Two of the most successful applications ever invented for Facebook are Mafia Wars and Farmville. One game explores the dark underworld of organized crime, the other game has you playing as member of the mafia. Whether you chose the role of bad ass farmer or crime syndicate kingpin, you would be joining the millions of grandmothers, uncles, aunts and little children who spend hours every week trying to grow their virtual tomatoes or virtual crime empires.
Both games are operated by a company called Zynga which makes about $300,000 a month from the games and spends about $50 million a year advertising on Facebook. The company has also run into problems recently as they were associated with a scam where people were getting hit with charges on their cell phones bills after responding to “surveys” or “quizzes” and then providing their cell numbers for the results. Maybe this was their own brand of mafia wars.
Just on Facebook alone Farmville has 11 million residents running around doing whatever it is they do there. Mafia wars has 4 million criminals in training, learning the ins and outs of stealing and killing, wholesome family stuff. I’ve never played either of these two games.
The closest I have come is when I get updates from friends who played telling me that they have just had a bumper crop or joined a gang or something. There is something funny yet disturbing when you get an update from Aunt Betty informing you that she has successfully murdered her 10th person.
Until now it was always easy to click delete on these annoying updates but I started to wonder recently if there wasn’t something to these two games that I was missing. What is it about these virtual worlds that can cause otherwise normal people to become so addicted that they start ignoring their kids to grow some imaginary pumpkins? Were the kids that bad or is the game that good?
I decided the only way to really understand what was going on would be to play the games myself so I set out the rules for a Facebook Face Off. Mafia Wars versus Farmville. Mayhem versus manure. Cucumbers versus cocaine.
I would sit down and play each game for one hour straight, taking note of how they worked and whether they were as fun as all those millions of people claimed they were. In the end I wanted to see which one deserved the title of best time waster on Facebook.
First up is Mafia Wars because I have very little hope that Farmville is going to be all that much fun. I click on the link to the game and am actually kind of looking forward to this. Can’t wait to start jacking some people up, breaking kneecaps and giving people lessons on how to swim with the fishes.
Before I can even begin though the game demands access to my entire Facebook account, including all my friends. I can either choose to grant access or get the hell out. Seriously? I can’t play unless I give up all my information? Marios Bros. never invaded my privacy like this, even when they became super. This is overkill for the right to play an online game, but as I have no choice I accept; I feel slightly sleazy already.
Bam! I am playing right?
I am now being forced to accept notices sent to my email. I start to worry that demands for my pin, social security number and blood type are coming next. Is this a game or some hugely successful phishing scheme? I click the button anyway. Finally! I am in the game.
I am asked to choose a name so I type in “My Little Friend”. This way people can introduce me by telling others to “Say hello to My Little Friend”. I spend the next two minutes congratulating myself at being so damn clever.
On the initial screen it informs me that I am a street thug at level one. I have a little bit of money and there is a job waiting for me which involves me having to run off some other thugs in the neighborhood. I push the button to do the job and get ready to bust some heads.
I don’t know the buttons for the moves yet but I’m sure there will be a good tutorial. I hope they allow knees to the head, I am partial to knees.The screen changes and I find out I have completed the job successfully. What? That’s it? This can’t be right. Millions of people can’t be playing some game where you just push one button and then wait to see if you won.
I figured this must be just the introduction and later on I should be able to actually kill and murder like I was promised. So I clicked on another job, and yet another job. Same thing over and over. Luckily for me I didn’t have to keep doing this very long because I run out of energy and find out it takes five minutes to get one “bar” (for lack of a better word) back, most jobs require multiple energy “bars”.
When this happens you are forced to sit there and wait until your energy refills. Apparently clicking a button puts some serious strain on you. I imagined My Little Friend, sitting in some dive bar, exhausted from a hard day of fighting other thugs. I say imagine because the game does not give you a way to create your character. You never actually see the little criminal you are controlling.
I realize I am playing the 2010 equivalent of “Choose Your Own Adventure”.
Luckily I notice that I still have stamina, which in this game is somehow different from energy. Stamina allows me to go fight other players. So while I don’t have enough energy to chase away thugs, I can go try and kill another gangster, makes sense.
I click the button to attack. I deal 13 damage and take 16 damage and am told that I won. Don’t ask, because I can’t figure it out either.For the rest of my time playing the highlights went like this:
7:15 – Bought a sweet shot gun.
7:16 – Fight another gangster, report shows I used a broken bottle, despite owning a shotgun and 5 handguns. One of my best offensive weapons? A bullet proof vest, which I apparently used to beat the other player with.
7:22 – Buy a building because I have nothing else I can do.
7:30 – click, click- out of energy. Click – out of stamina. Wait.
7:35 – Try becoming a hitman, unfortunately I find out too late my target is a player at level 5 billion. I am at level 4
7:40 – I get into another fight and according to the game I attacked a player in an armored car with my broken bottle. I lose. My shotgun appears to be a museum piece and not for actual use. On the positive side I have killed 3 people with my broken bottle.
7:45 – I go up another level which means I get to click more before I have to sit around and wait.
7:50 – While waiting for energy I grab an apple.
7:55 – I buy a car required to do a job, unfortunately the job requires that I own 2 cars, even though I am by myself.
7:56 – My broken bottle wins me another fight. It must be just a shard of glass by now.
7:57 – I look at the stats of a higher level player, he has won over 300,000 fights. I have won 7 in just about an hour. It will take me 43,000 hours to get there at this rate.
7:59 – I click two more times, it is as unsatisfying as the first time.
My hour is up and I leave the game. I feel more like I just did an hour of really slow data entry more than anything else. I give the game about 1 out of 5 stars.
Although I initially thought Mafia Wars would take this fight easily after my experience things are looking good for Farmville. I open the game to find the same demands to hand over all my personal information. I am used to this and as the game is run by the same company I figure I can’t do any more harm.
The game begins and I get to choose my character and even determine what he looks like. This is better than Mafia Wars already. Of course I have to give my guy a sweet moustache because he would not be complete without one.
I am further encouraged when the game starts and my mini-Tom Selleck actually moves around when I ask him to do something. The game has me learn how to plow perfect square patches of ground and then plant seeds so I can harvest the crops later. The irony of me playing a farming game as I look at the weeds taking over my lawn is not lost on me.
I choose to plant some soybeans because I hear they are gangsta’ in the farming world. The game says I can harvest them in a day. I am stoked to start growing my farm. I poke around for a few minutes, checking out the store, seeing how much a cow might cost me. When I go check on my crops I find that they are still 0% grown.
I realize this game works in real time! I have to wait an actual day before I can harvest my crops. Who designs a game like this? Who plays a game like this?
I decide to show my displeasure with the game with some clever landscaping.
Unfortunately my one man protest has cost me all my money. I can no longer do anything in the game. The rest of the game went like this:
8:15 – Protest crappy game
8:15:01 – realize I have no money
8:15:02 – wait to see what else might happen.
8:17 – Doze off, I am not quite sure.
8:20 – Leave the game.
Unbelievably Farmville is even worse than Mafia Wars. Starting with the dubious premise that farming can be fun they then make you wait for hours before you can do anything. Once you run out of money you can’t do anything until your crops grow. This game gets a zero.
Incredibly, Mafia Wars wins.
With the Facebook Face Off over I decide that I have not missed anything by not joining the hordes of people playing these games. Much like smoking I guess there might be something that gets you addicted if you try it long enough, if you can get over the fact that the initial experience really sucks.