Will Zynga’s CastleVille Be Able to Top CityVille?

Since Zynga launched CityVille nearly a year ago, it has dominated the top of the social games charts.

So the big question is whether Zynga’s newest ’Ville, which comes out in the next couple of weeks, will be able to top it. It’s a good problem — one that any game maker would love to have.

On one hand, the social game maker would love to stretch out the life of the game for as long as it can. But CityVille is nearly a year old, and other games, such as Electronic Arts’ the Sims Social, are nipping at its heels.

In other words, it’s time for a new franchise hit, especially with the company’s IPO looming.

Zynga unveiled CastleVille last month at a press conference in San Francisco, and now it’s prepping to launch the game on Facebook in the next couple of weeks.

With CityVille, it took just 24 hours for more than 290,000 people to move in, which beat Zynga’s biggest game launch ever — FrontierVille. Although Zynga has launched several games since, CastleVille will be the first ’Ville title since CityVille went live last December.

CastleVille does not stray far from the ’Ville genre. Players are challenged with building the castle of their dreams. They meet peasants, princesses and pirates in the medieval world, exploring new areas while decorating and building a kingdom of their own.

Bill Jackson, creative director of CastleVille, says the game is a natural extension of the franchise. FarmVille was about freedom of expression and sharing with friends, and FrontierVille added the concept of narrative and storytelling.  “CastleVille expands on that,” he said.

Jackson said Zynga built the game to be more fast and efficient. For instance, there are fewer prompts to share accomplishments with your friends. Instead, Zynga will rely on Facebook’s new “open graph” feature, which allows some of these things to appear automatically in the top-right ticker rather than in your main news feed.

Zynga also spent a lot of time — and money — on the music. Zynga hired a full orchestra to create all the background music and sound effects. While many people mute their games since they play at work, Jackson recommends a pair of headphones so you don’t miss out.

The game also has a lot more detail and animation: Fish jump in the pond, frogs croak, and trees reverberate with each chop of an axe. The illustrations are inspired by a number of themes, including DreamWorks’ “Shrek.” (Is it just a coincidence that Jeffrey Katzenberg, the CEO and co-founder of DreamWorks Animation, is on Zynga’s board?)

When asked whether this will steal away CityVille’s audience, Jackson said, “Players who played CityVille will find this one interesting, as well.”

When CastleVille launches in the next couple of weeks, it will be available in 17 languages around the world.

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