And now Zynga (which itself has attracted plenty of controversy recently) is going to try and recreate the game's success with a brand new version called, simply, FarmVille 2. Director of Design Wright Bagwell showed Joystiq what the future of FarmVille's crops and farm animals looks like, how the game will reach out (but not too far) toward a more hardcore audience, and how Zynga plans to take the world's most popular and oft-hated casual and social game and make it even more casual and social. Bagwell, it should probably be stated, didn't start out making games for Zynga, or even social games. He's a former creative director for EA, and most recently did a lot of work on the Dead Space franchise. But he started at Zynga working on FarmVille 2, and says "the challenge for me is to make something that really appeals to as many people as possible." That widespread appeal doesn't need to come from a lack of complexity, but rather from a more open focus. "Games don't have to appeal to a very specific demographic or a very specific audience," says Bagwell.
That's probably why, on first glance, FarmVille 2 won't appear to have changed all that much. The graphics have been updated to 3D, and they now run completely in Flash 11, using the newest browser-based technology that Zynga could come up with (that doesn't rule out an iOS version eventually, says Bagwell, but the game's on Facebook right now).
While the game's representations of crops and fences is probably still too cartoonish to draw any oohs and aahs from a more sophisticated gamer audience, there are a few new touches to the display courtesy of the new tech. Crops will now subtly lean toward your cursor as it moves around, and hovering over anything in the game world will cause it to react to your interaction in some way. Animals now move around their pastures (rather than just stand there waiting for a click), and even decorations are reactive.
The core mechanic of the game hasn't changed either. Users will still click to plant crops, and then click to harvest them after a certain real-world time interval. Bagwell and his team have added a new interface on top of that familiar base. You can now choose a certain crop and "paint" it by clicking and dragging around your farm, or even right-click occasionally, something that the FarmVille grandmas may have a tough time figuring out, admits Bagwell. "You can play this game very casually, you can click on everything and it just works, and you don't have to read the text if you don't want to." But "players are delighted" when they do find the new interface mechanics, he adds.
Zynga hasn't changed the game's core monetization model either. There are two main currency resources in the game, animal feed and water, and both act as gates to keep player progression moving forward. You earn water from digging wells to grow crops to raise and buy feed, and you use that feed to keep your animals producing and happy. Crops will still wither if you don't log back into the game in time, though "we made the timers for them a lot more generous," says Bagwell. "If you come back every day, your crops will be fine."
So yes, Zynga hasn't lost its taste for hooking users. The elements are a little more refined, at least. As Bagwell says, the energy and currency mechanics are slightly more "rooted in the fiction" of the game. Zynga hasn't created anything really new in the core loop; it's just added a shiny coat of paint to the same cycles.
There is one big new element that Zynga hopes more hardcore players get interested in, and that is a more robust crafting mechanic. In the first game, you simply clicked once on crops to harvest and sell them, but in FarmVille 2 the crops you collect stack up as their own resources; you grow wheat to get flour, and apples to get apples, and so on. You can then use those resources in the game's kitchen, cooking up apples, flour and eggs into some scones, or strawberries and lemons into strawberry lemonade, depending on what recipes the game has opened up to you. There's a farm stand outside your farm, and prices at that stand can rise and fall based on what's needed, so there's more complexity in the game in terms of what you can make and how much you can sell it for.
For example, do you simply sell your mushrooms, or do you wait for your chicken to give eggs so you can make a full omelette? The grocer from the nearby village occasionally shows up on your farm with requests (that serve as quests), so you may aim your farm on any given day towards meeting his demands.
There's a little more strategy, with the crafting system in place, to what you grow and how you grow it, then. It doesn't affect how things work on a larger scale, however, and that's by design. As Bagwell says, any players simply interested in just clicking around to make and sell crops can still do so. They may not earn as much money as quickly, but they're still playing, and obviously that's what Zynga wants.
Zynga's planning more social elements in the future: The grocer quests won't be in at launch, but they and other village-based features will be added later, along with more connections to friends also playing the game. In the future, players will be able to sell and buy items in a town near the farm, or find other friends there as well. Currently, friends can still show up on your farm and help in all sorts of ways (which means that spam you see in your social feed likely won't stop). Bagwell says Zynga wants friend interactions to be "the most powerful item in the game," because that sort of element is what really made FarmVille the success it came to be.
Despite the graphical shine, FarmVille 2 doesn't stray past the white fences for Zynga. There certainly are new elements in there, and those future social updates may change things quite a bit. What it really wants here is a refined version of FarmVille, with those promotional and monetization elements intact, and familiar for casual gamers. From what we've seen so far, that's exactly what FarmVille 2 will be.