Zynga’s First Post-IPO Title Is a Copycat of the Most Popular Facebook Game of 2011

It was a surprise when the top Facebook game of 2011 wasn’t a title from market-leading Zynga. But this year, it has plans to change that.

Today it is launching Hidden Chronicles, the company’s first-ever “hidden objects” game on Facebook.

So far, the casual game genre, which challenges players to find wineglasses or candlesticks in a crowded and messy illustration, has not had a major presence on Facebook.

That is, with one exception: Facebook deemed Gardens of Time by Disney’s Playdom division the most popular game of 2011.

In many regards, Zynga’s Hidden Chronicles is a copycat of the game or others found on the PC. The launch is important to Zynga since it marks one of the first times it is branching out from creating ’Ville games. Such hits as FarmVille and CityVille laid the foundation for Zynga’s $1 billion public offering in December.

Cara Ely, creative director of Hidden Chronicles, said the category is popular on the computer, but today the games are single-player experiences.

“Zynga has so much knowledge about social play,” she said. “People who already like hidden object games will have this new twist, and then people who have been playing ’Villes will enjoy them if you are a puzzle solver and like that completion-ist feeling.”

The premise of the game is that your Uncle Geoffrey has died under suspicious circumstances, and he’s left behind a number of clues to solve the mystery.

After arriving on the estate, the game feels like a scavenger hunt, where you search the uncle’s home and its grounds, including tree houses or secret gardens that you gain access to over time.

And, because it is a social game, you will need friends for some components of the game.

Challenge your friends to a contest of who can find the most hidden objects in a particular scene within 60 seconds, or earn “reputation points” by interacting with friends to unlock new content and scenes. If you don’t want to interact with friends, you can always pay to unlock these new scenes.

After all, Zynga’s got to have a way to make money.

Ely said the game will be able to live on forever with no final conclusion as to why your uncle died.

“We have a lot of story written that goes beyond that. We’ve structured it so you solve one piece, and then you have another avenue to go down,” she said. “It’s like a TV series that goes on as long as you have new narrative and story content.”

Ely, who joined Zynga last year, was the creator of the popular Dream Day Wedding series of hidden object games on the PC and worked at Sierra Online and iPlay.

Hidden Chronicles, which is expected to go live on Facebook later this morning, will be available in 15 languages.

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