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

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.

Saturday 17 March 2012

An Open Letter To Zynga

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

This will likely never be seen by the people that matter, but I feel I have to write it. I would be obliged if, should you agree, you share it... who knows, someone may find it who DO know these people.]


Dear Sir/Madam,

This is a hard letter for me to write, because it's something I didn't want to think about really. I love this game, and I want it to succeed.

The game itself has given me many, MANY hours of enjoyment, and allowed me to meet some amazing people who, Frontierville or not, will be around in my life for, I hope, a very long time.

But the game, as it is, is teetering on the edge of an abyss.

I only wish I was being over-dramatic, I have scoffed, I admit, at the more hyperbolic comments left by folks in online forums regarding the game and always thought it had enough about it that people would always want to play it. I don't think that any more.

The following will be tough, but I hope, fair. You may stop reading, you may just categorise me as a crackpot who doesn't know what I'm talking about. But I know games, I know marketing and I know the players, I spend my time talking to them, helping them and listening to their problems.

The fact is, you've made some serious errors in the game over the last 6 months, errors that will cost the game players, HAVE cost the game players... and will continue to do so as you don't seem to be of a mind to solve those errors, but instead you compound them, like a social experiment on the breaking point of gamers.

We understand glitches will happen, we understand limitations will happen, what we don't understand is why choices are being made that are actively, and expansively, taking the fun away.

Let's start with the missions. Quite WHY we are being inundated with the amount we are is something I simply don't understand, especially with the complexity of them.

This week we had THREE mission threads totalling 26 unique missions, 40 in all including necessary repeats.

Why? I understand you're keeping a plotline going, that you'll have some kind of list of "stations" on a railroad track somewhere plotting what we'll be getting to keep the story rolling.

If that is the case I'd imagine you have a Birth plotline coming in the future that will finally reach the end of what has felt like the most demanding pregnancy ever, and has led most players to wonder how on Earth Hank managed to "do the deed" in the first place without our help collecting 20 Barry White records, 20 candles and crafting one strong bed.

So, OK, I'll give you that one, the Baby Naming pushed the story on. But what about the others?

The Family Tree is disconnected from any plot, this get together could have been planned next week, next month, next Summer for that matter. There was no reason to place it in the game beyond "we've had this idea, chuck it in."

Equally the Prospect Falls missions could easily have waited, in fact it would have made more sense to occur once more people had got into the last set of missions in the Falls, so when Falls missions are slipping, something else comes to pick up the slack and keep our interest going in the new expansion.

I love cooking and cookery... and I know one thing for sure. Nothing is as bad as taking a basket full of ingredients and thinking you have to use them just because they're there.

It wouldn't be so bad if these were simple missions, but instead they are needlessly overcomplicated, stuffed full of depressing repeats, monotonous crafting and tedious waiting for friends to send crops or trees that are only available as free gifts. (I've gone into a diatribe about the awful nature of many of the missions elsewhere, I shan't go into it here as well.)

The missions themselves, the FUN of the game, are no longer fun, they are a chore, and a confusing chore at that. I'm friends with some people who are almost FTV-savants. They could have 10 missions on the go and always know what they need for which one and where they are in terms of planted crops or growing animals.

That doesn't happen any longer, you have done the impossible, you have done the equivalent of baffling Stephen Hawking with a maths problem.

They're confused, and people don't enjoy being confused. People like to feel they have some control and aren't just flailing around trying to grab hold of something enjoyable like a blindfolded Hugh Heffner in a ballroom of Playboy Bunnies.

Surely you know, surely you talk in-depth with the community people on your staff, the ones who connect with the forums or the support agents? You must realise that we are in, if I can veer into military vernacular, a Red Alert, a Defcon 5, a deepening and seemingly inescapable Afghanistan of morale.

Surely you're getting feedback and realising what we see daily... that the game just isn't fun any more. How many people are merely doing it now through a sense of duty or routine? How many are just doing it because the game has given them good friends and they want to keep connected to them?

Right now, as someone who works a fan page the negativity is soul destroying, remember we get it ALL day, other folks can have their 5 minutes writing a negative post and go play with a puppy. It's all we see, and it's worse because it's totally and utterly justifiable.

Mission releases used to be fun, exciting, something to look forward too. The admins would write the stuff up and know folks would be happy to get new missions and new items.

These days we know there will be apathy at best from a large percentage of members. You have somehow made the arrival of new stuff... depressing.

I honestly don't understand why, which may be the most frustrating thing of the lot.

Is it the marketing of so many wall posts and direct requests? If so I've explained previously the short sighted nature of that feeling, the turn OFF that 12 posts in a row will be to new members, not to mention the fact if players leave that will put quite a dent in that scheme.

Is it to try and slow down the people who pay horseshoes or cheat to complete mission quickly? If so you will excuse my French when I say "screw 'em". Let them rush if they feel the need and then let them understand boredom.

I can guarantee you that if you're fearing the "I'm bored" crowd will cause a mass exodus of players from the game then you are very wrong. The amount of people who would leave because of a lack of missions is a meager percentage of those being driven away by a lack of enjoyment, a crushing feeling of being overwhelmed and, ironically, boredom.

You know what's not really boring? Not having any missions so trying to catch up with badges, collections or Bulletin Board shorts.

You know what IS boring? Doing the same mission more than once. Waiting 8 hours to ask for something. Crafting the same item for the 12th time from something that is identical in use and name to something we've used before... but is "new" so none of them count.

If this has somehow reached someone in power, and if you're still reading, I beg this of you. Talk to the staff below you, talk to the people who run fanpages and have daily, even hourly (heck, minutely if that's a word), contact with dissatisfied players, a group that is becoming the majority.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, we love this game and are prepared to compromise, requesting, crafting, even repeating have their place in the game to some extent. But when even the most ardent of players dread the arrival of missions? Something has gone horribly wrong, the GAME has gone horribly wrong.

And all we ask is you take some time and think about what we're saying.

We understand glitches, we understand the game will have technical problems. What we can't understand is when the game has 'problems' placed in there specifically when 10 minutes on forums would show it to be a bad idea.

Take me seriously or consider me a mouthy jerk... Please talk to other people. Because I can say with almost 100% certainty, you'll find others who feel the same way.

Yours sincerely,

Andy Spencer