As I continue my journey into Facebook games I recently took up CityVille. As the new kid on the block in November 2011 and touted as FarmVille meets Sim City, it quickly became the biggest Facebook game. With three months behind it, CityVille is still the most popular game by some margin (despite seeing a small decline over the past month). Is it really that good? What makes it so addictive?

Sim City but on Facebook, apparently

The short answer to the first question is… no, not really. It is your usual God Sim, managing resources and building a city. By “city” it is more a village/hamlet size, but anyway… You then have a variety of quests to complete to provide a little variety to the proceedings. You then have your usual Facebook social network integration to “play” with all your friends.

Buildings come in several different forms; Housing, Businesses, Decorations, Farming, Shipping and Community. Housing is self explanatory with the population limit dictated by the amount of Community Buildings that you have. There’s also a variety of different business to provide income and those require goods so you need Farming and Shipping. One neat little things that CityVille does is let you pick your own business names. Naturally I’ve been nice and mature with my names. I’ve not used inuendo or just plain offensive names at all. So you have the makings of a nice little economy system. It may not be as sophisticated as City of Wonder but it is much simpler to understand, become accustomed to and manage. A good start!

Clicking on buildings and alike all requires energy. This can substantially break the flow of building an economy. Personally I feel this is a frustrating experience compared to City of Wonder where you can complete everything in one quick session. Buildings all have timers before you can claim the next cash/goods so this adds very little to the gameplay. I can see two reasons why they have done this. The first is to keep you coming back. By making it hard to manage your town in one quick session, you will have to log in several times a night if you want to develop it. Secondly it encourages you to purchase energy, which believe me they aren’t shy about communicating to you.

Spam town

This leads me neatly onto one of my biggest gripes with CityVille… spam. When clicking on a building you get a little items for coins/goods, XP and sometimes a collection as well to click on and collect. If you click on several of these quickly then it fills up a combo meter then gives you bonuses, although thankfully missing them still adds to your total, just without the bonus. As a result you are encouraged to spam your heart out clicking on buildings then all the rewards that they give you. Unfortunately this leads to popups as you will no doubt have unfinished Community Buildings about (more on that later) to accidently click on and when you run out of energy TWO messages can appear to inform you about getting more energy. I’m level 35 already… quit telling me that I can get more energy via X, Y, Z and let me collect my rewards! Completing Collections also leads to annoying popups, along with quests and alike. I despise popups and anything that takes away my focus when completing an action/task. There are a host of more discrete and tbh, useful, means of communicating this information but CityVille instead chooses the attitude of “SPAM! I AM IN YOUR FACE WITH SPAM!”.

Calm down. Breathe. Ahhhh. Anyway, where was I?

CityVille wants you to spam your friends with requests

There is a heavy reliance on your friends in CityVille. Community Buildings are essential to the growth of your town/city they provide the limit for your population. These all require sending requests out to your friends. Personally I really dislike this. For a good while I avoided Facebook purely because the constant requests were an annoyance and now to enjoy a game I am expected in inflict that on others. Pfffft. It also puts a dependancy on your friends to be reliable… and for you to have friends! (Not that friend counts in FB mean anything -_-). I’m finding myself often at a bottleneck in my town simply because out of my rather high number of FB friends (which believe me, isn’t accurate of real life… otherwise I’d never afford a round!) only a handful play FB games at all. Then most of those that are on CityVille are fed up of it by now. Great! I can see why over 5 million people quit it this month… no doubt 5 million more soon. It does also explain why it became so popular. You can’t progress without friends so you have to spam everyone into signing up.

Of course you can always pay cash to finish these early, the same for quests, however maybe its just me but paying $3 to add 300 capacity to your CityVille population seems not only sad but a rip off. Guess it works though! >_<

So what else is there? Simply building new businesses, houses and harassing your friends won’t make a game so popular. Quests provide different focuses for you, such as specific houses, business and decorations to build. Initially they do help you get started quite nicely, providing a framework to play. After that much more of them require input from your friends. This leads to the same dilema as Community Buildings. Do I ask my friends or pay cash to complete these? I chose option three, ignore them and bemoan the screen space that they are wasting.

Minor rewards make Collections relatively meaningless

Quests often have a basic plot based around various characters such as Rita and her farm or Andre the fussy baker. Unfortunately that is pretty much the depth of the plots and characters, which provides you very little motivation to complete the tasks especially when the rewards are pretty feeble.

Another element of CityVille that provides you with rewards is the Collections systems. As I mentioned earlier, some of the items that you get from businesses are part of Collections. There are about twenty or so of these collections, each requiring 5 items. Completing them yields you epic rewards such as 25 coins and 3 XP or even a cow! There’s a wish list system incase you are dying to get a reward, but that is unlikely. To be honest I doubt that I’ve ever received or sent an item for a wishlist yet. I’ve seen much better implementations of this, for example National Treasures. Its very rare that the rewards are of any use and just seem to add to the clutter.

So I’ve rambled on quite a bit here and it is probably time to wrap it up. As a game, there CityVille contains a lot of flaws and there are better games out there. The concept is pretty good, but hardly original or well implemented (although it does look polished). On merit it certainly does not deserve its success. However through clever little hooks it keeps you active and coerces you into getting your friends playing. CityVille is essentially using peer pressure to up its user base.

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