Article originally posted on This Is My Joystick 28/01/2011
Ah Facebook, there are some who love you and some who loathe you. Some will use you for keeping up to date with old friends and distant relatives, others use you for showing off their recently toned bodies at the gym. A large amount of people will use you for entirely different reasons though.
Now, we all enjoy a bit of virtual farming now and then even if you won’t admit it. Harvest Moon is the most popular farming simulation game the world has ever seen and one of my personal favourites, but there are some new kids on the block now, and not just to do with farming. The best thing? You don’t have to pay a single penny for them if you don’t want to.
Those who frequent social networking site Facebook will be no stranger to the vast amount of social games available to them for nothing. You can run your own farm, become mayor of your own city and take care of your own virtual pet like an upgraded and slightly less needy Tamagotchi. Naturally the quality of these games varies, but you will find some complete gems to welcome into your life with open arms.
I for one am a self-confessed Facebook game addict, I barely even use my Facebook for its social purposes as I am far too busy running several farms, being boss of my own nightclub and mafia, caring for a variety of virtual pets and even dabbling in the life of a vampire when I feel like it. Imagine putting all that on your CV, the interviewer simply wouldn’t know what to say!
A lot of people would say that these games only serve to kill time and distract from other things you should be doing though. This may be right in some respects, but I truly do enjoy spending time playing them. When I get home from a long slog at the office, there is nothing I enjoy more than tending to my Café and serving up the dishes that have cooked overnight before I have to crack on with more menial tasks at home. At the time of writing this, I have clocked up 45 hours on Café World alone. This is longer than I have spent on Fallout New Vegas. Sad? Maybe, but I enjoy it and it’s completely free.
What is the difference between a social game, and a console game? Not an awful lot I don’t think. They all have clear and concise objectives, most putting you in the role of a main character. Clearly the content is nowhere near the standard of a full price retail game, but a game doesn’t need a high price tag in order to be fun. Why pay over the odds when you can sign up to a free social networking site, and even play online with your friends for free? Got nothing against Xbox live gold membership of course, but you know where I’m coming from.
Sure, there aren’t any achievements or trophies to collect for your good deeds, but you don’t need them. There is always a real sense of satisfaction when you collect your latest harvest of broccoli and it pushes you up to the next level just ahead of your friend and nemesis, or when you successfully cook a new dish for the first time. That is all you really need in life. With each new level you can create new things, become stronger, and recruit more people to work for you.
There is one specific aspect that keeps people coming back for more though, and one of the main reasons I believe them to be so addictive. Facebook games will mostly set you time constraints. By this I mean if you have set a dish to cook for 4 hours, you have to return in 4 hours so that it doesn’t spoil. If you leave that dish overnight and only remember it when you wake up there is no guarantee that there will be anything left of it by the time you make it back. The same applies to fighting games that consume energy. Energy must refuel over time, so if you want to progress as quickly as possible within a game you must return as soon as your energy is refuelled to make the most of it. Without realising it some players will find themselves becoming completely consumed by these social games due to these varying time constraints. The longer a dish takes to cook then the more experience you get. The less time it takes for a crop to fully grow means you will master it quicker, but you will also spend a lot more time planting and harvesting, and before you know it a whole day has escaped you.
Of course there are ways that these game creators will try to get you to splash your cash on their ‘free titles’. From my experience there are two different types of currency in each game. In the Zynga favourite, Farmville, you have coins which you earn for free, and then Farm Cash which you either earn by going up a level or you purchase with your own money. I have fallen prey to this once and will admit to having spent about £10 of my money on in-game currency in order to progress to the next level, but it is not something I do often. There will be certain things you cannot buy without forking out your own money though, and this is where these games become less fun to play. You could argue this is no different to buying some DLC or a new pair of jeans for your Xbox Avatar, but the money soon stacks up as you get used to having the more exclusive items that most people will not pay for.
Some people would accuse me of being sad and having nothing better to do, but loving games as much as I do I don’t always have the money to buy new releases, and sometimes there are even dry spells in games. These little flash games fill that void for me, allowing me that same gaming pleasure completely free of charge. They may be simple, but they say the simple things in life are what keep us happy.