn't 5 wall posts from 10 players better than 20 from 1?

Less requests would equal more players because it would make the game faster paced and more fun. More players equals a much wider spread for your marketing. Pioneer Trail is in danger of becoming insulated by missing out on new players, leaving you with just the current players, posting to the same set of current players, because all THEIR friends who don't play are sick of seeing 50 posts a day so have either hidden the game from their newsfeed or blocked it totally.

Of course on the subject of new players I'll repeat something I've said before. How many people will look at a wall full of requests, often with negative and depressing counters in the comment box (I've just seen one person posting and writing "only 55 to go!") and think, oh yeah, that's the game for me! I LOVE posting wall spam.

The amounts have been dropped from the previous heights of insanity where one single build required hundreds of items, but it's still too high to be fun.

As I'm already rambling enough I'll just leave a link to another over-long article on requesting and a few fix ideas here: http://andy.frontiervilleexpress.co.uk/2012/02/we-dont-want-no-charity.html

Step Five: Bigger Trolley

You knew it was coming, I knew it was coming, everyone reading knew it was coming.

Rationing is no fun, and what seemed, to begin with, to be a fairly generous gift allocation now hasn't changed in over two years, when the game itself has changed immeasurably.

When the game started and we had 50 clicks that was fine, a few mission requirements here, a few building bits there, for months we probably never hit 50 items we needed per day.

Now we're needing twice that many items just for one building requirement, and the restrictions that felt so generous 2 years ago feel so crushingly small now.

Let me plead the business case.

Most people don't continue to click after 50. Player after player are only getting one to two clicks on a post if it's something even a few days old, let alone the poor folks trying to catch up.

Giving people more clicks might still keep them being selfish and only clicking what they need, but at least it would get YOU more click statistics and more happy players. Happy players spend money, happy players get friends to play, happy begets happy...

We then come to the envelope, an even more unfair problem. By limiting the amount of items an envelope can hold you're making it a nightmare carnival game of luck to request items from neighbours.

After the first 50 gifts get through, BAM, nothing else. We only get to DR twice a day, most players will only take advantage of one of those... and you're standing there like a bouncer outside a busy nightclub saying however good we are, however much money we'll spend... the club is at it's limit and we can't get in.

Even worse, it's not that we can't get in until some leave, it's that we can't get in AT ALL and our request is dead. That item we need, one of far too many, we'll never get because 50 people got their first.

That, even more than clicks, is the cruellest cut, things we're sent, requests we make... poof, gone into the ether. This is a phrase often misused and often overused, but here I think it's apt;

It's just not fair.

I don't know who's placed the limits on the game, if it's Facebook, talk to them. But what we need, right now, is 100 clicks and far more envelope space, even to the point of infinite space, the current setup is unfair and frustrating. Limiting clicks I get, limiting gifts and DRs smacks of meanness.

See my ideas on how more clicks could be WORKED for, not just given: http://andy.frontiervilleexpress.co.uk/2012/09/clickety-click.html

The End

Right now your plan with Pioneer Trail seems far too skewed towards making life difficult for the people who are determined to finish missions in a few days. Well, they're only a small percentage, and in making it difficult for them, you make it impossible for standard players.

I'm not asking that everything gets changed, I'm not asking for unrealistic demands like many players, no missions, no requesting, that's not going to happen.

Hopefully what I'm asking for is compromise.

Or just, ya know... let me run the game for a month ;) *shrug*



Further reading: A few articles on gaming aspects...

Horseshoes and prices: http://andy.frontiervilleexpress.co.uk/2011/12/lots-of-little-pies-or-one-big-one.html

http://andy.frontiervilleexpress.co.uk/2012/08/the-bother-of-business.html

Missions: http://andy.frontiervilleexpress.co.uk/2012/07/misfortunes-of-missions.html

Prize Animals: http://andy.frontiervilleexpress.co.uk/2012/08/booby-prize-animals.html

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Clickety, Click...

[Please note: this is an Andy's Imagination post, purely my own thoughts and will likely not appear in game]

OK, let's start by stating two pretty certain facts.

1) We could do with more clicks.

2) It doesn't look like we'll simply be given them.

So, what could be done? Get my imagination out for a compromise of course! I've thought of three ways we could see this clicks issue change that are... Zynga style ideas.

The Building Version

I know, I know. We've got a Pavlovian reaction to the word building these days, be it for space reasons (although it's rare to find a really tight space issue these days of storage and expansions) or just for building issues.

But let's be sensible, not only do we know it's a favourite of Zynga, it's also not so bad if we're building it with a view to a good outcome, like we did with the Irrigation Station. A convoluted build, sure, but with the excellent end product of something that makes a difference to our gameplay.

One building, and when completed we get 50 extra clicks per day.

I think we'd ALL agree a manual build would be far better than a Horseshoe Purchase, yes?

The Boost Version

Option two is inspired by the Clock Tower, a building with a good boost that affects gameplay.

As we don't use the Bulletin Board for the Favours any more, it can be re-purposed. After all, people post wants and needs on a bulletin board, not just requests for help...

From the Board we craft a boost that, once a day, resets our clicks. Used your 50? Just click the Board, select "Click Reset" and bam, 50 more clicks to use on the wall.

Make the boost craftable from something on the homestead and a request, either DR or wall, and we're paying 2/3 clicks or sends to get 50, pay small, get big, and with the chance to stock up.

The Mission Version

The simplest of all options. Clicks and requests are basically mail, right? So, we have a mission thread where we use new technology, including the railroad, to streamline the Frontier Mail Service.

It's a five mission thread with each mission giving us an extra 10 clicks, so we get more and more help towards the missions the further we go through them and feel we're really achieving something.

A couple missions based around the Pony Express that are a mix of things including a nice amount of Homestead... say:

Mission: We need to make sure those horses for the Pony Express are the best we have!

Tend 30 Standard Adult Horses on your Homestead to find the fastest for the Express
Collect 4 Blacksmith Bonuses to get Perfect Horseshoes
Ask your friends for 10 Freshest Feed to give your horses energy!

Then a couple missions based around the Railroad to get mail cars up and running, maybe a couple of those mailbag poles that they used to use that trains picked up as they drove through...

And bam, at the end of the mission thread, 50 more clicks, 10 per mission.

I don't doubt they'd need to be tricky missions, but c'mon... wouldn't you be happy with some tricky missions if it was giving extra clicks?



Bottom Line, we need clicks, so maybe it's time to tell them we'd happily work for them instead of just being given them, after all, it's got to be a better reward than some more coins and a decoration, right?

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Booby Prize Animals

[As usual, all thoughts in this blog are mine and mine alone. They do not necessarily represent the views of the admins or members of Frontierville Express.]

I've decided, if I can indulge myself, that it's time for another letter to Zynga.

Agree or disagree I'd be interested to see your thoughts in the comments, although remember to stay nice.
----------

Hey Zynga, thanks for coming, sit down, there's something serious I wanted to talk to you about.

I like pizza.

Thin crust mostly, really don't like the big puffy ones, but other than that I'm pretty open minded, meat, veg, anchovies, even pineapple. When it comes to pizza I'm an unfaithful topping-chasing pig with a fear of commitment.

But here's the thing, however many different toppings I'll cruelly masticate with and discard, I can't do pizza every night, even trying a variety of eating positions.

So, we get onto prize animals, or specifically the mechanic of them.

Get animal, team with neighbour, feed it a ludicrous amount of times with something we have to craft, weight it, lather rinse repeat.

Basically we've now had Pigs, Sheep, Bulls and Ponies, not to mention the Carnival and Frontier games which were prize animals in a disguise so thin they might as well have just worn a pair of those comedy glasses with a big nose and moustache on.

We've had all of those in, near as makes no difference, exactly three months. That means this exact mechanic has been used every fortnight, 1 in 4, 25%, a quarter... however you read it.

That's bordering on the slightly daft, if I may be blunt for one second, you're flogging the ass donkey off it.

"But it's new things!" I hear you cry. Well, it's not. It's just pizza with a different topping, only it's being given to people who don't like pizza.

Thanks to the monotony of a free gift crop (just make them coins after a month) and a request being needed for every feed (and LOTS needed) the issue is the actual spine of the mechanic is as tedious as a four hour lecture on toenail clipping.

There are some people still doing ALL four prize animals and both carnival game missions, missions that are equally dull and differ only in cosmetic features, like the Kardashians.

We're already dreading Prize Goats, Prize Oxen, Prize Cows... I'd worry about giving you ideas if I didn't assume you'd already had them.

Expansions release night... people were HAPPY... they WANTED those missions. That's what we need more of. Compared to a normal release night it was heaven.

We need some fun homestead based mission threads without a building, like we used to have, harvest this, request that, tend the other, job done.

We certainly need that before we need any other prize animal. Because pigs were fun, sheep were interesting... and from then on it went downhill. Probably 7 out of 10 people hated the sight of the Prize Ponies. A few more and you may find a 10 out of 10 universal hatred rating for those poor Prize Goats...

So how about a compromise? You get one mission thread a week that's tedium and requesting for your clicks and marketing... We get one mission thread a week where we get to have fun?

Hows about it? Mundane Mondays and Thrilling Thursday, sorts both sides out...

Thursday, 23 August 2012

The Bother of Business

[As usual, all thoughts in this blog are mine and mine alone. They do not necessarily represent the views of the admins or members of Frontierville Express. To set the scene regarding my personal situation of it, I've only bought horseshoes once and they weren't for me, it was a contest prize on the site.]

As it's a Thursday Lord knows I have a few things to write for the site but I thought I would just take a moment to share some thoughts regarding something that's recently become a fairly emotive issue. The inescapable fact Zynga are a business and, if we're honest, we'd rather they weren't.

I'm not sure why, mentally, we tend to lean more away from paying for stuff on the internet, obviously I don't mean shopping, but services.

Logically Zynga need the same consideration as Ford, or Starbucks or McDonalds. They provide us something we want, and we can pay for it. Strangely it doesn't seem to work that way though, and there's a mildly illogical annoyance over Zynga wanting to get us to buy Horseshoes.

Perhaps it's because it's via the medium of Facebook, a free service in itself, or because it's an online game. Perhaps because there's adverts... although there's endless adverts and trailers when we go to the cinema and we still have to pay for a ticket.

Of course, it could be that even Zynga themselves slightly misuse the word "free", understandably so. The game IS free to play, and for most of us that's all it'll be. But a more precise definition is "FreeMIUM", specifically what the industry call Effort Limited Freemium and Feature Limited Freemium.

In other words, the game is free to play and you never HAVE to pay, but there's a fair bit of effort involved and you can bypass that with the moolah. You can also buy special little extras to put on your stead that looks pretty or give money back.

I mean, the point is worth making, it's not just Zynga. These Freemium models have been around for many years and are almost the staple now of mobile or Facebook games. Games take developers, support staff, community teams... they cost wages.

So, this is the compromise solution as I see it, and it'll take different things from BOTH sides...

-----------

Players? Join me in the Lounge, grab a sofa, tea and biscuits on the table (that's cookies for the Americans).

Ok, can we all agree Horseshoes isn't a dirty word? The step WE need to take is take a deep breath, admit Zynga are a business and allow them some steps to make money. When we see Horseshoes, don't automatically go with the obvious "Zynga want to make money" (of course they do) and take a look about whether THIS might be a good reason.

Take the Rejuvenation Plant for example, costs Horseshoes but is widely regarded as an impressive purchase. Or yesterday's feature of spending Horseshoes on extra requests.

Mathmatically it makes sense if you buy Horseshoes. Each single item usually costs 6-8 Horseshoes each, spending 5 HS to get a possible 5 items is something of a bargain. There's also the knock on effects, even if you don't pay yourself then there's still the extra posts coming from neighbours, and with one or two neighbours posting, that could mean YOU don't have to post for an item.

We, as players, need to say "they want to make money and that's ok" and also take everything on it's own merits, not just on the fact it's a HS purchase.

----------

Zynga? Join me in the boardroom, coffee and doughnuts on the sideboard.

If the players do that *points up* then there's stuff YOU need to do, because there's a REASON people have got twitchy over Horseshoes.

For starters, most things cost too much, there's no real connection between the prices and the usefulness.

Take the Rejuv Plant for 100HS... That is a PERMANENT boost, and it's something that is helpful! It's not just about having to catch up or buy something because it's too much hassle, it's the perfect HS purchase.

Then you look at premium animals for 95 HS, that do nothing but look pretty. Or build/mission items costing up to 8 HS for ONE item.

Take the recent feature for adding an extra request... 5HS, good price. 20HS, daft price.

Let's have a bit more logic about prices, eh? Cheaper things are more likely to make people buy Horseshoes and be comfortable with Freemium items.

Secondly... take a break. the Freemium model calls for SOME extras people can buy, not everything, all the time.

The amount of "free gift" crops and animals in recent missions have been ridiculous, not least because the average player has a number of missions on the trot at the same time, so gets stuck. Maybe think about making the items a coin purchase a fortnight or so after the missions first roll. With how often missiosn are released you KNOW that people will have more stuff to gift, you get your clicks, people get to play the game, not just wait for the kindness of neighbours.

Freemium games still need to feel like you're progressing without paying, the paying is meant to hurry along the impatient, not give people the option of stationary or moving.

The amount of stuff needed lately? The amount of builds and crafts etc... That is what takes huge steps towards festering the discontentment.

If people enjoy a game, they'll be more likely to pay for it.

Make it good prices in a good game that's enjoyable even without paying, and you're onto a winner. It's not about glitches, they happen, it's about gameplay decisions that have been actively made.

----------

Players? Zynga? Join me in the bar, we ALL need a drink now.

Players, empathise that Zynga are a business. If NOBODY bought HS, the game would go away. I've played games that have become unprofitable and have shut down. They want money, they need money.

Zynga, have a think about WHY Players are so adverse to paying for things, examine your project and think, what could we do to get more Player contentment.

Do it because you love the game and want it to succeed or do it because it might make more money, whatever your reason a better product helps everyone.

Now clink glasses, drink up and lets get to work. We've ALL got things to think about.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Bess' Romances... where next?

We can be sure that whatever happens with Bess' uncertain love life it'll involve one thing...

Missions.

So, I decided to get my crystal balls out and do some prognostication at just what we might end up expecting in another of my Andy's Imagination series.

I'll take a look at the options she has, and try to imagine just what might come of each one...


The interest: Ahh, Ted. The newest option in the field and right now an odds-on favourite, if only because he's the latest trouser in the press. With a mutual love of animals and the wild there's certainly common ground there.

The missions: Surely the barn is no longer a good living place if they do decide to start dating and tie the knot, although for people who don't wan't ore birth missions 1'000 of each species of animal in your bedroom is likely (in fact, hopefully) a reliable method of contraception. Surely a log cabin would fit in with Ted's wild man lifestyle and environmental outlook.

Let's just hope Bess' doesn't have a trophy room of all the animals she blasted on the Pioneer Trail...

So, a new house, and of course, the first all-organic, environmentally friendly wedding.

Odds: 1/4


The interest: Good old Flintlock, the man of mystery. WHERE did he go when he left Bess holding the Horse? WHY did we build him an armoured car covered in spikes and weapons? WHAT happened to his wonky eye? WHO grooms his eyebrows? We may never know...

The missions: Flintlock returns like an Officer and a Gentleman, all white uniform and rousing soft rock guitar. Picking up Bess he carries her from the barn and onto the back of a horse where they ride off into the sunset... We just have to make sure it all happens right, so imagine a lot of crafting and various sneaky plans to keep all other love interests out the way.

Alternatively Flintlock reveals he's actually Albert Bickerthwaite, a shoe salesman from Boston and the entire thing has been an elaborate psychosis ruse to win the feet heart of the cowgirl he fell in love with when cobbling her boots. He returns the socks he stole during the fitting, although we do have a delicate mission to clean them thoroughly first.

Odds: 3/1


The interest: Hank, the man who refuses to let any pre-makeover pictures to ever see the light of day. He impresses single women with his ready grin, his DIY skills and a discount on all cucumbers.

The missions: Well, c'mon... first thing up is the breakup and divorce thread. With Fanny getting the house, the money, the General Store, custody of the children and the moral high ground this set of missions will be something of a doozy. Hank's only hope is to either build his own house or forever move to Beaver Valley with Bess... so it looks like we'll be building him a house.

An interesting graphical sidenote of this will be the new slap animation any time the Hank and Fanny NPCs are within 100 pixels of each other.

Odds: 10/1


The interest: The Forbidden Fanny, love of her life, torn from her by a closed community who refused to allow their free love, driving her to fake a series of "love" interests to try and conform to their narrow-minded "normality".

The missions: Fanny comes clean with Hank that their marriage is a sham, she was just scared of losing her job in the School, he's really just a brother to her. After a handful of missions Hank forgives her and they part amicably, Hank moves back into the general store and Bess moves into the house with Fanny. Hank surprises everyone by admitting his late "wife" before he travelled to our homestead was a transvestite called Geoff, was last seen in La Cage Au Folles nightclub with Jacques.

The final mission will involve having to get a second bridal dress form... If you thought a wedding with ONE Bridezilla was hard, you just wait.

Odds: 10/1


The interest: What can we say? Sometimes love isn't just two people...

The missions: Dealing with the twins is becoming just too much for the couple and we're sick of babysitting the little tykes, so Fanny and Hank hire Bess to be a live in Nanny. We spend 4 building stages moving Bess into the house and building her a Nanny-Flat, although after a few weeks of being in close confines the three of them come to an "arrangement" and Bess' nanny flat never seems to be very lived in...

The final set of missions involve hiring help for the General Store as Hank is finding himself feeling increasingly worn out these days.

Odds: 20/1


The interest: Bess gets completely sick of the whole romance thing and being the local talent for a string of new characters. She leaves the homestead and returns 2 months later as a nun, working in the chapel.

The missions: This will be a multi-thread set of missions, the first thread will be to help Bess find God (preferably not with a solvable Mae-style clue, "Request burning bushes from friends") and leave the homestead. 

Thread two is sending her various parcels and letters to keep her spirits up in the nunnery. 

Thread three is welcoming her back to the homestead and getting her all set up in the Chapel as a fully fledged member of the Holy Mothers of the Frontier Order. (Note, keep "collect 10 Chastity Belts" artwork family friendly, no razor edged blades or spikes.)

As an effect of these missions we will also need new talent and be introduced to Humble Bob's Niece, Not So Humble Tallulah.

Odds: 50/1


The interest: What? It's the wild west...

The missions: █  Censored 

Odds: 200/1

Saturday, 7 July 2012

The Misfortunes Of Missions

[Please note: this blog is my own thoughts and ramblings. Anything contained in it does not necessarily mirror the thoughts of the other admins or Express as a whole.

Although I do have the membership of Frontierville Express to fall back on for impressions, there's going to be people who disagree, I don't speak for every gamer, just myself and the views I've got from my own gameplay and the page.]

I'm going to start this post with a sentence you'll have seen a lot.

"Too many missions!"

This got me thinking, is this cause, or effect? Illness, or merely symptom?


See, work with me here. In my mind, too many missions isn't a cause for unhappiness but an effect of other factors. Missions are why we play the game, we should love them... but then it hit me, missions are like food.

Give me a steady supply of duck in plum sauce, chicken jalfrezi or jambalaya and I'm happy, keep it coming (What? I'm built for comfort not speed...). On the other hand, by the second plate of sprouts or goat's cheese quiche and I'll be thinking "ok, too much, too much!".

So, to complete the meandering food analogy, I think our problem lies not in the amount of courses we're being cooked, but the unpalatable nature of them.

I think "too many missions", isn't the problem, it's an indicator of other problems. With that in mind I thought I'd see what those other problems might be...

Sharing is Caring

I used to work for the BBC, one of our studios shared their building with a Chinese Medicine Clinic. People SHARE work space.

Recently one big problem for me has been single use buildings with long convoluted building procedures. We build them, and then they're never used again, specialised buildings with extremely minimal use.

It's most frustrating when there's already similar buildings, the most obvious example being Mae. One storyline has so far accounted for four individual buildings, a Sheriff Office, a Jail, a Courthouse and a Sheriff Academy.

OK, the Jail had it's own graphical interest as you build it up a piece at a time (like Lego) and see the Gratchets hanging out of it, but surely instead of the oversized Courthouse and Sheriff Academy we could have just used current buildings? Attach the courthouse to the Jail, attach the Academy to the Office, both would do the same job and not be out of place.


We're now seeing buildings for almost EVERY mission, and too many of them have a lifespan totally at odds with how long it takes to build them and the space they take up (the recent Ferris Wheel being an obvious example). They take days, WEEKS sometimes to build, but the only reason to build them is because we have to build them... they serve no useful purpose.

I see Zynga's point of view, they survive thanks to viral marketing, wall posts and direct requests. Buildings are a massive source of those posts. But they don't have to be NEW buildings, they also don't have to be buildings we have to keep for no discernible reason. There's two options I see...

1) We upgrade current buildings. OK, so instead of building the next to useless Sheriff Academy, why couldn't we just upgrade the Sheriff Office? We could still need all manner of building supplies etc, but no more space used up.

2) We build them off the homestead. The Ferris Wheel could have just gone next to the Country Fair, not using up room on our steads.

We also need to think about REUSING buildings, or giving them good bonuses like the Clock Tower. Too many buildings right now feel like we're trudging along a marathon for absolutely no reward but  a building that won't ever be used again.

Buy None, Get One Free

These days we're shopping deprived. Even as a man I love a bit of retail therapy, although for me it's gadgets and PS3 games instead of shoes or a handbag (well, not unless I have a "special" party to go to).

Currently we're seriously bereft of shopportunities. I seem to spend as much time browsing my inventory in the hope I'll have some forges or lillies than I do planting items from the market.

Again, we get it, Z need viral marketing, but there's a few things to think of here. For starters, any future players or anyone who takes more than a week to finish a mission thread is stuffed.

Usually at LEAST every other mission has one of these dismal free gift crops that needs sending or requesting. Once that comes out, interest in the previous one dwindles. We're then trapped between the rock and hard place of either begging to be sent them or sending items to other people we KNOW won't want it in the hope they click to return them.

It also renders almost the entire gifting page obsolete, the main reason I wanted to get to level 100 was to be able to send dinners to neighbours and help them in their game. That basic, useful way of being social and helping our neighbours, is now killed.


It also makes a mockery of the constant popup we have in game for us to send things to neighbours, why would we EVER use that when we know we'll need mission items? (Not to mention the fact the things in those gifting popups are, without exception, awful things like breakfasts etc).

Finally, things we should want to KEEP doing, fishing, Pigs, Sheep... game mechanics that we should want to do behind the scenes are ruined because we can't ask for American Moss, Corndogs or Lemon Mint because we're having to ask for new stuff. It takes features designed to be long term and replayable, and turns them into another short term feature, done to complete missions then never touched again.

So, Frontierville, either stop it completely, or do what you did with the mixed tulips and after a fortnight or so make the items market items too, for COINS. Hoping to get one of 20 different things you've decided can only be free gifts (seriously, we're not going to buy them for HS, we're just not) is not fun, in fact it's extremely dull.

Then, if you want to increase gifting? Take the Level 100 limit off being able to gift dinners and put them in the popup, I can say with almost full certainty gifting would rise.

Century Break

We need more clicks. Seriously, I used to think 50 was fine. It's not. 100 would be.

Zynga, let me appeal to what you desire. You want networking, clicks, virals etc. Many, MANY people stop after 50, give us all 100 clicks and it will increase YOUR statistics and help everyone, as people will be more inclined to help, even if it's something they don't want.

It's About Fun

The whole thing, from start to finish is about fun. The missions should be the most fun we have, and right now they're not, in fact quite the opposite at times.

Frontierville, dear Frontierville, I love you but you need to think what happens when a game stops being fun.

I say this because I care, consider it an intervention.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Future Of FTV

This will be an unashamedly geeky post, but a couple things recently have made me ponder the future of online gaming and where we might see things going.

As much as it may not seem it with the various glitches and bugs that seem to haunt our existence on the Frontier we're entering what I think is going to be an exciting time for gaming over the web.

Online gaming is a much different beast now than it was ten years ago. For as long as there's been computers and the World Wide Web there's been gaming on it but in the early days it's fair to say it was the realm of the nerd, the geek, people like me in fact.

It tended to expand upon social gaming already in the "real world", role playing on tables with hand painted figures became role playing on a computer with a "skin" you've designed yourself.

Then came the three things I think changed it, World of Warcraft, Second Life and Facebook.

World of Warcraft (WoW) first drove the idea of an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplay Game) into the mainstream in a way none had before, it put the idea of playing online into the heads of new crowds of people.

Second Life gave people the understanding of social networking in more than just text form, creating an avatar that would be a digital you.

Finally, the one most readers of this will be interested in, Facebook came at the whole thing in a completely different direction. Whereas other platforms like WoW and Second Life gave you a game and told you to go find a social circle, Facebook gave you a social circle and told you to go find things to do with them.

Now, we're in a world where online gaming is huge business, be it console games with a multiplayer or online section such as Call of Duty or Little Big Planet, or companies like Zynga who are based solely on non-traditional gaming platforms, online and mobile.

So, past and present, but what about the future, especially for us in Frontierville/Pioneer Trail? What could we be seeing as the game and the systems continue to evolve. Unsurprisingly the two biggest question marks for me surround the two biggest areas of contention when it comes to issues and problems in the game.

The first question to ask is where we'll even be playing the game. More and more games are being ported over to Zynga.com now. Although YoVille somehow beat us on the last vote it's probably not going to be long before we see the game over on Zynga's own site.

But will we always see this double-networking that we see right now, or are we going to see a separation between the two companies?

We know, and a lot of current problems are proving, the digital communication between Zynga and Facebook is often at the root of many issues. Gifting, requesting, neighbours... it's all times when the Zynga system needs to communicate effectively with the Facebook one.

It's feasible we may soon see Zynga.com rise up as a social network in it's own right, although there's positives and negatives for that.

Although it may give more game stability as we see a single in house system running everything, Facebook has the infrastructure in place for such a massive network. There's also the fact that Zynga games work on viral marketing, Facebook posts being seen by friends or requests sent to people who don't play games.

On the other hand, Zynga.com would be gamers, it would be a pure demographic. Instead of annoying your friends who hate gaming, it would be shooting fish in a barrel on Zynga.com, you've got just people who are gamers, nobody else.

Arguably Zynga are now so prevalent in the online gaming market that it's hard to think of anyone who wants to play that doesn't use at least one Zynga game. Add that to the fact non-gamers will likely hide and/or block games and you do wonder if Zynga's efforts are better spent avoiding trying to recruit people with no interest and instead looking at osmosis bringing players from other games via cross promotion and posts on a Zynga-only social network.

Could they drag people away from Facebook which has become so much a part of our lives though, do we play the games because we're ON Facebook so much? The question of whether they could make people think Zynga.com first is the million dollar question, maybe literally as the freedom of their own network would raise the Zynga profit margins without FB dictating how in-game purchases are made and taking their cut.

Of course, there's also the fact that adding people you don't know is actually both a cornerstone of gaming and against Zynga's ToS... This could solve that issue.



Secondly, we have to look at a more technical aspect, in what shape will the game exist? This comes from a much more recent and topical news story in the geek-press that I read.

As most folks know, Frontierville uses the Flash platform to build and deliver the game. That, in itself, is a problem as Flash has long been known to be unstable and problematic, although for so long has been the only possible solution for the types of games we play, nobody has really been able to come up with a competing platform.

Now that's changing with the onset of HTML5, a new language online that is already replacing Flash in many areas, YouTube for example now has an HTML5-based test up. Next up is games.

Although opinion is divided about HTML5 and it's abilities to handle games it's getting a big push right now with many companies creating game tools to help design HTML5 fun, for examples see PocketGamer news about PlayCanvas and Gamemaker: Studio.

Now, however, we've seen potentially the biggest hit to Flash. It's one thing when folks in other companies look at other options and diss products, a whole other thing when your OWN company does it.

We all know Apple devices have never allowed Flash for a few reasons but one of the most public was due to instability and unreliability. However, anyone with an Android tablet or phone could download a Flash Player and plugins that would allow you to use Flash on your tablet, you could even play games on it if you didn't mind horrendous lag on most devices.

Now, that's changing. Adobe, owners of Flash since 2005, have announced they're going to stop supporting Flash on Android devices, saying they're going to be looking more into HTML5 and their own latest entrant, Adobe AIR.

Yes, true, this is the mobile market... but many of the problems, instability and high memory usage, cross over into PC gaming just as much, especially as PCs become more reliable and have longer lifespans.

How often do we have to clear Flash Caches? How many issues have been down to PC performance and heavy Flash usage. Heck, the entire recent market issue shone a light on that as a problem, the better your PC, the more memory in particular, the less likelihood of a crash with the market.

If HTML5 takes off and proves itself to be more reliable and stable than Flash, how long before developers begin to port games across? Zynga have shown in the past they can see which way the winds are blowing, and if HTML5 will cut down those Support tickets I don't doubt they'd look at the possibility of a platform change.

Suffice to say, if the game changes it'll be another fun decision, do they go the Mafia Wars route and create a whole new game, potentially losing players, or do we see our current homestead in a slightly different form? I think it's obvious which would garner the most support from players so we'd have to wait and see.

I must admit right now I can see both the development of Zynga.com as a network, and the rise of HTML5 meaning a change in our game. I wouldn't be in the least surprised if we're playing an HTML5 based version of the game on Zynga.com in a year or two.

All in all it's a frustrating and exciting time for online games, especially ours. Frustrating because there's so many problems, but exciting because the future could hold some interesting, and issue-stopping, changes.

Although if I'm honest... you get more out of it if you're a geek ;)

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Mae Monroe Sings...

 Ladies and Gentlemen, it's or pleasure to present Sheriff Mae and her chart topping hit, all about the love of her life, and we don't mean Birdie... (I hope he's good at DIY)

Buildings Are a Girls Best Friend
Sung by Mae Monroe

The players are glad to fight for doobers.
They delight in doing collections.
But I prefer a man who works
And gives me some erections.

A beast on the land
May be quite continental,
But buildings are a girl's best friend.

Decorations may be grand
But they won't pay the rental
On your crops and trees
to make quests a breeze.

Crops grow dry
Events go by,
And we all lose our bonus in the end.

But square-brick or wood-frame,
Whatever the part names.
Buildings are a girl's best friend.

Trading Post!
Cabin!
Big Barn!
Fishing Pond!
Talk to me Hank Baby.
Tell me all about it!

There may come a time
When a lass needs a tailor,
But buildings are a girl's best friend.

There may come a time
When a guy says he wont fail her
But make sure he mentions,
That he crafts extensions.

He's your guy
When quests are high,
But beware when they come to an end.

It's then that those louses
Mortgage your houses.
Buildings are a girl's best friend.

Monday, 21 May 2012

The Dangers of Deja Vu

[Please note: this blog is my own thoughts and ramblings. Anything contained in it does not necessarily mirror the thoughts of the other admins or Express as a whole.

Although I do have the membership of Frontierville Express to fall back on for impressions, there's going to be people who disagree, I don't speak for every gamer, just myself and the views I've got from the page.]





Dear Zynga, here we are again.

I must admit recently things have happened that have made me think you're really taking notice of the fans, we're seeing more stuff on our own homestead, we're seeing lower crafting levels and less upgrades to buildings.

It's been really positive and it's been noticed (and I'd say appreciated) by the fans.

So, please, listen to the general consensus we're getting from gamers and rethink repeats.

It's got to the stage "repeat" is a dirty word, there are people out there who just won't get past it, that becomes the overriding aspect of the whole thing. It may seem like throwing an entire burger away because you don't like the slice of pickle or dumping your girlfriend because she has a birthmark the shape of a mongoose riding a polo pony on her inner thigh... but it happens.

You could write any mission you like, and as soon as you add in that dreaded overview mission... It's dead to them. Worse than that, it taints all the missions, people often don't see interesting missions, they see the word "repeat" and bam.

What gets so insane is it's not even just THOSE missions, at the peak of "Repeat Fever" every mission we put up was greeted by "I hate repeat missions" or "No more repeats"... even when there wasn't repeats in the missions, it just became an automatic reaction. Frankly at it's height I probably could have posted a folder of tasteful art nudes of the admins and 7 of the first 10 comments would involve the word "repeat".

The cowgirl missions were great, these babysitting missions are great... but then many people dislike them anyway for the addition of that one factor, the R Word.

Worse, you often get accused of lacking ideas or creativity, you'll give us nine brand new missions with a total of 27 requirements. and it'll all come down to the two or three in the overview mission.

Surely whatever you are getting out of repeats, be it to slow the game down or increase wall posts for marketing, it can't outweigh the negative PR? An entire mission thread, which presumably takes some time to design and code up, all brought down by one bit of it...

So, ideas, ideas, ideas. I suppose usually this is the point I get all arrogant (other pages love that) and try and suggest what I think could be done differently... well, I hate to disappoint and the insults make me laugh so here goes.

1) The Unrealistic Nirvana Solution.

No, I'm not getting a naked baby swimming or some unenthusiastic cheerleader backing dancers, it's about a perfect world. No repeats at all, gamers hate them, we've got enough missions already, folks will like the missions so much more.

OK, here's the problem with that. You must have some reason to do repeats or you wouldn't keep shooting yourself in the foot by having them. Therefore, to hope they'll go away entirely is generally a fanciful notion... but hey, it's a game, it's all fanciful notions. You want a massive PR boost? Try it.

You know full well on current release schedules we'll have one or two more threads come out before the final mission of these is active so where's the harm? Doing the same thing again, just doesn't excite people.

For the gamers though I think we should be looking more at a compromise... remember, they can't give us EVERYTHING, sometimes it's good to meet them half way.

2) The More Realistic Compromise Solution.

OK, I'll start this bit off with a pointer to one of the things that annoyed people with the babysitting. If we're being told to repeat certain missions we'd expect to get close to the final total of reward items (in this case "hugs") that we need. Having barely two thirds of the final total from the mandatory repeats really wasn't on, a lot of people felt they were a little ambushed there.

Instead of tying us into specific missions, just give us a set total of items such as Hugs we have to get and let us loose.

The fact is we all know the missions you get us to repeat will be the worst ones, to the point that your average player will know they've got no chance of finishing them off in short order.

If we're going to repeat, let us pick how many times we'll do each one, like you have in the past with the Native American threads, along with the overall bonus for completing each mission ONCE.

There's going to be the advantage to those prepared to go for the harder missions, more "hugs" or whatever is that series reward is, better individual mission rewards like mystery animal crates etc that people won't mind challenging for.

Personally, I would rather do a mission that takes me a day or two 10 times, instead of a mission that takes a week or more to complete even once. I want to feel I'm succeeding, not just seeing the same icons in the same places every day and picking which gets my limited request stock this time.

I know it's a balance for you, you have to keep it interesting and fun, while still making sure you're advertised by the social part of the game. We get that, we don't mind that... but there's something mildly predictable and boring about knowing the missions we'll be forced to repeat will always have an undue amount of requesting in them.

The average player will never be short of wall posts, eventually you run the risk of alienating potential gamers by having them see folks post 6-10 times in a row for all different kinds of things.

In all we're going to need to request 844 items during babysitting, 288 of which comes from the 2 repeats each of missions 4 and 8. Was 556 Wall/Direct requests too small a number?

So let us pick, let us feel like we're achieving things by letting us have the choice over the missions we want to repeat. Have these as the requirements...

Collect 120 Hugs
Complete Missions 1-4
Complete Missions 5-8

There we go, we've all done the missions once, and now we get some autonomy, some personal choice about whether we'll hammer the little missions again and again or push the bigger ones for better rewards.

If nothing else, think about it logically for a sec. We can only post once every 6-8 hours anyway. Does it matter if we're posting for muffins to finish mission 1, or mounting bolts to finish mission 4? Add that to the fact that as they're daily missions and we're seeing a two thread a week pattern, most players will have TWO more mission threads appear before the final mission of this one.

What makes more sense? Players losing interest in an entire thread because of one word, or players searching the thread to see which are the best missions to keep doing?

Players just want to achieve things, they want mission completion popups, they want rewards, they want to FINISH something because it gives a sense of pride and achievement.

So... if you can, stop the repeats altogether, I don't know your reasoning behind them but I could probably argue each one, in the end always coming back to "folks hate them".

But if we have to have repeats, just let us pick WHAT we'll repeat. Give us a reason to do the harder ones, but don't FORCE them on us. Number of posts, speed of game for the fast or rich minority... neither of those things really seems as important as a happy player base.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Yogic FTV Enlightenment with the Dalai Alpaca

Good morning and welcome, children of the wide world of Frontierville.

I am the Dalai Alpaca (it's like a llama but bigger and hairier) and am here to guide you through the zen-like path of Frontier Enlightenment.

Many travel on a pilgrimage to my bungalow monastary atop Avalanche Pass where I spend my days contemplating Beaver Valley and meditating upon the world in front of us. They ask many questions of me.

"How can we better approach Frontierville?" They ask.

"I find myself frustrated, how can I stop this?" They ask.

"What's your qualifications again?" They ask. (I can sit in the lotus position, have a resonant and tuneful Ommm and look like Buddha after a series of hair restoring treatments, frankly I consider myself overqualified.)

I therefore devised my Path Of Frontier Enlightenment, Zen Edition. This was written to aid those lost souls in better connecting with the world around them, and I share it here.

1) The moment of enlightenment.

There is many a story in this world of a moment of enlightenment that eases and educates. The sudden realisation of a fact that alters your outlook on life or brings to meaning to it.

Well, my children, open your minds to mine.

We WILL get missions each week barring special occasions.

When you have to deal with something you may not wish to, or that is distasteful to you, the first step is acceptance.

We will receive two mission threads a week for the foreseeable future, that has become the norm. Take a moment, allow yourself some time to soak that up and come to an understanding with it. That fact does not have to break you, it can serve as a first step on the road to enlightenment.

This realisation will open your mind to new possibilities.

2) You control the game, the game does not control you.

Close your eyes... NOT YET! OK fine... *waits*... opened them yet? ... *gets a cup of tea* ... right, close your eyes in a minute, I'll sound a beep or something.

Close your eyes, breathe in and out in a steady rhythm and think to yourself this mantra.

"The game is not my master, I am ITS Master. It shall not lead me into the darkness I do not wish to enter. It shall not lead me into building something I do not want. It shall not lead me into clobbering that snake if I do not want to."

Repeat that to yourself five times. OK, you can close your eyes... now. *BEEP*

We do not have to do anything we do not want to do. This is, after all, enjoyment. Look upon the tasks life gives you and understand you can choose to, well, choose.

Think of picking missions like you're dating. Survey the options in front of you. Is that one going to be too much work? Is that one fun and enjoyable to be with? Does that one look attractive? Does that one seem tricky but, according to what you've read on the internet (and grafitti in the bathroom), gives a great reward at the end of the day?

Do you want one that finishes quickly, that needs you to do it over and over or one that demands you reach the end within a set timeframe?

OK, we may be meandering slightly... but still, allow your mind a moment to defeat the notion that you must complete everything. You can be selective, you won't be judged for that and, in being thus, you can clear your mind of many a cloud caused by overwork.

3) Break the universe into bite size pieces, is an icon worth all that trouble?

It's a 64x64 pixel icon on the left side of your screen. Is is REALLY worth worrying about?

Consider yourself a politician and the icons are your constituents. You might APPEAR to be there to do what they want you to do, but we both know it's best to ignore the little things until you want to pay attention to them for XP, coins or if an election is coming up.

4) Enjoy the journey, not the destination.

The game is not a road with a beginning and end. It's a road trip that never ends.

You don't need to hunker over the steering wheel like an 87 year old spinster in a Nissan Micra. For once, the world wants you to take your eyes from the road and enjoy the scenery. Look around, take stuff in, enjoy the trip.

There is no final destination (which is good, never did like those movies) so you have freedom. Do you skip over some roadside attractions and come back to them later if you have time or do you take in everything you can, from the worlds biggest ball of yarn to the magical oak tree that drops a different type of wood with every chop?

When you're missioning don't feed 30 sheep thinking "this will get me *insert reward*" (please be careful when inserting rewards, some are spiky) and instead think "yay, I'm feeding 30 sheep, look at all those doobers!"

The reward is not the reason we should play the game, in the same way as we don't live our lives doing certain tasks planning a method of death. The game is not about achievements but how much fun we have along the way.

5) Reach out to your fellow man.

Remember, the world is full of people, don't think of those people as strangers, just do what I do and think of those people as friends you haven't managed to alienate with your annoying habits yet.

Reach out, click, help. Sometimes you'll get something in return, sometimes you'll get nothing but the warmth of helping, sometimes you'll get a restraining order (send a woman leather straps through Facebook and it's "helpful"... find where she lives and try to deliver them by hand and that's apparently "creepy").

Once you've had your 50 clicks don't stop, keep giving as much as you can click. If everyone clicks everything they spot, then the world will be full of people getting what they need. You don't have to click everything, just let it come naturally and do what you can, you will be karmically rewarded in the end.

6) A reward unearned is a reward worth nothing.

The road to completion is a long one, a tough one, but a rewarding one. Do not be tempted to take shortcuts or rise upon the back of others. You could not truly celebrate winning the London Marathon if you took a bus. You could not truly celebrate beating your niece at chess if she was 6 months old. You could not truly enjoy the compliments of others if your date for the school reunion was being paid by the hour and considers kissing a billable extra.

A brag post sent thanks to the medium of cheating is a brag post of deceit, a brag post that will turn to ash in the eyes of it's onlookers.

As the aforementioned date of negotiable affection endures the hard things in life as a duty, so should we. But not in the same way obviously, it would be distracting while trying to harvest wheat.

Conclusion

My Children, do not get angry, or frustrated, or homicidal... If I can paraphrase the Bard, all the world's a screen and all the men and women merely players. They have their clicks and their request posts and one man in his time clicks many posts.

Take the Dalai Alpaca way, be the controller of your own gaming destiny and, in doing so, your own blood pressure.

The world is full of things we don't want to do. Repeating, Sprouts, Long Division... when we have the chance to pick and choose, grab it with both hands... actually no, grab it with one hand and use the other to wave goodbye to the notion that you need to follow the orders of a game... but for decency's sake, try to use the whole hand, not just one or two fingers.
-----

The Dalai Alpaca has written three books "Alpaca-Happy: All You Need To Know For A Good Life", "Alpaca-Happy II, OK, I Lied The First Time, There's More." and "Alpaca-Happy III, The Gratuitous Cash-in".

He also produced and starred in the bestselling fitness video "Alpaca-size! Yoga Yourself Cuddly".

Friday, 13 April 2012

Why, Zynga, Whhhhhhhy!?

Zynga... Oh Zynga, you just couldn't do it could you?

You build me up, you let me get a taste of wonderfulness, then you just ruin the moment, like a 20 stone old guy in speedos in the background of a family holiday picture.

And thus, did I gaze upon the wonders of your latest mission thread, The small and understated wafers of crafting, adding texture but not enough to become stodgy and stale. The fruity pieces of requesting, just enough to give us the spice of social interaction, but not enough to turn to the bitterness of overuse.

The sumptuous and colourful ice cream layers of requirements that need us to work on our own homesteads... bringing us memories of the golden days of FTV and giving us exactly what we had begged for, the chance to work, the chance to be self sufficient, the chance to grow and nurture the givers of dropped items for ourselves.

You finally gave us something great, a Knickerbocker Glory of mission thread delights, combining just the right amount of ingredients to make it a treat to savour.

And then, and then... as if solely done to make me weep... you ruined it all by topping the sweet guilty pleasure of a great mission thread with the Boiled Sprout of Repetition, half hidden in the cream to boobytrap us into tasting the sweet, sweet missions and GAH!

Why? Why torture us so?

What is so painfully funny is that I feel it's probably done because of the sweepstakes, to make it hard for the prizes... but *whispering* folks don't care about the sweepstakes.

If given a choice between a 1 in a few million chance of some cash or a few weeks of actual fun in the game, I'll pick the latter.

So, when taken to it's logical conclusion, it can be summed up as: "And Zynga then paid $2'500 to annoy players."

Let's be honest, if you want to pay $2'500 to make us unhappy there's better ways.

Acquire the licence for a series of missions based on Piers Morgan.

Sign up Justin Beiber to record a new theme song that we HAVE to listen to.

Hire me for a couple months to bring my unique brand of sarcasm to the forums.

All of these things will annoy a large percentage of your membership for the same money, but here's the kicker... Probably LESS people than a new set of repeatable missions... People REALLY hate them... like, Yankees/Red Sox or Sane People/Rush Limbaugh type hatred...

In fact, let me sell you an idea, actually you can have it for free, like a gift... just, you know, let the marketing department roll this over in their brains.

Campaign Identity: Not doing Repeatable Missions.

Planned Audience Response: Pleasure.

Overall cost: A SAVING of $2'500 all in with no cost outlay.

Level of Risk: 0%.


I know I'm not going to be on the Apprentice any time soon... but I think gaining yourself a net $2'500 and public support for doing nothing... that's a pretty good business strategy in anyone's mind.

And the next time we gaze upon a naughty but oh so nice treat from you, we're not in any danger of a vegetable-based boobytrap.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Bartering In A Parallel Universe

[Please note: this is an Andy's Imagination post, purely my own thoughts and will likely not appear in game]

It's been a couple months since my imagination got an airing... well, for gaming things anyway, but that's what happens when you find Movies4Men on your satellite TV... but that's off track, my gaming imagination hasn't had much of a run out but Zynga have done their best to change that by giving us something that automatically made my head go.

They gave us the Barter Depot. A building who's name is, at best, misleading and at worst an attempt to pretend we're not crafting, we're bartering. (No, we're crafting...)

I'm fairly sure most people will have been like me, when I saw the email title I got excited thinking of the possibilities, then I opened it and read what it was all about... and realised this wasn't bartering.

So... it got me thinking. If I had designed it, what would it have been? Thus here we are, the first Andy's Imagination post based on something already in game.

I think the first thing we can all stand up and agree here is, we're not bartering. We're crafting stuff. So how do we MAKE it bartering?

Simple, we do what this game was designed to do, we get social. We don't barter with some faceless entity, we barter by trading with our NEIGHBOURS.

Everyone remember this screen where we see wishlists? (A feature no-one gets around to using any more because nothing we need is giftable)


Well, we adapt it and move it into the game.

Say for example my Great Aunt Bathsheba wants a Spanish Coin, the rare item from the Debris Collection. She's given a few choices over what she can Barter for it (to stop one sided barter based cheating), say another rare collection item like a Bear Claw, 10 Ribbons or 10 Dinners (just as an example).

Well, Great Aunt Bathsheba has finished all the School Lessons so decides to trade away 10 Ribbons for the coin and, depending on what could be coded, either sends her Barter out to be viewed in her neighbours Barter Depots or it appears when neighbours visit her.

Then, when I, being the loving and doting great nephew that I am, either check my Barter Depot or visits her homestead I see this:


Ten Ribbons for one Spanish Coin... OK, I think, I'm a bit of a thicko and still have school lessons to go, but I do have a bundle of Spanish Coins, so I accept the Barter and click the button. I get credited 10 ribbons from Great Aunt Bathsheba's inventory, she gets credited a Spanish Coin from mine.

If you wanted to be REALLY cool you could set it that when Great Aunt Bathsheba logs in there's an arrow over her Barter Depot, and when she clicks that a Train rolls into the station and "delivers" her goods! But that might be asking a little much...

Obviously there would have to be some things set as limits.

Firstly what you can barter needs to have set rates so folks don't cheat the game trading 100 Spanish coins for a manure collection...

Secondly there would need to be a limit on the amount you could do, I reckon setting 3-5 Barters at a time would be pretty fair.

Finally it would have to only be collectible ONCE, so that Great Aunt Bathsheba doesn't end up losing 100 ribbons for 10 Spanish coins.

All of that I think is fair and possibly codeable... we could have brags to pop on our wall to say we've Bartered, we could have brags to pop on our wall to say we'd put up a barter, we could have badges for "Barter so and so amount of times" that could be posted on the wall, Zynga would get their marketing posts...

So there we go. That is how I would have designed a Barter building, not as another Crafting Workshop with a different name, but a real chance to go back to the Frontier and Barter with our neighbours.

Seeing The Diamond In The Coal

You know what saddens me most about the current state of the game?

Over the last six months or so I think we've had some great new features, the Emporium and Ranch spring to mind as innovative new items that helped out and weren't overly onerous to build, I don't mind making the building/crafting effort when the end product is useful and furthers the game.

Effort for reward is fun, it's when the effort doesn't really further anything along I tend to find issue. The Debris Generator and Irrigation Station are examples of things I don't mind building. Yesterday's badly misnamed Barter Depot, much less so.

Also, Prospect Falls, a divisive area to be sure, but that was to be expected. If you treat the falls like the main game and attack it with gusto it may prove to be frustrating, but I think many folks have taken it as a diversion, a 10 minute break from the homestead, and enjoyed it more as a result.

I think we've been inundated so much that many folks have almost been institutionalised into needing to rush because of the fear of more stuff coming, but the Falls are a gentler prospect, to be taken at a slower pace so were always going to be a love/hate split.

Whatever your feelings I think it's fair to say the art department have again created a beautiful area, and we are getting something much different, much more interactive than previous expansions.

But, right now we're getting too much stuff to easily get an objective view of what's appearing.

Even when we get good mission threads (and there have been fun ones now and then) it becomes hard to see the the enjoyment in them when the first thought is "oh Christ... More?!"

So, I think we need to start taking each set on their own merits, and thinking about the game accordingly.

We need to start concentrating on the diamond, and ignoring the coal.

Me? I'm going to be ignoring Rekindling, Get Rich and the Barter Depot. Instead I'll be doing the baby naming, the Falls and the Prospecting Tales.

From now on I'm going to take a picky view of my gaming. I'm going to pretend every new thread is the first I've had in a while, see it objectively and make a choice.

Will I enjoy this?

Yes - I'll do it.
No - I'll ignore it.

It's a liberating thought, we only need to do what we want to do.



As a bit of blatant self promotion, if you haven't already, please read THIS and if you agree, share. Perhaps it might make a difference.