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Brian Shih

I'm curious if you can expand upon your views about Zynga (and Zynga-like) games. I agree that people playing the ville games may be locked in due to their network, but how do you explain the same rise of games on the iPhone?

In other words, games that basically copy Farmville (Tap Zoo, Tiny Chef, etc) are creating the same kind of busywork experiences, but without the audience lock-in, yet still massively succeeding.


Hi Brian,

I think it's pretty simple. There's three broad reasons why they work in both formats.

The first is that the games are free. It really can't be overstated how much this makes a difference to game distribution. Whether it's FarmVille or Tap Zoo, the same applies.

The second is that they both get access to a notifications system which serves as a way to pull players back in. On Facebook it's Notification Requests , Emails and Counters, whereas on iPhone it's Push. The basic function (nudging players) is the same though.

The third is visibility. On Facebook it tends to be the case that a successful beachhead app can make it geometrically easier for a second app to be up-taken because the Facebook interface sucks at discovery for the average non-technical user. They really only see the most recently accessed games on the home page, and when they enter their game they see the browser cross-promotion bar. Advertising also plays a massive part in app uptake, and Zynga in particular were always willing to spend big in that area where their competitors didn't.

A similar practise exists on iPhone games, but on iPhone you also have the added bonus of the iTunes home page, and if you can get your game installed onto someone's phone then chances are it will stay there. A lot of iDevice users don't really know how to uninstall or rearrange their apps, so once you're in their line of sight you have a beach head.

The thing to remember is that there are hundreds of other games using the same gameplay formulae as the successful ones, but failed. Looked at in terms of numbers of releases, the success rate of social apps is just as bad as any other kind of game, but if you do manage to get that beach-head then with the right advertising, cross promotion and visibility strategy you stand a strong chance of being able to float many releases and be successful.

Robert Massaioli

TL;DR: Optional busywork is what you really need and that also aids replayability.

I agree that busywork is not fun but I have a slightly different view that relates strongly to the replayability of a game. Lets use TES:Oblivion as our example, most specifically the 'Fast Travel' feature. The feature is there so that you can skip vast swathes of walking running and jumping if you choose to and just get straight to the action. The point here is that you can play the game without fast travelling and enjoy the scenery and find new and interesting places on the way. Or, if you find that is too much Busywork, then just fast travel to where you need to be. All in all I think this is the right was to do it: you can have busywork in your game, but give the user the option to skip it completely if they want to. The 'autorun' feature in most RPG's is another good example of this, you have alot of land to run over so the game is nice enough to say "okay, just press this button and we will keep running for you until you reach your destination"; once again giving the player the option whether or not to engage in busywork.

This style of optional busywork aides replayability because it means that in the second run through the player can skip many many parts of the busywork and just get straight to the parts of the game that they thought were fun. I do play Oblivion again for that very reason.

Joe Cooper

I don't know that that actually qualifies as busywork. When I played Morrowind, I preferred to walk through the wilderness and eschewed Strider use specifically because I felt that being in the wilderness, dealing with monsters, the logistical challenge, finding ruins and being in a dangerous situation _was_ the core game.

But they have a skip-that feature because of the quest system; someone may have something specific on their minds and prefer to step over the wilderness to get to what they're doing.

The dialog, at least in Morrowind (the hideous face art, writing and bad voice work in Oblivion and limited personal time made me skip that one) didn't have much of the busywork either. Click click and you see the writing, no branching nonsese.

The prime example of busywork in the game would be moving inventory items, and in Morrowind they added buttons like "remove all" (from a body) and they take steps to mitigate these.

The fast walk and striders are an example of adding a skip-that feature to something that SOME players MIGHT consider busywork SOMETIMES even though it isn't exactly so.

In short, the ES games were very mindful of busywork and worked to alleviate it even when only a subset of players might consider something in the way.

Fast walk is far more akin to games like Mario RPG which have "Choose location" style maps than optional busywork.


Very good topic.

One could argue that the latest crop of WoW dailies is nothing but busywork too. The Baradin Hold rewards are stretched out so thin and the time needed is much bigger than in previous expansions (e.g. to get a Netherwing drake or to get stuff from the Shangrila ogres or what their name was).

I would argue that sorting things in an inventory isn't really busywork but part of the fun, at least for me. I enjoyed doing that, be it party min-maxing in Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale or trying to put as much valuable stuff in my character's bags in TES: Oblivion.

Joe Cooper

Inventory isn't necessarily busywork, no, I kinda glossed over that. I used to spend time doing that and even enjoyed it. Sorting your inventory according to your situation and plan is something only the player can do and takes some thought an the decisions matter.

But if you want to take all from a chest, you don't have to click one by one, there's a button for that so that the computer can smooth the process for you. This is the mindfulness I refer to.

I don't know much about WoW but they are reportedly hitting some hard times also so if they changed from non-busywork to busywork, that might be related.

Ian Sturrock

I'm probably going to keep harping on about the whole intrinsic vs extrinsic rewards thing (possibly forever), but one of the core issues with busywork is that it's almost always an extrinsically focused activity. Which is the same thing as saying it's not fun, I guess. You don't do it in a game because it's intrinsically enjoyable -- you do it solely to achieve another, largely unrelated goal. In terms of your Seven Steps to the Epic Win article, the big problem with busywork is that though it may have actions, loops, and dynamics, the wins in them are so trivial as to be practically non-existent -- you don't really get any great "win" buzz from them, just a relief that you can get on with the game proper.


Very interesting reading, as usual.

I agree with Robert Massaioli: the best solution is optional busywork, because sometimes it's part of the fun.

On Mass Effect 2 I fast skip through boring dialogues but I enjoy for the fifth or sixth time the best ones (mostly involving Krogans!) because they contribute to the game's unique atmosphere.

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