CityVille recently introduced a new bandits system, revamping the police station and providing a new means to utilise your friends list.
The other week I read an article making the point that most social games aren’t actually social and I quite agree, at least with those part of the social networking market. Whilst you can’t get the same social feel of many full release titles due to their asynchronous play, there is still room for improvement. The current social interaction is pretty much limited to helping with requests & gifting items, making a contribution with Franchises and visiting other people’s cities. My issue with visiting your neighbours cities is that you are rewarded equally, so is the motivation to assist your friends or yourself. No doubt the latter. However I do feel that Franchises are certainly a genuinely social aspect.
When I heard that bandits were coming my initial impressions were “not another ask your friends feature” and given the requirements were several items obtained via friends, my skepticism seemed spot on. Now you don’t need these items (bit frustrating as I picked upgrading my police station with the items in my inventory over completing other community buildings), which is a step forward.
My first time viewing a completed screen was actually someone else playing and I was quite impressed. Seeing people from the player’s friends list pottering around the city was quite cool and it gave the impression that this was a real development into truely social gameplay. I became quite excited about the potential of having bakers, doctors, teachers, ice cream vans and of course police pottering about my city based on the franchises of my friends and their positions within community buildings. It would mean that neighbours and accepting those job requests would have a visual impact, especially if gameplay utilises people being part of the city.
Anyway, lets get back to the implementation. The bandits feature of course has your friends pottering about as cops and there are occassionally bandits appearing within your city after you have collected from businesses. Clicking on these will result in your friend’s cop arresting them. There are a variety of bandits to arrest, each with their own colourful name, rewards and a form of progression. Pretty neat eh?
Of course Zynga aren’t going to stop there. Cops get tired after an arrest so they need a donut to get back on their action. These are acquired via either 5 cash, require friends to help or waiting a rather substantial 72 hours. This disappointed me somewhat. Zynga have made an interesting and promising move to integrate your neighbours into the game, however in the end it is no more than yet another feature that centres around requests. I guess that sums up CityVille all too well.
I do appreciate the need to monetise the game, after all Zynga are a business, but surely not every action needs to be quite so heavily monetised? There are other approaches that could have been used to monetise the feature as well as improve gameplay. My first choice without a doubt would be to use the energy system already implemented. If capturing a bandit required one energy, potentially more for tougher bandits, then players wouldn’t need to spam their friends for yet another thing (or more likely, ignore the bandit) and it would provide greater use for purchasing energy, or sending out energy request messages.
With the dozens of items required for community buildings (including those as part of quests), introducing another simply creates too greater demand on friends and this can have an adverse effect. It can also have negative consequences on cash. I was tempted to purchase some CityVille cash recently but given such a ridiculous amount of the game is asking for it, a small investment won’t really go anywhere at all. Unfortunately this new feature contributes to this. Rather than being a casual game, there is a great risk that the immense amount of micromanagement and requests will. Half the purpose of energy systems is to provide a limited play session, ensuring that those who work during the day and have other obligations aren’t too disadvantaged over those who sit at home all day. However, requiring the user to constantly deal with these requests is far too time consuming. Anway, I’m rambling and ranting now. Lets move on.
I think a major flaw in the system is that there is no negative consequence for ignoring bandits. They don’t actually steal money from you so aside from gaining from capturing them, there’s no reason to care. They risk becoming yet another unrequired annoying popup message. It provides little motivation to the player to invest in donuts, especially if real money is involved. If ignoring them (or taking it even further, not logging in) meant loss of in game resources then it would provide a massive incentive to invest in donuts and captuing the bandits. Of course given the frustration of obtaining donuts, I’m greatful that they didn’t take this approach, however if the energy system was . This would also really start developing the gameplay. Rather than mindless clicking on buildings, you could be using your finding criminals and using your friends as cops to capture them.
Despite the disappointing implementation, I really like the basic idea and the potential if expanded and developed fully. It is certainly something that I would like to see more of within games on the social networking platform.