FarmVille is arguably the most popular sandbox title in the world. We've defined "sandbox" a million times on this site, but it's easy to see just how open and flexible FarmVille is. Is it limited to the confines of its unique set of tools and designs? Of course, but so is every sandbox.
FarmVille has successfully introduced the wonders of sandbox gaming to people who might never give a similarly described game a chance.
The games also allow players to spam Facebook friends for help or to brag about recent achievements, in most cases because participants haven't taken the time to tweak Facebook's settings or click "no" when asked to share. There's the debate over whether or not FarmVille gameplay consists of anything more than a click or two, but it's not as though every other MMO or single-player game is much more than just a few clicks. We should really avoid counting the clicks and judging a game based on that. If we did, there would be many fantastic games that would fall under FarmVille's umbrella.
"As a game, FarmVille is brilliant. I love the fact that I am able to enjoy it in only a few minutes, and a few clicks, per day."
Instead the farms that players own and work on with other players will be dependent on real-life mechanics and will work in a real-life time frame, albeit sped up a bit. There is a sweet spot between taking too much time to do something and speeding players through a few minutes of play, so testing will be extensive. If I plant a vine that in real life might take several weeks to flower, in my game it will take several days at least, depending on the in-game weather. I'll spruce things up by setting the game on an alien planet, a made-up world with its own unique weather patterns and cycles. Wurm Online is a great example of what I am going for.
That's the brilliant thing about FarmVille-style energy mechanics: They represent doing something that you might do in real life. If you owned a farm, you would check on it several times a day. If you work, you lose energy. Simple mechanic, simple outcome. In my game, a player will enjoy the fruits of her labor -- literally -- when she travels with bundles of goods to a market to trade with others. The only combat in my world will be the players versus the environment, literally... systems like weather and erosion, all represented by systems that are easy to understand.
This same simple approach to design can make players feel immersed if the planet is not quite Earth-like and activities are set to a cycle that is not quite like the one we are used to on this planet. Really, though, the design is nothing new or overly original, just like FarmVille. The reason it works is because it touches on the same ethic that drives many of us, causing us to do repetitive things like daily quests, weekly raiding, and yes, checking on our FarmVille crops. Gamers enjoy repetition -- some seem to need it.
"Like FarmVille, my game will hopefully tap into player creativity. For many FarmVille players, that little cartoon farm represents an identity, the same as music or movie choices explain who we are."
FarmVille and other games teach us that players are willing to check in to a simple farm or project several times a day and might spend a lot of money to help them along the way if the game provides enough reason to do so. My game, like FarmVille, doesn't need to be overly complicated and can offer players a wide range of choices. The difference will be that my game takes farming to more realistic heights, sets it in some alien place, makes energy an occasional stopping point but offers other activities for players to participate in when energy runs out, and keeps players connected and socializing like we are supposed to be in an MMO. How will the game make its money? The usual, smart way: by selling customization and slight buffs to gameplay, like pills that help players slow down aging and that tune up experience gain.
I wish players would remember to separate FarmVille and other Zynga games from Zynga itself. Whatever you think of the developer, no one can deny that its set of games has changed gaming forever and encouraged many people to play who would never have done so before. And as I have hopefully shown, Zynga has introduced us to some very simple and fun mechanics that can be utilized in many different ways. The developer did not invent energy or stamina in any way, but it popularized them as mechanics. Now, with this new game, I hope to use it for a better title.
Have you ever wanted to make the perfect MMO, an idealistic compilation of all your favorite game mechanics? MMO Blender aims to do just that. Join the Massively staff every Friday as we put our ideas to the test and create either the ultimate MMO... or a disastrous frankengame!