GDC 2013 Wednesday Farmville 2

11 04 2013

Farmville 2 postmortem; What grew Wild and What Whithered Away

This talk turned out to be more interesting than I expected. Instead of just the advertised examples of successes and failures, they talked about how their teams work together throughout the design process and how they made their 3D effects make the game feel responsive.

The speakers Wright Bagwell and Mike McCarthy referred to Farmville as an ‘invest and express‘ genre game – something I had to go look up as I’d not heard of it before.

It’s a name that Zynga has coined for the type of game that gets its players to ‘invest’ time and money and then ‘express’ themselves through how they arrange the playsets they’ve amassed.

They decided on farming because it matched ideas of nurturing and being calm that they wanted to offer to their target audience.

They found a series of videos from Cornell small farms Program that they then matched up with their audience’s desires from a game in order to create the ‘pillars’ of their design brief.

They wanted their game to have

• Escapism (peaceful setting)

• Casual challenge (dip-in)

• Transformation (leveling up)

• Collaboration (co-op play)

The Cornell video shows that farmers love farming for various reasons which can be grouped into sets that are similar to the above aims for the game;

• Fantasy dream ideal

• Exploration/experimentation

• Challenge

• Community

This is a technique for idea inspiration that I’ve not come across before, I like the thought that so much consideration towards the ‘feel’ of the end game was put in at such an early stage.
It seems unlikely, except that this was for a sequel – it’s easier to see this amount of analysis going into a re-branding exercise.

Like other speakers throughout the week, they said you the design should focus on the experience rather than features.
A lesson in re-scoping from the initial pitch concept. The original design had everything the player made in the game be able to level up. They found that this was a nice idea on paper, but ended up with player behaviours that weren’t fun.

Firstly, having too many decisions meant the player didn’t find the game relaxing. The opportunity cost of deciding “Do I harvest and cash in or feed and level up” was too high.

This also meant that the players ended up investing all their energy into nurturing a small set of items, leaving their farms sparse and boring.

Another problem with having everything level up, was that it meant creating a lot of art assets. The visual change between levels had to be dramatic enough to be worthy of the amount of work put in to attain it, which added even more to the artists’ work load.

(This brought to mind Rage of Bahamut to me, as that game is so very boring that it was purely the sheer volume and variety of artwork that made it addictive to me.)

Changing the pillars

Give people pillars and trust to let them run with their own ideas in the right direction.

If you change the direction you must communicate it or you’ll just randomise it.

pillars photo

One handed principal. Your player is eating/drinking/nursing a baby/on phone and so your game needs to be playable with only one hand.

so play with one hand.


Never insult your players intelligence, they don’t care how ‘clever’ you are – they play so they can feel clever themselves.


Farmville 2 is a long running game, the players need to feel they can go away without missing out. When all the items have been resolved, the animations on the board look calm and neat – giving the message “You’ve tidied the board up, it’s okay to go now”

Establish a game rhythym

This I found very unexpected, they showed us how different brainwaves respond to different music speeds.


Beta – excitement – 120 bpm – FPS

Alpha – relax – 60 bpm – casual game

theta – sleep/meditation – (Can you play while meditating?)

delta – deep sleep – ???

They had deliberately chosen music at 60 bpm for the majority of the sound in the game. New missions or completions would be a bit faster to show that they were more important.




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