Saturday, November 14, 2009

Food Fun on Facebook: FarmVille and Cafe World

Saturday, November 14, 2009
If you're on Facebook and you haven't heard of FarmVille and Cafe World by now, chances are you haven't logged on in a while or are choosing to ignore your requests section. More likely than not, you know someone who plays FarmVille (if you're not already playing it yourself), and they've requested to add you as a neighbour.

FarmVille and Cafe World are definitely foodie games. The former deals with food production, and the latter deals with food preparation in a restaurant setting. From "farm to fork," so to speak.

To the uninitiated: what is FarmVille? It's a farm simulation application on Facebook where you can plant various crops and trees, raise animals, construct farm buildings and decorate. It's the most popular social media game with 62 million members, 22 million of whom log on at least once a day, according to its publisher Zynga.

FarmVille's appeal to me lies in its exploitation of the basic human drive to start something and see it to fruition... in this case literally, as you can plant trees that bear fruit in a few days. I say exploitation because although it's all fun and games, the game can be wildly addictive. FarmVille allows its player to express their creativity on a relatively simple and cute platform with many options that can be purchased for in game "coins." This currency is free in the real world and is earned through proceeds from the sale or harvesting of crops and other items in the game. The devious part is when the game teases you with the possibility of decorating with a prettier or more functional item that you can purchase for "FV" cash. The problem with FV cash is that it is incredibly slow and difficult to earn through game experience, and would require you to actually pay for it with real world money via credit card or PayPal.

Now you can't really blame Zynga for wanting to make money. They do have to pay all their game developers. Just hope that there are enough other players with money and the inclination to jazz up their farm so that Zynga can continue its quality work. It's up to you to resist the temptation to splurge .

These games are addictive to their players, and annoying to non-players. I've even heard a story of someone in-transit who couldn't make it in time to serve his French Onion soup (cooking time: 4 hours), before it spoiled. He desperately tried to get his girlfriend at home to log on to his Facebook account to serve his soup. People sneak in some harvesting time at work, and conversations on the bus include the need to harvest strawberries or plant sugar cane. Who plants sugar cane in Toronto? It must be a Farmville player!

FarmVille uses 3D-like isometric perspective, allowing it a feeling of depth when setting up your farm. If you're really good, this view allows you to have the illusion of elevating portions of your farm depending on how you line things up.
The "market" has a wide variety of crops that can be chosen for time-to-harvest, XP points, cost, or selling price. Trees, animals, buildings, and vehicles like tractors are also available. Items are unlocked as your experience level progresses through the game.

Cafe World is Zynga's restaurant simulation, with game play characteristics similar to FarmVille. You get to customize your chef, decorate your restaurant, and choose food items you want to cook and serve. You can also "hire" Facebook friends as your waitstaff.

Hiring friends, like adding neighbours in FarmVille, adds the social dimension to these Facebook games. They create interaction with people you normally wouldn't be too engaged with. You can exchange game gifts with them and visit their farm to just check it out or fertilize their crops. Alternatively, you could visit their restaurant to see how they've decorated, and try their food and leave them a tip. This characteristic of social media games in a way forces interaction and helps the games go viral.

Cafe world has an extensive menu of dishes you can prepare based on how much time you'd want to wait, cost, number of servings, and selling price.

A variety of options are available for decorating your restaurant from chairs and tables, to walls, floors, windows, and other items.

Zynga has also released a fish tank simulation called FishVille. Although I wouldn't call this a foodie game per se, you do get to feed your fish. It's relaxing and almost therapeutic to watch and feed the fish in your aquarium to the sound of some soothing in-game music.

I'd be amiss not to mention that Zynga isn't the only developer of these kinds of games out there. There are other farm and restaurant simulations, though I don't find them as visually appealing and dynamic. As well, network effects lock you into the Zynga games as chances are you already have a lot of friends playing them.

Like little pets, these games take a lot of time and attention. But arguably, it's time well wasted.

Posted by: Mark Rodas