Andy's Workshop

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

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Monday 13 February 2012

We Don't Want No Charity...

[PLEASE NOTE: as with everything else in this blog these are my personal views and opinions. They do not represent the opinions and views of Frontierville Express, the other admins or members.]

This is going to be a controversial post, and in some ways a hypocritical one. I wrote this at the end of last week and have debated long and hard whether to post it, but I've decided I have to. It might open me up to accusations from either side, but that's the delight of this little bit of webspace, this *waves arms around* is neutral territory.

If I'm brutally honest I tend to get a little drained by the negativity that often accompanies the missions these days. We love the game and want others to do the same, so we try to stay relentlessly positive, but sometimes it's hard.

I'd say some players' morale is pretty low, and what is upsetting is large swathes of complaints aren't about unavoidable glitches or problems in the game (we've always had them and will always get through them), they're about things that have been actively chosen to be that way, namely the sheer amount of missions and the morale sapping amount of requesting needed right now in the game.

Requesting is a necessary evil. The idea of a game without requesting is, at best, unrealistic. But on the other hand, it's monotonous being stuck for hours at a time with nothing to do but watch the letterbox and wait for the next chance to ask for items again.

I have 10 missions right now, and every single one of them are waiting on requests, either wall or direct. I also have a mission in Holiday Hollow waiting on direct requests and the Irrigation Station half completed waiting for... direct requests.

That's without the Valentines missions which, I will openly admit, I'm not going to even start.

Now, I know requesting and wall posting is an integral part of the gaming experience on Facebook. If I want a game I can play on my own with no help at all from outside, I'll load my PS3 and pound on some draugrs in Skyrim or belt a Lambo round the Nurburgring at pant-wetting speeds in GT5.

We need wall requesting and we need interaction firstly because it's how the game promotes itself, secondly because interaction stats etc are important in how a game is graded. We will never do away with it. Plus... let's be honest, in small measures (As part of a balanced diet etc, etc) it's FUN... there's nothing wrong with asking for stuff here or there in a game.

But surely you can see how this current over-reliance on requesting harms both the ones you have and the ones you want to get?

With nothing to do but wait players will go elsewhere, they'll find new games, new ways to spend their time... and they may never come back, or they might just get so used to not being in the game. You can't expect people to go from 8 hours of waiting for something to happen to the all action push of a new mission thread all the time. Gaming is about stickability, it's about how long you can keep people playing your game, and if there's nothing for them to do... they won't stick.

These games work because they're an addiction, but addictions are to things that are enjoyable or fun. An alcoholic isn't addicted to hangovers, a junkie isn't addicted to withdrawals, a smoker isn't addicted to coughing, a nymphomaniac... OK, I think you get the idea.

Harvesting, tending, building, clobbering, mastering... they're all fun things to do.

Requesting is dull, monotonous and repetitive. It's like video game Valium. To complete the recent final overview mission in the Valentine Thread, finishing missions 9 and 10 four times each, needs 248 direct requests and 336 items from walls, that is (not counting any got from clicking other people's posts) over 67 wall requests, for that ONE part. that's over 20 days of solid wall posting every 8 hours to complete one thing, after all the other missions and their needs are met.

That's not a challenge, it's a chore (and I enjoyed Canning, so I'm not anti-challenge!). I can see right now it's something that can only be done with a lot of pain and suffering, like trying to run a marathon, and I've already waved the white flag.

I like planting bulbs in my garden. I like looking at and photographing the flowers that result... but you won't find me sat gazing lovingly at a shoot for 8 hours waiting for it to noticeably grow.

Look as well on how it seems from the other side. You promote via wall posts etc for new players. But will a gamer wanting a new fix see someone posting for 7 things in a row (often with a comment akin to this one I saw this morning "Christ, will asking for this never end?!") and think "wow, LOADS of requesting, that's the game for me!"

Allow me to give you a hint, the answer starts with 'no', ends with 'way' and has a rude word that's a slang term for coitus in the middle.

Spare a thought for new players as well. You need new players to replace the inevitable turnover. Even the best games will lose players over time, people's lives change after all. But what will those new players find themselves in?

Even with dozens of established players as neighbours they're going to find coming up on some of the missions difficult. I can tell you from bitter experience, having taken just a month out for health reasons, that getting back in the game is no easy task. I've only just completed the repeatable Wikiwah Mustang and Respect missions, I still have to finish building the New Year Hoedown and Hollie's Sleigh for the Hollow mission. I hope to get Amber's colt healed sometime between now and July...

[EDIT: I have now completed all the above, now I'm waiting on the Train. And the Baby Wagon. And the Baby Shower. And three buildings on the Falls. And the Debris Generator.]

And that's despite having some brilliant neighbours who will click everything I put up whether they need it or not, sacrificing their own clicks. I pity those who don't have folks like I do, if they just have people who keep their 50 clicks for the stuff they need, because they are going to be in deep trouble, some stuff may just never get done, and that is massively disheartening. I don't mind knowing something might take a while, but if I see no end in sight...

We should NEVER get rid of requesting, there's actually something of a buzz to opening your gifts of a morning and finding that last piece that completes a mission or finishes off a building. It should stay as a part of the game, this was never designed to be a solo game and I ENJOY helping people.

But that's the problem, I don't feel helpful, I feel like I ask for more than I return, I feel like my whole existence in the game is reliant, as Tennessee Williams would have it, on the kindness of strangers.

So why not get a bit more creative? Right now the rewards for posting that you've visited someone are pitiful, an old building material most people never use any more. Make that something worthwhile, a lump of XP for example, and folks will want to post more often, I NEVER post to friends wall that I've visited because I know they don't give a monkeys about a brick or a hand drill.

Ditto the reward for hiring a neighbour, Tools haven't been used for ages in a mission, so why would that prompt someone to publish?

The main point here is people like to HELP others, so OK, here's another idea. The crafting items that drop from things on our homestead (sulphur from rocks, rowing boat planks from trees etc). How about two, three times a day a message would pop up when you found one "You've found extras, give them away?"

Saying yes would put a post on your wall where 3-5 people could click it and get a sulphur or plank or whatever the supply was? Ditto with collection items, just as it works with the saloon drink daily bonus.

Giving, not begging. Most gamers don't like to ask, but they love to give, especially if you whacked on some XP coming back the other way.

Lately FTV players see themselves sitting on pavements with a dog on a piece of string and a cap out hoping to catch building supplies. That's not a fun way to imagine yourself being.

Picturing yourself as a philanthropist throwing around goodies and giving stuff away, that IS fun! It'll also appeal more to the gamers you're hoping to catch with posts. Earlier we spoke about how so many begging posts will put potential gamers off, but if they see a game where things keep happening to let them help their neighbours... completely different mental attitude to be in.

Finally, an extreme suggestion...

Remove ALL requesting from the Bulletin Board, they were a brilliant idea to waste time between other mission threads and while waiting for stuff to arrive, then you just tacked on a request requirement to EVERY mission so instead of being filler, they're just one more thing to request for and then ignore for 8 hours because there's nothing to DO.

It's collecting teamwork and helping hands, so just make it like "affection" during the anniversary date mission, stuff that drops from NEIGHBOUR homesteads. We're getting helping hands, so make it that we get it by helping. Add this to the much better rewards for visiting I suggested earlier and you might see more posting... heck perhaps this could even BE the post reward.

"Do you want to tell your neighbour you've visited and give your neighbour a Helping Hands?"

It's a simple mental change on both sides. Players need to change their mindset and realise that there WILL be some requesting, that's life, and in fact, done properly and not excessively, it's fun. But Zynga, you need to realise not EVERYTHING has to be requesting. It's doing you more harm than good.

I also believe people might be happier about the high quantity of missions if they knew they'd be more homestead based, and not something that would leech at their limited wall clicks and direct requests.

There's a place for asking, what I'm saying is for the love of Jack, CALM DOWN. I'm honest when I say that it's driving players away.

We don't want to spend our gaming days begging for charity, we just want a good game that's fun to play, and we're mature enough to be ready to compromise to get it.