Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Help! I'm Addicted to CityVille

Earlier this month, I had a lot of nervous energy and a bunch of spare time on my hands, since my husband was in the hospital for an unusually complicated appendectomy. He’s much better now, but I haven’t fully recovered, because I picked up a bad case of addiction to CityVille, the newly released social game from Zynga.

CityVille is the perfect hospital waiting-room activity. You click to create buildings and plant crops, click to harvest them and collect money from your shops, click to visit your friends’ cities and help them do the same things.

Unlike in a real city, everything you can possibly accomplish in the game is good. You receive money, goods, reputation points, energy and random bonus prizes constantly.

Most of these are useful, but some of them are not. For instance, I currently have a stock of 22 virtual danishes received as bonuses from my in-game coffee shop, and no way to spend them.

Among the early adopter types I know in the tech industry, there’s a sense that casual gaming on Facebook serves an entirely different demographic from their own. The thinking is that games from Zynga and the like replace relatively mindless activities like watching soap operas.

But as someone who has just reorganized her virtual retail shops to be surrounded by virtual trees, so as to accumulate more virtual bonus points, I can see how social gaming–especially as it gets more social–might appeal to the desire for mindless diversions in all of us.

And, I began to get an answer to a question I am asked a lot: Why are so many people playing these seemingly meaningless games?

CityVille is Zynga’s latest attempt to extend the dominance of its breakout social game FarmVille, which has long been the most popular such diversion on Facebook.

Of all of Zynga’s games, CityVille has been heralded as the most social to date, with new features such as a franchise system that allows users to actually participate in the building of their friends’ cities. Personally, I’ve never gotten into FarmVille, although it’s obviously quite addictive as well and hugely popular.

Chalk it up to the new social features, the slightly less awkward and cutesy 3-D graphics, or a momentary openness to mindless diversion on my part, but CityVille is the only Facebook game that’s truly sucked me in so far.

Zynga says CityVille is its fastest-growing game ever. According to AppData, CityVille has 54 million monthly active users, for second place overall (and only two million behind FarmVille).

There are no consequences in CityVille and there is no strategy. There’s also no winning (rather, as in FarmVille, an endlessly extending horizon of tasks to complete).

The worst thing that can happen is a crop can wither or you can allocate your “energy” to collecting rent and not have enough to empty the cash registers at your stores.

But, not to worry–come back in five minutes and there’s another unit of energy waiting for you.

CityVille is satisfying on a superficial level that I hadn’t thought possible. It’s not even like Angry Birds, my former casual game of choice, which breaks all sorts of age and language barriers in its simplicity, but still requires you to position the slingshot correctly and think through the physics of the various projectiles.

In CityVille, all you do is click, click, click.

Zynga seems to want three things from users: Their time, their money and their recruitment of their friends. As for time, I’ve given plenty of it, although you usually run out of stuff to do about 15 minutes into any one session (Zynga wouldn’t want game play to be a burden or feel too complicated).

But I’m not sure my obsession is paying off for Zynga. I’ve spent a grand total of 50 cents on the game. That’s because I wanted to spend the 15 Facebook credits I’d gotten as part of a launch promotion, but Zynga had a minimum purchase of 20 credits. Coughing up two quarters got me the difference–and it also hooked up my Facebook account to my PayPal account for the first time.

I currently have 20 CityVille “neighbors.” They are Facebook connections from all different parts of my life, including high school friends, tech industry people and fellow reporters. We get credits for heading over to each other’s cities and helping out, accepting roles at each other’s city halls and other municipal buildings and setting up franchises in each other’s cities and resupplying them.

And Zynga constantly harasses us to post on our own or other people’s Facebook walls to ask them for in-game gifts and brag about in-game achievements.

Conscious of polluting other people’s walls and admitting to people how much CityVille I play, I usually decline all the offers to broadcast my CityVille needs and accomplishments. But it’s clear Zynga could stand to add even more communication channels if it wanted to; a friend recently emailed me off-game to ask if I could hurry up and send him a CityVille zoning permit.

I get the sense most of my particular set of neighbors haven’t given Zynga a lot of cash for virtual goods, considering our cities are growing at about the same rate and I see them on there at least once a day helping tend to my crops and resupplying their franchises. There are no in-game advertisements.

A few of my neighbors, however, have accumulated premium goodies galore. A certain Facebook exec’s city is decorated with paid-for doodads like a basketball court, tennis court and bronze statue–but I imagine it’s not too hard for him, of all people, to stock up on Facebook credits.

A particular start-up CEO who’s my virtual neighbor seems to play on an hourly basis. He has already hit level 35. You know that somewhere a Zynga engineer is scurrying to create more tasks and content to add more levels to keep up with him and other addicts.

And only one of my neighbors appears to have never returned to the game after setting up her initial city.

Meanwhile, my own city keeps on growing. I’m currently at level 26. I’m now the mayor of my city and considering a run for governor.

But, now that I’m back from the hospital, I’d honestly really like to stop playing this game and let the healing begin.

Update: Since I first wrote a draft of this post on Sunday CityVille added 10 million users. I’ve updated the stats as of Wednesday morning.

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