Like Call of Duty? You’ll Love FarmVille

So, you’re a gamer. This seems a rea­son­able assump­tion giv­en the web­site you’ve cho­sen to read. That means that you’ve like­ly played Call of Duty, judg­ing by the sales of Black Ops and its two imme­di­ate pre­de­ces­sors. You may even have spent two hun­dred hours earn­ing its many weapons, unlocks, and badges. Con­grat­u­la­tions, you’ve killed me more times than I’ve killed you.

So now what? Instead of delib­er­at­ing what next to down­load from Steam or load into your con­sole, my sug­ges­tion is to click back to Face­book. Play Far­mVille, Pet Soci­ety, or any of that fam­i­ly of social games. After all, the game­play is remark­ably sim­i­lar to what you’re used to.

What, you say? What can this award-win­ning and record-set­ting con­sole game have in com­mon with some game on Face­book? Look past graph­ics, genre, and busi­ness mod­el for a moment. Break the games down into core actions. When you’re done, you may find that we have paragons of direct­ed, effi­cient, and repet­i­tive stim­u­lus-response.

  • Repet­i­tive: Click the mouse in one game, and you har­vest a crop. Over and over and over. It’s near­ly the only action you can per­form. In the oth­er game, click the mouse and you will shoot. Again and again.
  • Effi­cient: The action offers a good return on effort. You may per­form sec­ondary actions, and spe­cial actions may offer greater reward in some sit­u­a­tions, but the core game­play verb requites the game’s chal­lenge.
  • Direct­ed: The game explic­it­ly tells you to per­form an action in order to suc­ceed. The action isn’t a trick, a strat­e­gy, a tac­tic, or even a com­bi­na­tion of actions. It’s a verb.

Click your mouse (that’s pull your right trig­ger for you con­sole play­ers) and, lit­tle lab rat, you get a reward. And you get the reward often enough that it’s worth your time to keep click­ing. The rewards add up over time, and you keep pulling the lever to see your score climb, what­ev­er the genre.

Couldn’t this be said for any game? To a point. Black Ops and social games, though, have boiled the stim­u­lus-response equa­tion down to its most con­cen­trat­ed and most sim­plis­tic form. Instant grat­i­fi­ca­tion. When it comes to shoot­ers, Black Ops deliv­ers the most kills per minute, helped by low health avatars in crowd­ed, tiny envi­ron­ments. Iron­i­cal­ly, it may be a bet­ter sim­u­la­tion for it, but less of a game. Face­book gam­ing has the same appeal. Low invest­ment of skill and time, high reward and praise. Sug­ar rush all the time. The fast food of gam­ing, I sup­pose. Draw a par­al­lel line of pop­u­lar­i­ty to McDonald’s.

What’s more, both games deliv­er rewards in a online, social envi­ron­ment. So the val­ue of their reward holds up longer.

Now, there are some dif­fer­ences. Shoot­ers make some demand of the player’s skill, such as requir­ing the play­er move a cen­ter-screen HUD ele­ment onto an enemy’s pix­els. But this is a reflex game, not a “series of inter­est­ing choic­es.” Social games only reward invest­ment (time or mon­ey). Time, of course, is a more demo­c­ra­t­ic way of doing things. Of course, if equal­i­ty is the goal in our games, Von­negut chart­ed that future for us with Har­ri­son Berg­eron. Thank­ful­ly, gam­ing hasn’t got­ten there yet. Not even World of War­craft.

But wait. More and more, devel­op­ers of shoot­ers have incor­po­rat­ed play­er invest­ment rewards, for the same rea­sons that Face­book games have them: to increase play­er attach­ment (and pre­vent used game sales). If you keep play­ing, you lev­el and acquire new out­fits, guns, gad­gets, etc. Shoot­ers have become RPGs. Is that what Cliff B meant when he prog­nos­ti­cat­ed the future of the genre? The only thing left to bridge the gap to social games is for shoot­ers to start sell­ing in-game advan­tages for real world cur­ren­cy. Who will be the first major shoot­er to let me buy the rewards instead of earn­ing them over time? Oh, wait. That already hap­pened: Team Fortress 2.

One Comment

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