How CityVille Conquered My World

Posted by on January 30, 2011 at 12:00 pm

A burgeoning Terrantropolis!Okay, I’ve got this figured out: I’m going to get home and pop open CityVille. I should receive enough Zoning Permits from my Facebook neighbors to purchase another expansion that will allow me to physically grow my city. Oh, but I also have a huge crop of corn I need to harvest at 9:34PM so I can supply my stores, which I can then gather funds from which allow me to build more crap. But, I only have 30 energy and I have 40 crops to harvest, which means I better run and visit my neighbors’ cities so I can get extra energy, instead of having to wait nearly an hour to get that energy back the normal way. Oh, and in each neighbor city, I can visit five businesses or residences which gets me more money and increases my neighbor rating, which in turn…

It all started out easy enough: I didn’t want to play a Zynga game, ever. I knew the damage it would inflict, how it reduced housewives into mere husks trying to scrounge enough energy to make a hit on the next mob boss. And, for a time, it worked: I swore off the free gifts offers my friends sent me as an incentive to get started. The first hit was free, the next would merely cost you all of your being. Then Zynga announced CityVille, which struck directly at the dire lack of SimCity in my life. You start off with a street, a few plots of farm, a randomly placed house, and through a series of in-game quests, the game pushes you to develop your city’s economy. Food supply feeds your buildings which feeds you coin, which feeds you more buildings, which feeds you more coin, and so forth, all of which is limited by energy which means you can only commit to so many actions in the game at a time, but are rewarded by repeated visits as your energy repletes.

Despite the obvious SimCity influence, there’s very little depth to the game; there’s really no advantage in placing anything in your city in any logical order other than convenience. You’re constantly assaulted by pop-ups to purchase virtual currency with real cash and much of the moving/removing of structures in town is tedious. Doing virtually anything in the game grants you experience points, which allows you to rank up and access grander structures and businesses. Zynga states its success in these cartoony, strategy-lite titles is based on the principle of ‘social obligation’. Now obviously, if you don’t have any friends you won’t stay glued to the game long, but after you close your CityVille session, you receive notifications from your neighbors that they need particular items, so then you open a new tab and start playing again. Oops! A roster of your neighbors is laid out along the bottom of the game, indicating your rank amongst your friends and family – and of course, yours is simply never good enough, so you need to keep playing! Worse still is the point when you realize you could wait a week for enough Zoning Permits from your neighbors to build out your city, or you could simply pull out your credit card and purchase enough virtual cash (only five bucks, I swear!) to buy enough Zoning Permits. In the end, that’s how Zynga turns these free-to-play experiences into a very effective business model. CityVille is now Zynga’s most popular game a mere month and a half after its release and I don’t really see the end of it.

Even past my peak of excitement with the game, I feel obligated to head back on a daily basis with each new Facebook notification. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to rip out my entire downtown corridor so I can place more profitable businesses. Goodbye, humble bakeries and burger joints, hello hand bag stores…

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