I'm a journalism student with experience that includes newspaper writing, academic research, video game reviews, and personal blogging. My passion is video games; I've been a gamer since the age of three, and have always striven to play a large variety of games in order to keep up with the industry that I cover as a journalist.
FarmVille gets a bad rap, but rarely for the right reasons. As gamers, we harbor a justifiable helping of skepticism toward things that are different and new, especially things that appeal to so-called "non-gamers." The Wii had everyone's panties in a bunch at first, but four years later, the hype has evaporated and many gamers' Wiis are weighting down papers. While the iPhone has great potential as a gaming device, we're right to criticize its current offerings for faults that everyday saps are blind and indifferent to- while excellent games no doubt exist in the app store, the top-selling games are invariably licensed crap and board games.
FarmVille tends to make a bad first impression, as its updates flood the news feeds of players and non-players alike. Even when Facebook users finally cave and create a farm of their own for the first time, the game is slow to start and provides very little in the way of tutorials. The interface is clumsy and sluggish, and interactions with the game world are buggy and frustrating. Every animal, tree, plot of land and other object must be clicked multiple times to accomplish the most basic interactions, and there's no way to select more than one item at a time. To top it off, every week there are new issues- progress being lost, items disappearing, constant slowdown, and more plague farmers on a daily basis.
For these and many other reasons, FarmVille can easily be described as really, really dumb, especially in the lengths it requires players to undertake to accomplish tasks that should be simple and painless. Non-gamers don't understand that games are supposed to be smart, though. They don't know that a game shouldn't hinder your ability to play it, or that they have the right to demand more from developers. Does Zynga take advantage of their audience? Like neon banner ads take advantage of elderly AOL users.
Yeah, FarmVille does a lot of things wrong. It's what it does right, though, that should have gamers excited.
There is no established formula for a web based game of this magnitude. Console DLC is delivered with little variety and practically zero innovation: "Here's your new character, level, vehicle, or whatever, thanks for the money." FarmVille, on the other hand, delivers a steady stream of new content, much of it at zero real world cost. The in-game marketplace is updated almost every single day with new animals, buildings, decorations, and seeds to plant.
In fact, the term "downloadable content" can't even apply to a game that doesn't exist outside Facebook. Zynga simply updates FarmVille content whenever they see fit. Experimental new features are rolled out with startling frequency. If you've been tearing your hair out at the number of painted eggs, gold coins and valentines popping up on your news feed the last couple months, then you've seen the evidence of this. Never before has new content for an existing game been so lavishly showered upon its players. Old models of distributing new content seem archaic and inhibiting in comparison.
FarmVille also gives players plenty of incentive to interact with other farmers. Visiting neighboring farms results in extra coins and experience, as well as other perks like eggs and fuel. The latest new feature, implemented last week, takes this to the next level: co-op jobs task players with teaming up to complete goals like growing a certain number of crops in a short amount of time.
I'm not saying that everyone should abandon "real" games and start playing FarmVille. Experienced gamers rightfully find it hard to excuse the glaring faults that casual players are somehow able to ignore. The fact is, though, some of its features- like the constant free updates and the high level of player to player interaction- are things that gamers may want to start asking for. Why are we paying ten dollars for a map pack when 12 year old girls are getting new, free content every day in FarmVille? It's something to think about, at least.