Cramming SimCity into a FarmVille-shaped Hole

In the past few days at least two new “city building” social games have been announced: Playdom’s “Social City” and Digital Chocolate’s “Nanotowns”.  (The near-simultaneous emergence of these with strikingly similar UIs and gameplay reinforces how small a creative community Bay Area game development still is, if nothing else.)  These aren’t the first city-builders to have been put up on Facebook: My City Life is doing well with over 4M MAU to date (and steadily climbing), and My Town is just behind with about 3.2M MAU (others such as Metropolis, EnerCities, and TinyTown are slightly earlier entrants that haven’t fared as well).

The art is a bit higher quality in these latest entries than in some past social games, and there are a few gameplay refinements in each.  Still, this doesn’t represent a new generation of social games so much as another time around the same track: first we had x-wars and farming, then restaurants, now city building.  Hard to say what will be the next flavor of the month – dungeon-crawling or dungeon-making, maybe (a ‘lite’ take on the venerable Dungeon Keeper?).

The thing that struck me about each of these is how much they are leveraging the gameplay tropes of the Farmville generation (no, it wasn’t the first, just the exemplar of that group): they are still largely single-player with mini-missions, the drive to grab neighbors, “employ” your friends from Facebook, etc.  Not surprising, as these publishers believe they (or someone else) has found a set of game mechanics that work, that are familiar to the audience, etc.

But it makes me wonder how long people who have played the same game in the guises of Farmtown, Restaurant City, Farmville, CafeWorld, etc., will joyfully sign up for (and pay for, at least 2-5% of them) another version of the same game.  Do these social games have a half-life that is being reduced with each revision of the same gameplay?  Or will they prove to be evergreen with some portion of the millions of people still flooding onto social sites like Facebook?

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4 Comments on “Cramming SimCity into a FarmVille-shaped Hole”

  1. Dona Says:

    That’s interesting, Mike. I didn’t realize that those games were all related — I’ve seen Social City advertised on Facebook (when I’m playing a game).

    I’ve often wondered what Facebook & the developers get out of the games since only a small percentage of people play the games. I’ve wondered if each click (since it is all about clicks) gives revenue to Facebook & the app developers. Do you know the answer? I find it hard to believe it is all just advertising since I never click on FB ads.

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  2. Jared Says:

    I’m not shocked. They have an engine, and game play, just add a bit more gameplay and new art, a feature or two and crank out another game. It happened with the Mafia Wars style games, now its happening with the Farmville style games. It is what they know and what they are comfortable with.

    Really though, the rest of the game industry is not much different. Look at the parallels to early game industry work. How many different 3rd person shooters against demons/zombies/other shambling scary things have we seen?

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  3. Mike Sellers Says:

    Dona, I just now posted on how these games make money — very little of it is from ads. (And FWIW, Facebook sees little of this revenue, or did until recently with their introduction of Facebook Credits.)

    Jared, seeing existing developers push out a game that’s a lot like one that they did before is understandable… but it’s interesting to me that companies (like Digital Chocolate) that didn’t have that previous investment go that way too. Innovation is risky, no doubt about it — so evolution is slow.

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  4. Andrew Mayer Says:

    It’s like asking how long Sitcoms will work, or when people will get bored of the novel.

    I’m not saying that Farmville is the novel, but mainstream media has rarely been built around major innovations, it’s built around minor tweaks to comfortable formats.

    They’ll last for however long they last, and the audience will continue looks at minor innovations as much larger sources of novelty than a core audience that’s still enamored by technology.

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