Experienced Points: Zynga and the Rise of the New Gamer

By Shamus Posted Friday Apr 2, 2010

Filed under: Column 52 comments

The name of Zynga is somewhat accursed among mainstream gamers right now. I think it’s sort of like fighting for thirty years to make a successful family restaurant based on authentic Mexican food, and then waking up one day to find out you have one tenth the business of Taco Friggin’ Bell. I couldn’t fully cover the subject in this week’s article (and I had to leave out the bit about Zynga’s shady business practices) but seeing the armies of “casual social gamers” finally appear in the same venue as “hardcore gamers” for the first time is a really interesting process.

The hate coming from the hardcore crowd to the Farmville / Mafia Wars types is intense. Well, nearly as intense as the hate that the various console devotees have for the other platforms. So, I guess they’ll fit right in.


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52 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Zynga and the Rise of the New Gamer

  1. Another Scott says:

    Zynga is like the dollar store but without the dollar. It’s no wonder that their games are popular, they are easily accessible and do not eat into your savings…

    The quality of the games however, also fits into the dollar store metaphor.

  2. Josh R says:

    did Russ Pitts make you leave the shady business stuff out?
    God I hate how much the escapist has become shamefacedly attention grabbing.
    Caring more about profit then it’s fanbase.

    I think you’re right and wrong about the success of zynga, I don’t think it’s the cost of games that is prohibitive, as there are many free to play MMOs, But Instead it is the ease with which these games are accessed.
    Most people already have facebook, and they applied invasive and frankly highly irritating advertising to everyone unless you expressly block it, something not all people will know how to do.
    They give incentives to get friends playing, and charge for extras.
    This does not show good game development, it simply shows good marketting.

    It would be VERY interesting to find out how popular MSN games were when they were first released, just about everyone I knew was playing each other at Bejewled via the games service on msn. Til it became more like GFWL and then Pretty much everyone stopped.
    But a lot of those games were actually decent. (for a popcap puzzle game)
    (I was totally the top of all the leaderboards too)

    1. Shamus says:

      “did Russ Pitts make you leave the shady business stuff out?”

      No, but the article was getting long, it didn’t fit, and it just wasn’t relevant to the main point.


    2. Dev Null says:

      I don't think it's the cost of games that is prohibitive, as there are many free to play MMOs, But Instead it is the ease with which these games are accessed.
      Huh? Shamus’ point – assuming I got it right – had far more to do with the accessability of the games than their cost point. Now mind you, when you say “accessibile” I think you mean how easy it is to find the game in the first place, and Shamus means how easy they are for a games novice to play, but both are much closer to each other than either has to do with cost.

      1. Josh R says:

        I meant shoving the games down peoples throats via incessant advertising, and having it available in one click, not having to make an account.
        And sorry shamus, but when you are upset at anything you just jump at any possibility of validating your hate.

        Zynga’s advertising really annoys me, and judging from all the messages I see on my news feed from other people sharing my sentiments, I think it’s fairly displeasing to imagine Zynga winning a popularity contest, let alone a developer award.

        And I reckon it was a move from Russ Pitts, putting zynga in to try and grab some of their action. despite them not deserving a place in the competition.
        If you go by pure numbers, Jagex should be in there long before zynga.
        Maybe they will be next year. and another step towards the site getting more retarded. (not that there aren’t that many nice people who play, just that are really outnumbered by the retards)

        1. Alex says:

          Why do you feel a need to get personal and question people’s motives? It’s perfectly possible to discuss the merits of an article without attacking the writer himself.

          As for your opinion of the site, might as well vote with your clicks, because your current tack is guaranteed not to influence anyone else.

          *surfs over to the Escapist to click some banner ads*

        2. Soylent Dave says:

          reckon it was a move from Russ Pitts, putting zynga in to try and grab some of their action

          If that were the aim, it’s more likely that Pitts would have encouraged Shamus to slag off Zynga and its practices; criticism gets much more attention from the general (internet) population, after all.

        3. Chris Arndt says:

          If you hate the ads, use adblock… I do.

          I don’t see the ads. I don’t care.

          Hell, I play the farm game as it is a fun enough microeconomic simulation… and I don’t pay money for it.

          Most of this “scamming” is people paying for stuff they don’t have to have…. and people who don’t play the game keep saying that I have to pay for certain things to have the full experience.
          What full experience?

  3. Dev Null says:

    What I’m worried about is that publishers will see Zynga’s success and wrongly conclude that these people are playing Farmville and Mafia Wars because the gameplay is uniquely fun.

    Oh Shamus; you’re cute when you’re being optimistically naive. We are doomed to an endless stream of clones. Its just possible that someone will _also_ learn the correct lesson about accessibility, but the clone army is a given.

    The vitriolic contempt dripping from the hardcore crowd does seem a bit over-the-top. What, you wanted the Farmville millions to sign onto your favorite L4D server and stumble around hopelessly on your team? Or you honestly expected Mafia Wars to be the gameplayistic descendant of HL2? (Gameplayeological? Is there a real word for that?) Or does it just anger you that someone somewhere is having fun and its not you? Some people do the crosswords in the newspaper too; lets villify em!

    1. Ingvar M says:

      gameplayistic descendant of HL2? (Gameplayeological? Is there a real word for that?)

      I’ve always favoured “ludic” as a good word. No, I never expected “Mafia Wars” to be the ludic descendant of HL2. But that’s got nmore to do with my initial “what the hell is mafia wars” than any cleverness on my part (I only have very vague ideas about the contents of either MySpace or FaceBook and I’d like to keep it that way, thank you very much).

    2. Mari says:

      Heck, Zynga is the one making the clones. FarmVille is a clone of Farm Town. Almost every one of Zynga’s games came on the heels of some other indie social game becoming virally popular. Not that I’m knocking it. In spite of Zynga’s hideous business practices, they’re offering something with their clones that the originals failed at, namely making a smooth, less buggy game experience. People moved from Farm Town to FarmVille because Farm Town was having constant outages or game-affecting bugs or was glacially slow to offer improvements to the game. The same has been true of most of the other Zynga games.

      1. Chris Arndt says:

        The truth is that ideas are worth nothing but execution is worth almost everything.

        I don’t care who did what first but the biggest part of what makes FarmVille functional is that you have to interact with somebody… and no one pressured me into playing FarmTown….

  4. McNutcase says:

    I’m technically a hardcore gamer insofar as I can cope with a modern controller without trouble. I hate Zynga. Not so much because of their criminal past, or because of their popularity, but because of their inescapability. You know what? I’m glad people like Farmville. Everyone deserves to enjoy stuff – isn’t that what the “pursuit of happiness” stuff in the Declaration of Independence was all about? – but I don’t need or want to hear alllll about it. I enjoy playing my violent shooters, be they sci-fi or WWII, but I don’t automatically spend every minute of every time I play spamming my friends and acquaintances with “McNutcase just totally stuck a plasma grenade to some alien dude’s junk!”. I perfectly well COULD spam people with the highlights, but that would be my choice (and would lose me a bunch of friends), whereas Zynga’s games have an auto-spam mechanism built right in. That is what I hate about them.

    1. silver Harloe says:

      On the one hand, recent Facebook rules have made it harder for them to auto-spam, and Zynga actually complied. Sadly, every Mafia Wars or Farmville post you see these days, the other person explicitly clicked the “post it up!” button. On the other hand, Zynga’s response was, of course, to make the majority of “post this” buttons tied to little bonuses you can give to your friends, so as to make you feel guilty, like you’re depriving your friends of bonuses, if you don’t click “share”. On the gripping hand, the “hide” button works, it’s right next to every post by Mafia Wars or Farmville (or any other annoying game) – it’s not that hard to learn how to use Facebook to enjoy a mostly spam free existence.

      1. Factoid says:

        I’ve solved this problem by creating a list for all my friends who play mafia wars. Facebook added a feature a couple versions back so that you can restrict who sees individual posts. So before I post a mafia wars link I make sure that only that group can see it in their feed.

        But I don’t post anywhere near the number of links most people do. I only post the ones where I need assistance with something, and I click similar links for others.

        1. Athan says:

          Now if only all players of those games on Facebook would be so considerate. I’ve ended up blocking a couple of friends from my FB newsfeed entirely because they won’t stop asking for people to help with them with tasks in Farmville.

          After reading a comment above about how playing a ‘normal’ computer game doesn’t post everything you do to such a feed I’m tempted to start doing just that manually, just to those I ended up blocking ;).

          1. Mari says:

            Again, you have (right next to every post from FarmVille or whatever) a button that allows you to hide posts from FarmVille (or whatever). You don’t have to block an entire person’s newsfeed unless that’s all they ever post.

            1. briatx says:

              Which is nice. But I think the burden is on them not to spam me in the first place. I’m sick of spending half my time on Facebook blocking things on Facebook.

              1. Ergonomic Cat says:

                Facebook, Twitter, Myspace et all are based on the idea that, by joining and adding people, you are interested in whatever they have to say. There’s no burden not to spam – there’s an expectation of spam. That’s the reason I took so long to get on those things – I wasn’t interested in being a passive consumer.

                I have friends that are enraged by Foursquare + Twitter. I just laugh – that’s what Twitter is – me spamming you with every inane thought or action I have. I wondered why you were so excited about it originally….

                1. briatx says:

                  That's what Twitter is ““ me spamming you with every inane thought or action I have.

                  I would unfriend you so fast.

                2. Bryan says:

                  That’s exactly why I’ve never signed up for any of them. I get plenty of e-mail spam, I don’t need more.

      2. Hal says:

        “On the gripping hand”

        You’re one of the few people I’ve ever heard use that phrase. I’m curious where you picked it up, because it’s not in common use.

        1. Avatar says:

          It’s from a Larry Niven novel, “A Mote in God’s Eye”. Featured a three-armed species of alien, so “on the other hand” would be followed by “on the gripping hand”…

          1. silver Harloe says:

            aye. they were originally a 4-armed species but had tweaked their genetics to combine their two left arms into a stronger arm/hand. So they had two hands for fine tuned work, and one really strong hand to hold what they were working on in place. “On the gripping hand” is usually the strongest/overriding point, and/or a point to break the false dichotomy of two sided arguments.

  5. Factoid says:

    I consider myself a hardcore gamer, but I play mafia wars. So does my friend who is a game developer.

    They’re just games. I think people need to get off their high horse and just enjoy them for what they are.

    Zynga kinda sucks as a company, but they honestly aren’t any worse than EA.

    1. Mari says:

      I’m the same. I hate Zynga’s business practices but how is that crappy spyware bar Zynga encourages you to install (but doesn’t require) any worse than SecuROM?

      I play one or two of the Zynga games myself. I don’t spam anybody’s feed with it because I know where the “do not post this” button is and how to use it. I don’t pretend that they’re “teh hardcore.” But they’re not bad little games, especially for a busy mom who rarely has time for a 2 hour chunk of leisure time anymore to play video games.

      Not to mention that the simplistic strategy of Cafe World is still better than the “strategy I figured out ten years ago” of RollerCoaster Tycoon 27 or whatever other “new” sim-strategy game sequel just hit the market. I’m a strategy game junkie and the dearth of good titles in my favorite genre forces me to expand my criteria quite a bit.

  6. T-Boy says:

    It’s funny, because my wife plays Farmville and CafeWorld.

    And we actually got into a major fight about this, I think a couple of weeks ago. Thing is, I hate Zynga games… but I wasn’t exactly sure why, or I wasn’t able to articulate it into a single, comprehensible point.

    She asked me, repeatedly, on what the harm Farmville and Cafeworld had, and I had a hell of a time trying to explain it to her.

    And it finally came down to this: in comparison to the games I play, I have deliberately avoided playing games that cause me to commit to a point in the near future that meant that I had to login to the game, or suffer in-game consequences, however minor. This, and a host of other in-game inducements to get you to play more, was a sore point of both Farmville and Cafeworld for me.

    It was an important fight that we had, I guess, because it clarified my feelings for the game, and also a host of other issues in our marriage. So all’s well ends well.

    1. Cat Skyfire says:

      I was thinking about what you said this weekend. And I wondered what the percentages are of parents who enjoy these games, or women as a whole, because the ‘have to login and tend something or suffer consequences, however minor’ sounds a lot like parenting.

      It’s coming up on two…must feed the baby. I could push it off, but then baby will cry. …and so on. In a sense, some of these games mimic the nurture aspects of real life.

      …which may explain why tamagotchis were so popular…

      1. Mari says:

        Apparently I fail as both a mother and a nurturer if my attitude to the games is any indication. Generally I plan my dishes/crops/whatever needs nurturing in game around my day. “Let’s see, I usually take a short break around 2. What can I have ready for 2?” But if I’m moving slowly that day and my 2 o’clock break doesn’t happen I’m of the opinion that the crops/food/whatever goes bad will just have to go bad. It’s an imaginary item purchased with imaginary money for an imaginary farm/shop/etc. I’m out nothing but a few seconds of clicking here in the real world.

        I can see being upset by the game feature if your wife/significant other is rearranging her life (and time with you) around the game, but it seems to me that’s more of an issue on the player’s part than the game. Just like those little idiots who jacked a car and blamed GTA. Sure, you suffer “in game consequences” by not checking in but then you suffer “in game consequences” in most games by not having fast enough reflexes and letting your little pixel character die from a bullet wound. It’s still all JUST A GAME.

  7. Eltanin says:

    Well, after all of this time and all of Shamus’ urgings, I still had not registered for an account at the Escapist. Why bother? I read this blog religously and I only comment every so often. I give the Escapist a look from time to time (besides reading all of Shamus’ content over there in my fanboyish way) so why register?

    But seeing Zynga dangerously close to outvoting Valve finally tipped the balance. March Mayhem, of all things, got me to create an account at the Escapist.

    I am not a hardcore gamer. I mean, I’ve been gaming since I typed up that first free game published in Basic magazine oh so many years ago, but nowadays I don’t have the budget or the time for much gaming (toddlers can do that). I’ve never owned a console and would be just as lost by the ‘R3’ conundrum as any new2comer to the gaming world. But I have played the half-life series and portal, and the craft that goes into those games, the love and attention and humor etc, so outweighs what I’ve seen in the Zynga type games. Sure, they identified a fine demographic to serve. Sure, they’re entertaining. But essentially I see them as lightweight entries in the gaming world which are mostly aimed at making money. Naturally that’s Valve’s idea to – to make money. But the love evident in Valve’s creations isn’t about the hardcore vs. casual dichotomy. It’s about an evident passion for the hobby which I find hugely rewarding. It’s akin to the article Shamus put up a while back about developer pictures at the end of games. That kind of joy in the hobby seems more evident to me in Valve games than Zynga. I. felt this so strongly that I had to make my puny voice heard. I want more gamers and if they mostly play Zynga, that’s ok. But some of the other developers (Valve, Blizzard, Bioware, etc.) seem much more deserving of recognition in my opinion.

    Now for my disclaimers. I haven’t really played much of the Zynga games. I recognize that somewhere there had to be a coder who enjoyed his job and probably/maybe had as much passion as any of the Valve guys. I’m happy to hear someone’s refutation of my opinion if it’s worth your time to write it.

  8. Funny, I’ve been thinking the same thing about the Wii for a year or so now… and I think publishers have similarly learned the wrong lesson.

    Sadly, their bets have mostly paid off (Carnival Games, anyone?), so here’s to hoping, with all the veteran developers opening social networking development studios (Richard Garriott? EA layoff employees? Firaxis?) that we’ll see some good game designs that embrace that same simplicity.

  9. Cat Skyfire says:

    I’m a casual platform gamer (I’d be less casual if I could afford a new system. New games for PS2 are pretty much limited to ‘things tied to movies for children’.). I’m a very casual PC gamer (I have no desire to buy a new computer just to play something that I might not enjoy.) I am also unable to play any first person game (the movement makes me ill, unless I can shift the camera to ‘on high’ which many don’t permit.)

    That said: I am a player of many of the Zynga games. They are easy to get into (without needing to read a 40 page manual.) They are free (unless you want extras, but it’s an option, not unlike spending money in a internet console game for a different outfit.) And they also play on the gambler’s concept. Regular rewards – new pellets to keep you feeding. Ooh, I found a ____. If I post it, then a friend can get one, too. And I click their post, and get something. Oooh, a new pellet!

    Add in the fact that it’s through an easily accessible system. You log into Facebook and you can play. No installation issues, no hardware requirements, just clicking and an internet connection.

    I won’t claim that the games are the most advanced things, but they tend to have a level of fun to them, for some people. (Some of the games remind me greatly of the Diner Dash series.) By the same token, some people hated Civilization and some people loathed Grand Theft Auto.

    Now, some of their business practices are rather unfortunate. On the other hand, I’ve read enough of Shamus’ DRM posts to realize that a lot of game companies business practices are unfortunate.

  10. Axle says:

    I played farmville for a couple of months, until I realized it’s no more fun than building and maintaining an excel sheet and also a huge time waster.
    I also I hated being a facebook spammer…

    But I had to admit, that they have a good sense for making this game addictive. Mainly by adding new, small features every couple of days, so you always want to “achieve” a new thing. In this way they always keep famville “fresh”, and succesfully hide the fact that this is more of a repetitive chore than a game.

    But overall I dont think it hurts me as a gamer, unless, ofcourse, more deveopers will adopt their money making system. But I have my doubts this will happen…

  11. Daryn says:

    I liked this article because I can relate to it. I’ve been a console gamer for all of my gaming life, and desperatly want to hop onto PC gaming but, being a student, I can’t afford it, and ontop of that I don’t have the first clue about what graphics cards etc to buy. I can understand why people play games like Farmville if their in my shoes, because they are easy to get access to. It does seem like Zynga games would do well, because when faced with the choice of an expensive, daunting task that is buying and setting up a gaming PC, or simply popping on Facebook and playing Farmville.

  12. Irridium says:

    I actually quit facebook because of Farmville. I just joined due to lots of friends asking. And almost immedietly they ask me to join farmville, then their friends ask.

    I just joined, not knowing what was what and I was getting spammed off my ass.

    Yeah, no thanks. If thats what they want to play, fine. But all the damn spam is just annoying. I swear if I ever see “add me!!1” again I will go insane.

  13. briatx says:

    You’re right that games like FarmVille get people in to gaming who might not otherwise have the opportunity. But if I wanted to be part of a community that discussed literary novels, I wouldn’t want to see it shift to discussing “Run Dog, Run.”

    I registered for the escapist to participate in March Mayhem and I expected to continue participating in the community, but I find that I’ve lost a lot respect for the site. The whole “letting people vote from facebook” thing has left a really bad taste in my mouth.

  14. Blake Treleaven says:

    Someone’s replaced the Zynga article on Wiki with the article on Cancer

  15. Itse says:

    I’ve actually quite enjoyed playing Castle Age, which is a big improvement over Vampire Wars, which is propably an improvement over something else. (Those are the only Zynga-games I’ve tried.)

    There’s something deeply relaxing about playing a game in which there is really no way to fail. I mean they’re not even really games, they’re more just cheap but sparkly toys.

    Personally I think Zynga is a company to keep an eye on, for more reasons than just because of their scamming practises. They need to keep coming up with something new to keep making money, and the way they’re churning out new games and adding features, I’m pretty sure they’re going to come up with more than a few fun things to add to the types of games they’re currently making.

    There’s also a ton of credit to be given to the people who take previous ideas and just polish the edges and add a few whistles and bells to make everything more fun.

    More importantly, in the long run they’re going to need to come up with more challenging and complicated games for those insane amounts of people that will inevitably grow tired of just clicking around. Or, those people will just find some other company to do just that.

    If I was in the gaming business, I’d propably start developing those “Tired of FarmVille? You should try X!” -games.

  16. Jarenth says:

    I’m baffled that people are still doing that whole when-are-you-a-gamer discussion thing. Weren’t we as a community óver this already? Wasn’t there some evil DRM scheme to fight, or something?

    This’ll probably make me come off as bitter, but I honestly don’t see why this still merits discussion. Some people like complex ten-hour games. Some people like simple browser games. Why is this still a polarizing issue? I may never get it.

    1. Galad says:

      It’s an issue because the developer of spammy browser games claims to be a better developer than IW, Rockstar North, Square Enix and now Valve. Of course, that’s only how it looks like in the eyes of the short-sighted. March Mayhem may be a competition for best developer but in practice it’s a popularity contest in which zynga has the advantage of numbers and easier rallying/voting. And to further fuel the fire, 90%+ of the zynga voters come in, post something fanboy-ish and don’t come back. At least from what I saw, the few that posted some intelligent reasoning in favor of farmville have been replied to as intelligently.

      1. Jarenth says:

        It’s not Zynga specifically I have issues with; as far as I know, they deserve the dislike levelled at them. I was referring more to the general people-who-play-simple-games-aren’t-gamers debate that tends to resurface now and again.

  17. Bonedancer says:

    At time of commenting, someone has molested Wikipedia such that your link goes to the article on cancer. I can see the point they’re presumably trying to make, but I did kind of want to know more about Zynga’s shady business practices, ya know? Can’t hate them if I don’t have a reason. Well, not as hard, anyway.

  18. MogTM says:

    I agree that Zynga (and, more broadly, casual games in general) have the potential to bring more people into our hobby. My question to all of you is this: is there a path from games like FarmVille or Plants Vs Zombies to modern “hardcore” games?

    I have a friend who loves Plants Vs Zombies and seems to like the heart of what gaming is about. She even has expressed a desire to play more complex games. But every time I have tried to introduce her to one, it failed.

    First, I tried Jade Empire, reasoning that the combat was auxiliary to the story — on easy, button mashing could get her through the combat and let her enjoy the plot. This did not work for two reasons: first, that approach took away any pleasure in the game play part of the experience and turned the process into an interactive movie with occasional button mashing. Second, she didn’t enjoy the story. After I got over my inner BioWare fanboy, I realized why: the gaming tropes I just accepted as background took her completely out of the moment and broke immersion. “Wait, why is this random guy telling me his life story and asking me to solve his problems — and why can I only respond by being a jerk or a pushover?”

    Next, I tried Portal. Especially in the first few levels, I thought it could give her a good chance to explore the basic first-person controls without the time-pressure of being shot at. But even without that pressure, trying to navigate puzzles with controls that made it difficult for her to walk and look around at the same time was an exercise in frustration. As intuitive as it is for me, she was not having fun trying to use both her hands at the same time in very different ways just to walk around.

    Now I don’t know what to try. She could play and enjoy many more casual games – I imagine she would like things like bejeweled, a frogger clone, or maybe even FarmVille. But none of those games seem to get her any closer to having the skills to one day enjoy playing Left4Dead with our other friends or joining in our conversations about what class is most fun in Dragon Age.

    TLDR; Once someone has played and liked a casual game, what is the next step to develop skills to enjoy games that “gamers” play?

    1. Jarenth says:

      Practice, I’d guess.

      Thing is that we “gamers”, as you put it, have had years of experience in a lot of different genres, systems and control schemes. One of the reasons it’s easy for us is that we have, to quote Yahtzee, “muscle memory sprouting out of our thumbs”. I honestly think the only way to make ‘the leap’ from casual to hardcore (if such a thing even exists) can only be made by practice; trying out different games to see what you like and actively trying to improve yourself.

      Compare it to learning a new language or playing an instrument: if you start doing it as a kid you grow into it, but if you start as an adult it’s going to be tough.

    2. Traska says:

      The Sims.

      Seriously, it’s the ultimate in casual gaming. I’d recommend The Sims 2… TS3 is cute, but it’s not as meaty as TS2. Plus, TS2 has a metric buttload of user created downloads to add New Shiny Things to your game nearly forever.

      1. MogTM says:

        Yeah, that may be a good next step — but I’m not sure it really solves the problem. It still doesn’t introduce any of the basic concepts like camera management (first or third person), gamplay conventions or appropriate reflexes.

        I’m not convinced that a veteran Sims player is going to be much more able to make the transition into more “gamer” games any easier than a veteran Plants Vs Zombies player. I’m still looking for something easy that teaches those basic skills.

        1. Lenneth says:

          Doesn’t teach camera management? You’d be surprised. As someone who uses it to tell stories, I can tell you that I get a lot of camera fiddling out of trying to get “the perfect shot” to screencap. Even if it isn’t first or third person, on that point it should familiarize her with a few tricks for getting a better look at things. And even though it’s not “interactive” about it per se it should at least get her familiar with the concepts of skilling/levelling up, etc – tropes, if you will, that might make it easier for her to get into other games.

    3. Galad says:

      “why is this random guy telling me his life story ”

      Because that’s how it is in good role-playing games – you are (ugh, that word again) immersed in a world where you’re not the only one that matters, and NPCs have their own backstories, like reading a good book.

      “why can I only respond by being a jerk or a pushover?”

      Because responding as you would normally respond in real life is

      a) wildly different for different people, hence impossible to code
      b) not nearly as interesting

      I don’t sound very convincing, do I? :(

    4. Mari says:

      You might try her with the Lego “fill in the movie” games. There’s some combat but it’s passable with button-mashing. There are some puzzles but most aren’t entirely unlogical. There’s a familiar and well-loved story approached in a humorous way. There’s varied gameplay so if she hates vehicles she can bypass that quickly and return to character-based or vice versa. And there’s very little penalty for “failure.” You lose a few coins and wait a few seconds to respawn right back where you were with full health.

      Plus, if she winds up liking it, there are tangible rewards for replaying (and thus building that muscle memory). It wouldn’t take away anything to NOT replay a level or NOT find all the hidden doo-dads but if you do those things you get bonus levels, new characters, and unlockables that are essentially game-sanctioned cheats (like doubling your treasure, making you invincible, etc).

      The other route you might go with her would be strategy-sim games. “Fill in the blank” Tycoon type things. Those are the games that FarmVille, etc. are softened versions of. You’re not going to build the skills for twitch gaming or whatever by playing them but there’s enjoyment to be had by “beating” the computer scenarios. You pit your brain against a (shackled) computer brain and hopefully emerge the victor. And most of them offer a sandbox mode where she can pursue her own objectives if she gets bored/annoyed with lack of progress in scenario mode.

    5. Joe says:

      Honestly, the best “route” is to keep finding deeper genres of things she enjoys. Since she likes Plants vs. Zombies, I’d try something like Sim City, or (What-have-you) tycoon. Then maybe move into a kind of RTS. Then maybe try a more action-adventure style. Keep in mind, however, that Left4Dead and Dragon Age aren’t for everyone. She may very well be one of those people (like myself) who would rather master the intricacies of ZvT Starcraft. Gorram firebats…

  19. Ergonomic Cat says:

    “(A fun experiment: Sit a newbie down in front of a modern console game and watch when the tutorial prompts them to hit “R3″. Depressing the thumbstick is not an obvious move and doing so will generally not occur to new people no matter what icons you show them.)”

    While I generally agree with that, every single manual out there includes a “Here’s what the controller looks like, here’s what we call everything, and here’s what they do in this game” section. It’s silly, and none of us who even read the manual ever read it. But to their credit, it is there. I doubt many new gamers would read it, but the console makers do try to give them a reference point….

  20. Mari says:

    Shamus, just thought you might be interested to hear the latest in the Zynga epic. They released a new game today. It’s their most “complex” game yet although it’s still no great shakes. Frontier Ville builds on some of their tried and true games while adding new stuff. There are farming bits like Farm Ville with crops and animals and such. There’s collecting for rewards like Treasure Isle. But there’s also inventory and crafting, which is entirely new to the Zynga family of games. You chop trees to clean land for buildings and crops. This nets you wood which you can use to make buildings as well as crafting nifty items like fire and wood planks. You plant crops which give you food that you use to gain energy and you also get nifty usefuls from them for crafting items like cloth, rope, etc.

    I mostly add this information for the sake of people who are wondering how fluffy click-fest games from Zynga will affect the gaming community as a whole. It seems Zynga is building a sort of “baby gamer training ground” at the moment with successive games adding deeper strategy and gameplay.

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