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 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:

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:

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:

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:


Prize Animals: