I had thought following last week’s post about Farmville and Social/ Facebook Games, that I should really put my money where my mouth is and try one. So I want to talk a bit about that experience. And I’d suggest reading this alongside The Ancient Gaming Noob’s account of his time with Farmville (he had a much happier time with it).
1. Pick Your Game
I had originally intended to go with Farmville, because 80 million people can’t be wrong. But actually what happened was that I logged into Facebook, checked over my feed and saw a couple of game notifications for friends who were playing different games.
So I decided I might as well pick a game that was also played by someone I vaguely know (by this I mean the wife of one of my husband’s old friends from college, who now lives in another continent, and who I haven’t seen for at least a year, plus she really really annoyed one of my gay friends by being a jerk about his boyfriend …. this is what passes for a close friend on Facebook, incidentally*.)
Hence, Zoo World, which is a variation of Theme Park which involves collecting animals in your zoo, together with other attractions (such as food kiosks) and trying to make a profit. You can either buy animals with the local currency or breed them. Plus you can swap animals with your friends, and sometimes lost wandering animals will turn up which you can offer to your friends for adoption.
The game also has a strong achievement list and will walk you through your first few days by telling you at all times what achievement you should aim for next. e.g. Breed stuff, buy more stuff, get X visitors to your zoo, earn X dollars per day in your zoo. This turns out to be a very decent way to organise a tutorial and I rather like it. It’s like a to-do list.
2. Onwards to daily click quests
There is a flash page under Visit Zoo which lets you look around your zoo and see virtual people wandering around, click the trees (each one gives one coin per day) or do other sim type stuff like setting the admission price. When you breed animals, you are given a schedule for when the new baby will be born and how often it needs to be fed.
If the baby is not fed on time, it will get sick. Mine failed to be fed on time a lot because I just don’t care enough, so they spent a lot of time sick. Apparently they don’t actually die though. Whenever you do log on you can spend more game currency to make them better.
I believe the game also posts to your friends list when one of your animals gets sick so that they can make it better for you. So if you are lazy and have a load of animal loving friends, they can pretty much play the time critical elements of the game for you.
This was a message in my friends feed from a friend who plays Zoo World. It informs me that her Emerald Tree Boa was born just 16 hours ago. It is cold, lonely and will get sick soon without any food. Baby wants to grow up big and strong some day and just needs a little help getting started.
Well fuck that for the most blatently and pathetically manipulative messaging I had all day. Remember these games are popular with women. Could it say ‘X is a bad mother and so are you if you don’t feed this virtual animal’ any more clearly? Maybe it’s because I don’t have kids that I’m immune to this shtick, but anyone who does will tell you about the constant pressure to be a good mother AND to prove it.
This was where I decided I couldn’t be bothered any more. I’m all for art affecting me emotionally but I’ll stick to books, films, music, and games that are well written and were made by people who loved them, not over-marketised pap.
3. And by the way, SPEND MORE MONEY
The game also is very keen that you should know that you can spend real money on it. There are ‘deals of the day’, featured items, rare animals (ultra rare blue elephant, only $1.99!!!), as well as special offers when you buy wildlife points in bulk.
It is easy enough to click away the pop up windows. I don’t imagine that it’s essential to buy stuff, at least not at the early stages, but presumably it will help a lot when you get to higher level achievements.
Similarly, if you enjoy breeding animals, watch out. The first few animals you get to breed are cheap and easy to collect. After that, they start with the more expensive ones. And presumably later on, animals that require you to spend real money. So the free and easy achievements are sweeteners, leading directly into goals which will cost you either more time and effort, or cash.
Plus of course, the inevitable tied offers.
4. And stuff for your friends
While you are on the games’ site, you will also occasionally get pop up windows with offers for your friends. All you have to do is agree to post the offer to your wall or friends list. I’m neutral to this (although it is a bit spammy) – if you have a lot of friends who play then it’s probably terrific.
Summary: It’s really not the great satan of gaming
OK, so to sum up, the game isn’t awful. As a zoo theme park simulation, it works fine. You get to lay out your theme park, buy or breed new animals, set prices and work out how to get more virtual visitors through the door.
It is transparently designed to encourage players to involve others on their friends list and to spend money. Neither of these is compulsory but they will keep asking.
I did notice while playing that it made me think differently about my friends list. I was thinking ‘who might also play this game and want to exchange animals with me?’ – so you kind of feel encouraged to value those friends who will play more highly than the ‘useless ones’ who won’t. (Note: I am a really useless friend for facebook games, since I barely log in at all!)
And just as I was wrapping up, feeling that I’d understood some of the appeal but was put off by the sheer blatency of the whole thing, plus my lack of caring enough to log on religiously every few hours to feed baby virtual animals, I took another look at my friends list.
A game where I get to help someone activate a nuke?! Now that’s more like it!!
* I did not make this up.