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

Sunday 10 November 2013

Nothing for Money and the Hints for Free...

As we've got bigger we tend to get more questions about us and about the page as well as the game, which is understandable.

I'm always a bit loathe to talk about us instead of the game but when things are asked regularly, it's worth it. Depending how well this goes it might be the first in a series of us answering your questions about US, maybe even an FAQ... well, anyway, that's all that so lets go!

Today's topic I'd like to cover is something that probably everyone thinks about, the incomings and outgoings of money, we're often asked (usually in PMs) about how we admins get paid, do we pay for stuff, all that kind of thing, so, let's answer a few.


Q: How much do you make being an admin?
A: The simple answer to that is we make nothing... but that's not a pity call or anything, it's our own choice, and let me explain why.

For me and all the admins this is a hobby, and I can speak from experience when I say one of the worst things you can do is try to make money from a hobby you love. It's not long before the fun part fades and the money takes the forefront. You start thinking more about stats and figures and what will get pennies coming in than you do the important stuff.

Sooner or later we'd end up making people come to our site for something we could have just as easily left on Facebook, and I don't like it when places do that to me, so I won't do it to you. If we guide you to our site it's because this is the best place for the information to be kept, not because there's some ninja script counting up pennies.

So, we made a decision early on that we've stuck to. There are no adverts on Express, no scripts, no methods of making money at all. I know some people may be shocked and disbelieving of that but we've stood firm and never made a penny from Express, and never will. You can come here safe in the knowledge there's nothing going on under the water, we're not an iceberg, we're a surfboard. (not least because we know you wouldn't care anyway, so we'd not hide it)

Don't get me wrong, we live in a capitalist society, there is nothing wrong with any site out there wanting to make money and I understand, I just ask that they understand in return, that we've decided not to.


Q: How much do you pay Zynga to be approved/for features?
A: Absolutely nothing.

They came to us in January of 2011 with an offer, keep doing what we do but with an extra line into Zynga. We pay them with feedback, glitch reports and by looking after you (a big reason was making sure YOU get help and info). In return we get info direct from source and our own feedback.

I find it hard to believe myself, especially with the negative impressions folks get of big business, but we've never been asked for money, just our time and our feedback and to help YOU. In return we've asked for nothing for us, glitch fixes aside, THAT we ask for, lol

Of course, sometimes we get more, like the recent Admin Animals which were a gift to give us a little recognition (no Mr Bitter Cynic I'm sure is out there, we didn't pay for them, lol)... recognition we didn't need but were still majorly appreciative of... we never ask for it though, and we wouldn't have enjoyed them as much as we do if we had, a requested compliment is no compliment at all.

It's hardly even a business connection anymore, it feels more like a partnership and that's as much down to the people at Zynga who've been great at never treating us like the over-eager fanboys and fangirls we are :)


Q: Seriously, no money, because I heard from...
A: Seriously, no money, and I know it's weird but that's us, weird :) (Actually Gillian prefers "different")

Adverts have been suggested, even a donate button at one point, but we've decided against every single idea.

You don't get paid to play the game and help your neighbours, neither do we.


If you read all that, I thank you, and if you've been one of the folks who've asked us this sort of stuff in the past, I hope this has answered your questions.

I'll finish off now with an offer to you... You know we'll always answer your questions about the game, but be assured that we'll also strive to answer your questions about US and the page with the same openness and honesty we use at all times.

If you want to ask anything about us, just do it. If you'd like to keep it private then use the message button on our page (right hand side under the header pic) and we'll answer you there. This is your page and your site, and you have a right to ask your questions and get the truth about it.

Happy trails :)


Tuesday 2 July 2013

Zynga - How To Make Your Feelings Known

This post has been inspired by two things, firstly a Copy/Paste that can only come under the heading of "you're not helping" and also this quote, taken from the inimitable CVG website regarding new Zynga CEO Don Mattrick...

"Divinch also believes Mattrick, and Microsoft, deserve credit for taking an "active listening approach to their consumers and reversed key business policies as quickly as they did.""

Let's be honest, that sounds pretty good, right? A sentence that includes active listening, consumers and reversed key business decisions... all attributed to the new Zynga CEO. Course, we'll see when it happens, but still, lets try to be positive.

So to the point of this post, because an active listening approach requires something to listen TO... so I thought I'd put a few notes and ideas into a guide, what to do, where to do it and how to write it so that we maximise the chances that we get our voices heard.


Because, well, what else are we going to do?

I think this game deserves a chance, and I think we deserve to be listened to. I worry, however, that too often feedback doesn't help because of fixable factors. So much of feedback relies on what is written, how it's written, even where it's written and a lot fails at least one of those.

We're still here because we're enthusiastic about the game, and that's what needs to come across. We don't hate them, they've just hurt us... but we're prepared to give it another go if they'll change.

OK, this may not go down well, but after all it is one of the main focuses of the post... Don't do a copy/paste chain post. Ever.

(A copy/paste is when you see a post complaining, the latest one started Dear Zynga, and it entreats you to simply copy it word for word.)

Instead of taking a few seconds to copy/paste, take a few minutes to write YOUR thoughts down, your own personal words. It doesn't matter if you write like Shakespeare, Dan Brown or Aaron Rayburn, cause of the funniest review on Amazon ever, it doesn't matter if you write in English, French, German, Esperanto or Pictish Runes your own words will always, ALWAYS beat some generic copy paste.

They need to know we all feel strongly enough to write OUR thoughts down, not just 'meh' enough to press Control-C, Control-V.


OK, I know it's cruel to go back to the Copy/Paste that partly kicked all this off, I'm sure it was done with the best intentions but it also included a pretty daft line in this:


What does that achieve? A warm glowing feeling in the mind of the original writer as he or she watches his words flow through Facebook?

What it won't achieve is, well, anything with Zynga. They don't read our walls, even in the most paranoid fantasies of the doomsayers. It's not even that great a call to arms, what would have happened if the US Revolutionaries like Washington and Adams had just penned a short letter complaining about us Brits and told everyone to copy it word for word and... put it on the wall in their kitchen.

Equally it doesn't help to tell people to email, live chat, tweet, message or carrier pigeon Support, they're systems are built for issues, not feedback.

No, what we need to do is get people to write in the right places...

First up, the feedback section of Zynga's forums, and I mean specifically the Feedback Section, not General Discussion etc.

Secondly the specific PT Feedback form which is HERE.


OK, this part might cause the most grief, but here goes. HOW you write feedback and complaints is extremely important.

Take the aforementioned Copy/Paste one last time, then I'll leave it alone. It was a hard to read block of text with random capitals, multiple punctuation (!!!) and negative emotive language. None of those things help. Feedback has to be easy to read and make a good impression of the writer (you want them to know you're a person worth listening to).

Take a step back... The best tip I can suggest for all of this is write what you want to say but DO NOT post it yet. Writing is cathartic, it makes us channel feelings and emotions and it often overwhelms us with them. It's why I adore writing, but it's also why it doesn't work for this kind of thing.

Write what you want, then go get a cup of tea, stroke your dog/cat, play peek-a-boo with a baby and relax for a few minutes. Let the adrenaline and endorphins drop a bit, I'd suggest at least 10-30 minutes, and then go back and read what you wrote.

I'd bet a clover crop to a bucket of Horseshoes at least one part makes you cringe, you'll spot errors, repeated words, things that would make you wish you could turn back the clock if you spotted them after you'd sent it. There's a good chance you'll also spot things that in a calmer emotive state you realise either shouldn't be there or worded differently, so now you get to re-write it and make it even better.

Avoid incorrect absolutes or rumoured facts... Only write what you KNOW is true, too often these things either contain things we think are true (you don't bother fixing the games) or we want to think are true (it's NEVER our computers, it's always you). If you include something they know is factually or technically untrue, or launch a conspiracy theory, it derails it instantly.

Be realistic... When you're asking for things, try to make them realistic and doable. Asking for things that will kill the game as a viable business (no requests) or will alienate other players (no missions for 6 months) just won't happen. Take a second to think of it from a business point of view, if YOU ran Zynga and wanted the game to make a profit, would you do what's being asked? Try to find a compromise, Less requests is possible, none is not, as one example.

Avoid negative emotive language... There are two types of emotive language in writing, positive and negative. The first is always far better as a tool for convincing people to do things, say for example you're haggling for something, lets say a TV. Which of these statements is more likely to help?

"I love this TV, but I don't think I can afford that price." or "You're just being greedy, drop the price or I walk."

Think of it from the other side, the TV seller... which of those is more likely to make you want to help?

Use positive emotive language when you're talking about changes to Pioneer Trail, point out the reason you want this is because you love the game and you want to be having fun playing it, point out that you want this game to succeed. What will save this game is a dedicated fanbase who want it to be as good as it was, as fun as it was. 

Someone who rattles out "or I'll quit" gives the impression of being one foot out the door already... give the image of someone wanting a reason to stay, not looking for a reason to go.

Mind your language... Swearing, insults and abuse is the last recourse of a lost argument, don't be that person. Understand that there are many, MANY sympathetic ears in Zynga, it's not some evil entity staffed by people with social disorders.

Remember they're people too... and on that note, the final point. The person who reads your feedback is, well, a person, and more than that they're most likely not the person that made the decision(s) you disagree with.

When you go back to reread what you write before sending think dispassionately and logically about how YOU would feel to be on the other end of it. Totally disconnect yourself from it and read it like it's been sent to you. 

What now

Who knows? Will doing this make a difference? Maybe, maybe not. Will Mattrick make a difference? Maybe, maybe not.

But we're still here for a reason, and we need to get that reason across, that this game could be great.

We, as players, still have a good and effective voice when used well, and we need to make sure it is.

Now you've finished this, why not read my follow up Five Step Plan on how I think the game could be made better, because... well, why not, there's hours before posting time...

Monday 13 May 2013

Five Step Plan V - The Players Strike Back

[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.]

Back in October of 2012 I wrote this post: Five Step Plan

It was my look from both sides of the fence at what I felt needed changing in the game, not only for players but also for Zynga, to promote new players and returning players.

Since I wrote that we've seen a number of new things and new changes, so I thought it was time to revisit what I wrote, add in a few things from another letter I aimed at Zynga and see where we were at.

DISCLAIMER: I'll repeat here what I said back then, this will probably not be perfect for everyone, because what we want and what Zynga want are different, and we need to find a middle ground.

Things like no requests or the ability to give away stuff to neighbours is unrealistic, because it harms Zynga's business, and we need to remember any game like this is expensive to run.

Apple bring out new iPhones every 3 weeks, sports teams suddenly need 9 alternate kits for varying situations ("this is our kit for playing on the second Sunday after a rainy Thursday in a month with a N in it") and Starbucks make you take out a mortgage if you want a blueberry muffin with that...

Companies try to make money, it's what they do. (It's at this point I'd like to guide you towards my extensive range of Andy Designed T-shirts at... No? OK then.)

On the other hand, Zynga probably wont like some of these suggestions either, but maybe it's time to get smaller slices of many pies, instead of big slices from few...

So, with expectations set to "achievable"... let's begin.

Step One: Players STILL Want to Play...

What has changed: It's been a while since we saw a "doncha want your letter?" item that we've HAD to click before starting the game, lets hope they stay away.

What's still relevant: Back along I pointed out the sheer frustration and boredom of trying to get into the game, and if anything it seems to be even worse these days.

We sit down, load up and... wait, and click, and wait, and click, and wait, and click...

Horseshoe popups, mission windows, builds... if we're interested enough to want to play, LET US! Spread those popups out throughout the game instead, and think about cutting back on ones that push people to finish missions or builds... We know they're there, and we're either doing them, so don't need reminding, or are ignoring them for a reason and don't WANT reminding...

The best games are smooth games, not ones interrupted by loading times popups or other distractions when all folks want to do is get into it... some are inescapable, but too many just kill our enthusiasm.

Step Two: Giving People What They Want

What has changed: Very little, we've seen a couple more HS Crops become coin.

What's still relevant: Free gifting is still an almost criminal misuse of the word "gifting". We don't send people what they want, we send people what WE want... and with the insane amount of gifting crops these days it leaves players, well ones who haven't filled their Facebooks (against FB rules) with hundreds of people they don't know, forever behind.

I recently came up with this idea for free gifting to make it more useful:

Whether it's technically possible or not, I don't know, but something can surely be done to let folks get what they NEED...

The two ideas from the previous Five Step Plan also stay relevant:

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.

Steps Three and Four - The changes...

What has changed: OK, here's where things start sounding good... arguably we've now HAD the compromise that clobbers both steps three and four into the stands.

With the recent news that the game is switching to one release a week (I think we can all agree the wrapper is part of that one release) then the amount of missions and, from that, requests is suddenly halved.

Well, we could do with less of the features people don't like, but right now, I think when it comes to mission and request amounts, we're seeing the most likely compromise and one that will help everyone.

What's still relevant: The one thing that IS still a concern isn't current players as much as it is FUTURE players...

Every game needs new players, people come, people go, it's always an organic process. However because of how our missions are it doesn't create a welcoming atmosphere. Get to level 20 and all of a sudden you've been inundated with almost every mission we've ever had... This is NOT going to make players stick around, well, none but the most dedicated.

It's mad because it's not how games work, and I've played a LOT of them in the *mumble-mumble* amount of years I've been playing games of one kind or another, missions beget missions, threads beget threads, we move through the game knowing with each level, or with each mission set we complete another one and thus we're guided through the game, never feeling overwhelmed or out of touch.

That's how NORMAL games work. The problem is, Pioneer Trail doesn't... and it's damaging in lots of ways.

People get overwhelmed far too early, with dozens of missions all piling on at the same time before they've really had a chance to understand the game. Where do they click, what do they click, how do they build this or boost that...

I can't even imagine starting the game now, it must feel like being put in a room with a million piece jigsaw and being told to put it together without a guide picture.

It also ignores the difficulties present for NEW players that old ones don't have. Where are they meant to put all the buildings for the missions? How are they meant to keep up when the best boosts are buried and not available to them without completing some of those missions?

So what can be done?

First off, levelling needs to be MUCH more sensible. The recent missions could easily be set to appear at level 80, even level 100. This would make the experience for new players much more similar to that which the long term players have had, getting missions over a period of time, not just all at once.

The second thing would be to thread missions in a more logical way. One of the best things for me is the storylines, but often they're broken and disjointed because we often get later "chapters" before we've finished the first one.

We can see Birdie getting engaged to Mae before we've even caught him, we can work on Jack's wedding to someone he met on a journey we haven't finished yet, heck for many Jack's still down a mine... They're all stories that we're reading like an arthouse surreal movie that tries giving us 10 timeframes in one go.

Why not thread these missions like we did in the old days, meaning players new AND old don't feel overwhelmed, let us wait to complete previous missions before getting new ones... Just as most other games do.

It's a MASSIVE start that we'll be having less missions from now on, but that's what it is, a start.

Step Five Four: Bigger Trolley

What's still relevant: This one is still pretty much ALL still relevant so I'm just going to Copy and Paste what I wrote before.

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.

Step Five (New): The Right Bra Size

We all need a helping hand now to be kept up where we should be, and right now the support situation is definitely not ideal.

Before I go too far into what needs to be changed back, lets just take a quick "Devil's Advocate" moment to see WHY Support has bombed so badly recently.

The main problem with Support has been abuse of the system, they're there to be tech support and cover for issues, but if we're honest for many it became more like a charity line.

Pages we now see bemoaning the lack of support were, not that long ago, taking the attitude that Support were there for any little foible and freebie we fancied. Support became somewhere to go if you couldn't be bothered finishing a mission, didn't feel like building something or, sometimes on the worst pages, just because they fancied a freebie.

There have been stories of people spending horseshoes deliberately and then contacting Support just to get them back and get the item for free, stories of people sending a ticket every 2-3 hours for the same issue, even people who contacted support EVERY DAY to get their clicks refunded.

With stories like that and the general "we deserve freebies" attitude that's come from some places there IS some logical understanding of why Support (an expensive setup) had started to become less than helpful.

First we saw them crack down by banning people who were guilty of abuse, becoming much more stingy with refunds and seeing a big cutback on Live Chat.

That was doable, understandable, excusable. It became harder for fair players who'd never abused support but it was still there.

Now though, it's almost impossible to get support when it's actually needed... and something does really need to be done.

I think a good start would be the return of the Support system from the spam-laden and generally complicated Player/Player support system back to the forums from whence they came.

The Forums worked well for support because not only did you have a collective of players who could and would help, but I'd imagine it was also better for Support Staff, threading people with the same complaints into one place, meaning a single answer can suffice, instead of having to individually answer dozens.

It's also so much more interactive, allowing people to really feel they're being helped, when too often on the Player/Player area the only answer is a nasty little spammer with a .tk address and a believable spiel about where to get support (something that's easier to control on the forums as well).

Secondly, as so many "I can't get Support" problems seem to be lost horseshoes why not have a specific online form to report that? It could then collate them all in one place for an agent to check through in one go. They could check to see if the item has been used, or if the person is a serial HS user and if they're ok to be refunded, hit a button and send them back.

I don't think people are even that bothered about getting a REPLY from Support when it comes to HS, just getting them back (or not) is all people really care about.

Good support, even just OK support is a big thing when it comes to customer satisfaction... and right now, folks are pretty uncomfortable.

The End

The changes we've seen since I wrote my original Five Step Plan have, I think, made the game better. They covered some of the points, made changes that almost totally wiped out two steps and have generally shown to everyone recently that they HAVE listened to players and taken notice of concerns.

But there's still a few things they may be able to make things even better, especially Free Gifting and a change to the missions to make new players more likely to STAY playing once they've found the game... because it's good enough to drag you in, but right now may not be good enough to keep you...

But... we've seen good changes so far this year, and that IS something we need to celebrate and gives us hope...

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Randomness - How it works, why it sucks, how it could be fixed

[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.]

Randomness, oh randomness... why do you torment us so?

Randomness, chance, luck, chaos... they're all things that are interwoven deeply into the tapestry of existence, but have never reached such heights of despair as felt by Frontierville/Pioneer Trail players over the last couple months.

The addition of randomness into the game has been, in one fell swoop, the most antagonising game feature in memory. At least with repeats you know what you're getting, at least with Partnering it's workable... but Randomness, you cold-hearted shrew, you cause us pain like never before.

Let me get this part out the way first, I believe randomness and luck can be a fair game mechanic. Most games out there have some element of it, the roll of a dice, the turn of a card, something that just makes it not quite so predictable.

But luck and randomness need to be designed well and balanced well or it tumbles into frustration and unfairness. One player being more lucky than another is ok, we can deal with that... one player being a LOT more lucky starts becoming a grind. The trick with randomness is to make people win just before they reach the point where it's annoying. These days with the random stuff I'd say we're usually waaaaaay past that point.

How it works

To get to the bottom of why it's so infuriating and what could be done, lets actually rip open the casing and see HOW the randomness works. This is how drops are decided and how the random animals are chosen.

Every time the game needs to make a choice it rolls a virtual one of these...

Yes, your eyes don't deceive you, that is a 100 sided dice (this one is on sale here...). It's largely used for roleplay games like Dungeons and Dragons. The surface is ever so slightly pimpled like a golf ball so it'll stop with a number pointing up.

Now, every time we heal a random animal or try for a drop the game rolls this dice and then looks at a little chart to see what number corresponds to what prize, then gives it to you.

So, for example, in the latest random crates a dice roll of 1-40 will get you the tree, 41-70 will get you the sheep and 71-100 will get you the donkey.

The same goes for Collection items, mission drops and things like that elusive Sceptre (hmm, The Elusive Sceptre, if that's not in Dungeons and Dragons it should be...)

Every time we click the game is rolling its digital dice and finding us a number.

Why it sucks

Here's the problem, Zynga are picking their numbers like an engineer with too much logic. The roll rates for the Prank Crate above would SUGGEST it's as near as makes no difference a 1 in 3 roll with a slight bias towards the tree.

But that's not how the world works. To take a very small example I just flipped a coin (a 50p piece if you want full disclosure). That should be a simple 1 in 2 chance of being heads or tails but in fact it went tails, tails, heads, tail, tails. I know, I know, that's a incredibly small test group but it goes to show that the world doesn't like to play by the rules.

It's not 1 in 3, it's 30 in 100, and that really does make a difference. If I have 3 boxes in front of me and one contains a million pounds I'd consider my chances quite good at finding riches. If there's 100 boxes in front of me and 30 contain a million, I'd be pretty sure I'd find one of the empty 70.

We also have to remember that the game doesn't have a memory. When people talk about drop rates of 1 in 10 the game isn't counting, it won't think to itself "they've not had the Sceptre in 9 tries so this time they will", it's just as tied into luck and chaos as the rest of us.

I truly think Zynga DO think their drop rates will work as advertised, but engineering and mathematics don't work right in the real world.

Randomness works on a bell curve, but right now the number on the far right is just far, FAR too big for some.

How it could be fixed

There's two ways the whole Randomness thing could be sorted, well, actually three if you count just never doing it again but as I said at the start, I don't mind a little bit of randomness if it's fair, balanced and fun. There is a bit of fun in the thought of opening something and getting a random item inside, but that gets leeched out when we're having to do as many as we can to get them all.

Option 1 - Smaller Numbers

This one follows on from the explanation above and is pretty simple. USE SMALLER DICE!

Say we still need the Donkey from the prank crate. every time we roll the 100 sided dice there are 70 chances for us to NOT get it. Each roll is brand new, by the law of averages it's even possible someone can open 5 Prank Crates and get the SAME failing number each time.

So, instead, roll smaller dice. Roll a 10 sided dice and there's only 7 "losing" numbers we could hit, not 70. A mathematician might argue there's no difference, but they tend to work in absolutes, the simple logical answer is the less sides to the dice, the more chance of getting what you want because there's less variables.

Option 2 - Limits

The really simple answer would seem to be to give us caps and limits on what can appear. When we have random animals, code it that each animal can only have 3-5 on the homestead before the game ignores it and rolls again. We still get randomness, but nobody ends up doing insane amounts.

I think people would be more pleasantly disposed to the randomness if they knew there was a maximum amount.

"Yes, the most frogs you'll need to grow is seven, then you'll have them all for sure." - an answer most people would probably be fine hearing... but having people doing 20-30 of these items is just infuriating.

The Random things aren't BAD, just badly designed... and could be made better if you really have to keep doing them.

Monday 4 March 2013

Do You Have A Receipt?

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

Let's be honest, sometimes we get given things that are... just not us.

Argyll socks. A home knitted jumper with something on the front that could either be a rearing horse, a velociraptor or a cast member of Saw V. The Greatest Hits of Barry Manilow played on nose flute and bagpipe.

We smile, we nod and then we send a neutral family member on a mission to secretly find out where they bought it so we can trade it off in the morning.

Well, that's what were finding a lot in the game right now, up to date players who try to help neighbours who are struggling end up with items they don't need, Players who are struggling or trying to complete old missions find themselves getting gifts they can't use until some time in the future.

Here's some Lavender, batteries not included and the stores don't open for a week.

So, what can be done? Step up one of the most maligned characters on the homestead...

Yes, Jacques, dear Jacques. Trading post manager, priest and all round pain in the posterior.

So, my little French Canadian friend, I think it's time for you to work...

Here's the premise, we get a mission thread, could be to do with gifting and trading, might not be but it does involve Jacques.

At the end of that, just as recent mission threads have given us Hank, Ted and Doc having actions, this one will use and abuse Jacques and his trading post. Once the missions are complete, he gains a new menu item "Gift Exchange".

This takes you to his gift exchange screen where the magic happens. With the first option selected, every gift you receive and send back to neighbours works as normal. If a neighbour sends you Baby Carrots and you click to receive and send it back, you get Baby Carrots, and they get Baby Carrots.

But, what if you DON'T want them? Well, then you pick one of the other options on the gift exchange screen. Options that are picked by the game looking through your open missions and seeing what you need. So if you've got a muddy animal on your stead, it'll show Lavender  if you've got the recent Companions build stage open that requires a drop from Yellow Essence Labs, they'll be there too.

So, say you want that elusive Lavender  you simply tick that option and go collect your gifts from the envelope as usual, everything your neighbours have sent, you send back one of those, as normal.

BUT, then, when you close the envelope, up pops Jacques to tell you everything you accepted has now been exchanged for Lavender!

So your neighbours get what they want, you get what you want, Zynga get the same amount of social clicks on gifting, everyone goes home happy!

And because you can switch the system on and off at will as many times as you want if there's stuff in your envelope you DO want, you can set it to Off, and you can even change it during collecting so half your gifts could be Lavender and half could be something else.

Then finally, gifting might become 100% useful for everyone, and not a race to see who can request what they need first...

Saturday 2 March 2013

New Facebook Designs On Their Way

As you know we try to keep you updated on Facebook news as well as game news because... well, it affects us just as much! I've decided to post it here instead of the main news feed because it verges on the nerdy.

See, Facebook, Oh Facebook of the Many Changes, looks like it's changing again...

First up we're getting a new News Feed, the main homepage. There's a press event to show it off this coming Thursday so we'll hopefully get a bit more news and be able to show you what it's like after that (strangely we weren't on the press mailing list, I can only think an oversight...)

Image Credit: The Next Web
Current rumours are the feed will become a lot less text based and a lot more image based, so we'll see bigger pictures to try and... spice it up.

Whether that will help or hinder us, only Facebook knows, it's been quite totalitarian over trying to hide more games content lately, but I guess as long as they don't remove the Game specific feeds then it might even be a GOOD thing! (Look, be positive, statistically even Facebook can make good changes, if only by accident.)

Our own space

Second up is that they're testing new Timeline/Profile designs in New Zealand (their traditional guinea pig country) that are actually more of a step in the retro direction back to the older designs.

The first change will be at the top, instead of the old design that we see now...

We'll see things made a bit more minimalist, with our names and action buttons moved into the header image and a new set of smaller, image-less menus slotted in where it was, meaning the actual new stuff on our profiles like Statuses and game posts are closer to the top of the page when you load. The about section is moved entirely, more on that in a minute.

But, I hear you say, but how will the PAGE look, well, thanks to this image from ReadWrite we can see (click for bigger)

Image Credit: ReadWrite
As you can see, in a step back to the olden golden days all our statuses, posts, links etc are now in one single column down the centre of the page, no more zig-zagging from left to right.

Instead, the left hand side is now  topped off with the About section and then uses more social items, a bigger set of photos, our likes, our favourites... it basically becomes a billboard of us. That means we might hopefully find game posts easier because some of the more random boxes that clutter the Timeline will all be squeezed off into the left.

What we have to remember is that although Timeline got the rap for hiding game posts, it was never really to blame, Facebook were going to do it anyway, Timeline was just the convenient time. We've seen a much smaller precedence for Game posts over the last year or so, perhaps because Facebook are worried they're becoming a gaming platform more than a social network and spammy game could drive away people who simply want to keep in touch.

So whether this will suddenly take us back to the olden days of every post showing up is debatable  probably highly unlikely... but you never know, it certainly doesn't look like it's making anything worse.

Saturday 16 February 2013

The Quest for Equal Play

[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.]

Dear Zynga, we need to talk. Grab a chocolate hobnob, a cup of the beverage of your choice and a seat on the sofa.

It's been confirmed that the different drops of Squeekies from the Cuddly Kitty Corral is predetermined and different for players and that this is programmed.

I have a bit of a problem with this and it's the same as the problem I have with cheating.

People don't necessarily want a quick game or an easy game, all we ask is a fun game and, most important here, a fair game.

We understand that making too much stuff free can impact the game and impact how good it is for you as a business. But on the other hand the ability to get the growth items from the building has helped make a generally disliked game mechanic (the partnering) more palatable for the players.

By creating an arbitrary tiered "class system" for players it makes the game unfair and unbalanced. It causes friction between players and between the players and yourselves.

It's also made one of least popular features even more worse, not necessarily in gameplay terms but just the feeling it's given everyone, even those lucky ones in the top tier (and, full disclosure, I am one of the lucky ones and I'm still vexed).

Often a good feature isn't made or broken by the feature itself but on out feelings ABOUT the feature.

Making people feel players are being treated unfairly in such an extreme way as this, unbalancing the game, will simply add another reason to instinctively hate these partnering missions, whether they're good or not.

If you have to limit it make the building unboostable and give it a 2-4 hour turnaround or make it a random drop. OK, people won't get everything they need but you still get your posts, and at least it gives a silver lining to the Partner Cloud for players.

Make it none, make it one, make it three, but whatever you do make it EQUAL.

I think most players would agree that we expect good missions and bad missions, different strokes for different folks. But, good or bad, we also expect them to be fair and balanced for everyone.

Monday 4 February 2013

A Quick Award Ceremony...

As we've now been around for two years I thought it might be fun to have a little dig through the last two years in a nostalgic fug and see if I could pick out the best and worst moments of the last two years in the game, in my opinion.

Worst Building

It's fair to say sometimes, just sometimes, either the developers or the art department have... well, lets be generous and call it a blip. This award looks at those moments where things just don't go quite right.


Holiday Hall - The buildings that store buildings are awesome, we will all agree, but sometimes they're just a leeeetle bit pointless.

The Holiday Hall stored all those buildings from certain events on the Homestead, Halloween, Christmas, 4th July etc. The problem here is that other than two of them they were all storable in the shed and we all did, because they were largely useless with no great rewards.

Had the Holiday Hall been slightly smaller than, say, an ocean going liner it might have been alright, but with the Hall being about twice the size of the only buildings we really cared about storing in it this one was about as successful as Bess' eharmony profile.


Ferris Wheel - Some folks said it was anachronistic but actually they had Ferris Wheels in Pioneer Times, so that's not why it's on this list, it's more just about the building itself and the story that surrounded it.

First up, we're meant to make our child safe by having them ride something made by Hank. Hank.

I don't think I would trust my child sitting on a stool made by Hank, let alone high up in the air in a Ferris Wheel, unless of course they take a really extreme view of facing your fears over there.

The other big factor was it was a building with no actual use beyond this one mission thread, and the mission thread had no use but to build the wheel, the whole thing just stuck you in ever decreasing circles of uselessness.


Detective Office - Where on earth do I start?

Do we start with Finkerton looking like an axe murderer? (He and Jacques could make a good Pioneer-era Saw movie) How about the ugly green colour we couldn't change? Maybe it's the largely broken mechanic and the collection reward of a "pair of footprints".

No, I think it was the animation in the window at the back. If you've had your building hidden and have a strong constitution just take it out and take a peek, it's been known to make weak players faint.

I guess it was meant to be a sneaky detective fluttering the curtains to peek out. Instead, when you added it to the grim looking Finkerton stood out front you instead imagined a victim dressed in rags trying desperately to get aid for their strife by sending "help, I've been kidnapped and imprisoned by a psychotic detective and forced to make him tea" in morse code with their blinking.

Best Building

Of course, whether it's graphics or use, they get it right sometimes as well...


Ranch - The Ranch is easily my favourite looking building, that's as clear as I can be. It works to open up a ton of space storing buildings, it wasn't onerous to build and it's gorgeous.

The look of it is so perfectly Frontier, the horse out front, the spinning windmill, the barn... You look at the Ranch and you see it on a Frontier homestead, which really is the best we can ask for.


Saloon - Ahh, the Saloon. Drinks, barmaids, a curvaceous nude painting over the bar... The thing about the Saloon is we can ALL see inside it even though we never really do.

Every western movie from a John Wayne special to Carry On Cowboy has themselves a Saloon, as does any book, video game or TV show. The corner design, the upstairs rail with some special rooms inside, the saloon doors... it's all so familiar it leaves a warm and loving feeling in our eyeballs.

Of course, the fact we can concoct drinks also helps...


Library - Ah yes, on the subject of boosts.... The Library just has to get a mention here. It's an attractive building (although now stores) but the greatness of the Library has to be in those wonderful book boosts you can craft inside it.

How many extra drops have folks got over time thanks to those magical doublers? Potentially the best boosts around and we wouldn't have them without the Library.

Worst Missions

If you've ever woken up at night in cold sweats thinking about a nightmare mission, it was probably one of these...


Canning - Right, lets start with one of the most iconic and remembered mission threads.

Here's the difficulty with Canning. It took the food.

That seems like a really simple thing and oh well never mind, but remember it's the food and the energy that it buys that keeps us all playing the game. Canning was a little like making us go through a whole heap of work just to remove our ability to do a whole heap of work...


Tape - Tape. Just Tape. Do I need to say any more? No, didn't think so.


Prize Pairings - You know that annoying person in work who picks up any meme, TV catchphrase or joke and rattles it off... Every. Single. Moment.

That's the partnering missions, something that started as a nice idea, and has swiftly degenerated into something that grates on the nerves like the latest American Idol single and is as discomfiting as horsehair underpants.

Each thread taken on it's own is ok, the general idea of growing a prize animal is a good one... but it's a harsh lesson to any game developer. A good idea executed well will still be hated once you've flogged the donkey off it...


Chilli - Let's be honest, even Heston Blumenthal couldn't create a chilli that uses 954 items, which was the amount of required requests for the Family Reunion missions, more commonly known as the Chilli missions.

In the time it took to complete these missions I could have gone to cookery school, specialised in chilli, created my own supreme chilli recipe, started a chain of chilli cafes, sold them to Starbucks and blown my new found fortune on wine, women and song.


Barter Office - Was anything ever more disingenuous than the Barter Depot? We heard Barter Depot and got all excited at the prospect of being able to trade things with neighbours or the game and swap things around that we needed.

Instead, it was a 1016 to 1696 item craftathon where everything we made and bartered for just ended up being something else we would use to barter with ad nauseum.

Even the REWARD we received at the end, the Victorian House, actually needed us to build it by going through the whole tedious "bartering" procedure again and again... In my eyes, easily the worst missions we've ever had.

Best Missions

It could be requirements, or storyline, or reward... but some mission threads become more memorable and just better than others.


Canning - Right, lets start with one of the most iconic and remembered mission threads... OK, deja vu much?

Let's accept that taking the food made Canning a really bad mission. But then, once you realised you could buy the requirement with just one Horseshoe and keep your food, the whole thing changed and it just became a mission of true homesteading, plating, harvesting, tending, tracking down what animals gave what food...

There's a certain irony that after being so reviled before more and more times these days we see people harking back to it with rose tinted specs, and wishing for another mission like it.


Cattle Drive - I know, I have placed a set of repeatable missions in the best missions set... let me explain my apparent insanity.

"I hate repeatables" has become something of a mantra for Frontierville players, but this was a set of missions that changed a lot of people's minds. Once you stopped the knee jerk to the R word it became clear the missions were actually (whisper it)... nice.

Although the final one was iffy (how many people knew what alfalfa was before these?) they were generally not bad missions, and soon a new mantra arrived... "I'd rather do a good mission three times than a bad mission once."

I can honestly say I would rather get the Cattle Drive missions all over again than the Barter Depot!


Kissing Tree - The Kissing Tree gave us a lot of new stuff. It gave us romance, it gave us interaction where we could pick a storyline, it gave us the chance to be a real controller of destiny.

Of course, we all know how it ended with Hank getting Fanny, but that feeling of interaction and control meant something, we had a hand in our own game, even for a short time.


Prairie Pox - How often have we seen "this isn't realistic, this wouldn't have happened in the Frontier." Well, this was VERY realistic...

The wild frontier, a ravaging illness and the desperate need to get cured by building a Doctor's Office and getting good 'ol Doc Auburn in to help.

Mission wise these were basic, but storyline wise, it really was as true to Frontier life as any game would be. Plus they looked fun while sick, it made you connect to your avatar and WANT to heal them!


Make Believe - I'm going to finish off with one of the most recent mission threads, and one of the best.

The recent Make Believe missions had a great storyline, a fairly gentle set of requirements and fairly nice rewards... so what's not to like? That's as simple as I can say it, everything about the missions was enjoyable to do, they were a thread i almost regretted was over.

But in it's excellence the Make Believe series does open up a question. How often will we get this kind of thread?

I think it's fair to say that a lot of people would be happy with more Make Believe series of missions, but is that what we'll see? Or will we get more partnering missions?

Will we continue to see requesting at a doable level or will something like the Barter Depot rear it's head again. Will we see threads the players would like to see, more of the Best than the Worst?

Let's hope so, because above all the Make Believe thread gave the page and the game a generally positive feeling for a while, and it's a feeling I enjoyed.

Saturday 19 January 2013

Players Wanna Play...

 [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.]

You know, not a lot in the game frustrates me, I tend to follow the teachings of one of the greatest spiritual minds of our time, the Dalai Alpaca.

This is after all a game, it's what we do for fun and if there's a problem...well, it'll be fixed soon enough.

But the one thing that frustrates me is when the game actively goes out of it's way to stop me playing it...

What I'm talking about is incessant and pointless popups, especially when we first load up the game.

It's a weird vagary of my mind that I'm long-term patient, if something will take a month or two then I'm fine. I am however SHORT-TERM impatient, when I load the game, I want to PLAY the game, not be bombarded with things I just close automatically.

When I loaded the game this morning I had around 7 windows I had to close before I could even begin to plan what I wanted to do on my homestead.

They ranged from the Carnival Games Manager randomly appearing despite having nothing in (Zen gaming?)... the USELESS free gifting that tries to make me send a naff little lunch to my friends... mission posts and even a number of build stages, most annoyingly of all the Ice Pond build which then drags you to the far reaches of your stead to look at the building you've been ordered to complete.

I think it's fair to say most of us are incredibly aware of our active missions and builds, to the point of obsession and nervous twitching, so what is the thinking behind this? Do you REALLY think you're giving helpful reminders (you're not) or are you hoping to just guilt and annoy us into finishing stuff or hurry up on it just so we have a more pleasant time in the game?

We GET that you're a business and we'll have Horseshoe Sales and stuff when we load, even cross promos we understand, that's life and we're playing a free game.

But there is very little reward for making us sit through and close a half dozen screens that are nothing less than an overbearing, officious, fun leeching version of Fanny telling us if we haven't done our homework we don't get dessert...

Seriously Zynga, there's frustration and delays enough being a Frontiersperson, let the players play.

Sunday 13 January 2013

My Frontierville Homestead - UPDATED

[I last posted this on 11th September 2011 so it's fair to say it needed an update!]

A little look inside the Frontierville mind of me...

As you can see, I lean towards realism with my homestead, there's very few daft animals (NO clothed ones!) or decorations as I really can't be having with dressed chickens or rings of fire. I also like having a nice thick forest around the back and some debris around just for realism (and it REALLY helps when needing bears...).

You might notice there's some buildings missing, they're either stored or deleted. If I don't like the look of a building or it doesn't feel right it's gone, Detectives Office is deleted, Pet Shop/Kennel is stored. It also counts for upgrades, I didn't like the look of the upgraded Inn or School so bam, back to basics on them!

So, here it is, the Homestead of me... (Click the picture for a high resolution version)

As you can see, my OCD has split the stead into areas! (I know, the things I spend my life doing...)

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Building on Buildings...

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

Recently space has become a hot topic. We know soon an Animal Hospital Upgrade is coming so those with various special animals coming out their ears will find more space, and also at least one land expansion.

But what about building storage?

Personally I think one of my highlights in 2012 was the invention of the Building Storage Building, or "Streets"  to give them their in house name.

Not only did they open up space but they were all wonderfully designed, I still think the Ranch is one of my favourite buildings for it's look and just the frontiersyness of it, if I had a Frontier town, the Ranch might be the one building I looked at first and thought... yup, I want THAT!

Still love it!
But, since they were brought out, we've seen more buildings that could, perhaps should go inside them. So this is my idea... We have a new mission thread for building storage, but NOT a new building.

Let's be honest, the ones we've got are nice enough but sooner or later we'll end up with something that doesn't work as well, as a design on a Frontier town.

So, instead of having a five mission thread with a building attached, make it a SIX mission thread with SIX buildings attached...

Each mission is the thread is do a couple homestead tasks... and expand on one of our building storage buildings.

The Ranch to now hold our Prize Animal buildings, Show Pen and the Combine Harvester. The Civic Centre to hold our Fire Station and Wagon. The Holiday Hall, expanded to hold the Snowball Fort. The Works to hold our Glassworks and Leatherworks. The Stately Estate can take the Quilting Station and Hanks Climbing Wall. The Emporium expanded to hold the Barter Office and the Bakery...

...I'm sure there's more we could slot in various places, that's just off the top of my head. The only thing I know is tricky is buildings with characters attached like the Shaman Lodge, the Barbecue or the Habitat.

So each building just gets a single new 6 item build, an upgrade to it's current level, and that adds more buildings in the same way as each previous upgrade during each buildings' own thread opened up more space...

So for example... Mission One:

Feed 50 non-rideable horses
Collect 10 Horsefeed (drops from Oats)
Expand the Ranch (a single build stage)

Yes, it would be a big mission thread, but if that was the ONLY thing we had that week, I think the rewards outweigh the length, just like the expansion missions are hard, but worth it for the extra land.

From the other angle Zynga still get what they need, requests, interaction and social stuff.

Course, I don't know how easy it would be to do... but hey, that's why it's my imagination, I can do ANYTHING in my imagination... ;) *flies off like Superman to save a damsel in distress from 42 small but extremely annoying dragons of every colour but the ONE she wants...*

Saturday 5 January 2013

If You Build it...

...They will get rather excited.

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

Folks, it's been a while since I got my imagination out in public, so I decided it would be an interesting way to start the year.

So, with that in mind, along with an idea I had earlier, I thought I would introduce you to the Red Dog Construction Company!

This band of intrepid jobbing builders are renowned among the Frontier and so in demand their services only come up now and again, and their list of employment conditions are around a mile long...

First up they'd insist on a palatial and well constructed Red Dog Construction Company office... because they like to make other people do some building before they do.

This will be a long building to make but, like the Expansion missions which are long but rewarding, this one might just perk you up.

So, once the building is up and the long mission thread is done, what happens next?

Well, you hire the builders of course...

This is my thoughts on the age old arguments of buildings taking too long and there being far more coins than anyone knows what to do with, eventually you can only melt down so much for statues of Fanny.

See, the Red Dog Construction Company bring their own resources, and they work QUICK... but, on the other hand, they're also expensive, but all they care about is cold hard coins.

So, once the RDCC Office is up, you click it, select the option to "build..." and get this screen...

Yes, it's a list of all your unfinished buildings and a COIN price to finish the current stage of the build. The price could be linked to how much you have left to get , so the more items you've collected yourself, the cheaper the purchase price.

Once you've bought your upgrade the RDCC are FAST and will get the building done instantly... although choose wisely, you only get one each time...

As I said earlier, the RDCC are much in demand and once they've finished a building project they have to travel on so will be unavailable for a while, but never fear, in somewhere between a fortnight and a month they'll be back and ready to go again!

On the player side we get to clear some old buildings where people don't need the stuff any more, and dump some coinage.

On Zynga's side they get happier players with one less thing to worry about, and by setting reasonable prices and with a longish timer it shouldn't impact the gameplay that much or adversely affect what Z get from it, remember we can't wipe out requesting and the other social aspects, we need to compromise...

I guess imagining fictional building companies and dog logos in day-glo waistcoats might be abnormal... it's just what the game does to you...