The gaming community has long frowned upon social games for not providing a lot of depth in gameplay. They are often regarded as tools to extract value out of unsuspecting grannies who don’t know any better. The likes of Zynga have grown to become industry behemoths by simply tapping into the social graphs and exploiting the addictive quality that games can have on people. With incredibly simple gameplay, most social games function on a system of peer pressure through your friends list. It’s common enough, at a certain point in the game, that to get more mileage out of the experience or advance the game further, you either have to pay or find more people to join your game. I’ve always believed that the social platform had potential to offer something unique if anybody was willing to develop a proper game for it with meaningful gameplay.
Civilization World beta was opened up to the public this past week, and I got a good look at the Facebook game that promises to be a real game. CivWorld is developed by Firaxis,and reportedly Sid Meier (the brain behind the Civilization franchise and Alpha Centauri among other things) himself is overseeing the development. That in itself is enough to get me excited about spending time on a social game.
Let me preface this with two warnings.
1) Civilization World is definitely a Facebook game with all the implications that come with the social genre. The familiar social tropes are there, for example, the game advances in real time whether your there or not, an in-game currency that can be bought for real world dough, social interaction with other players (duh), and restrictions on how much you can do each time you log in (using the aforementioned real time system). Depending on how severe of a bias you have against these social game traditions, you might not get over it, even if the gameplay is significantly deeper than we have come to expect from the genre.
2). This is a beta, and not the kind publishers use to cleverly name their multi-player demos so players feel exclusive. They are definitely testing out server capacity and net codes, and the code seems to be broken to some degree. However, according to tradition betas are supposed to be content locked so even though the game is not completely a finished product it should give a comprehensive view of the in-game systems. The game seems to be exceeding Firaxis’ expectations and server capacity, so frequent disconnects and inability to connect in the first place is to be expected. For example, I haven’t been able to connect to the servers at all today and twice I’ve logged in and all my buildings are gone with no explanation as to why my city was razed so I assume it’s a bug.
|A sight that’s all too common|
The Basic Concept
I’m not going to go into much detail about the systems in the game and how they work. I’ll save that for later. Instead I’ll go over the basic concepts in the game to demonstrate that there actually is more at work here than we come to expect of social games.
Like in Civilization proper, you need to gather resources to form a strong foundation for your empire. Food to grow your population, production to build military units and infrastructure, science to gain advantage in tech, culture to make great people, and gold to buy stuff. Each of the resources, except for food, can contribute directly towards victory.
In CivWorld the empire is not yours to control. You control a single city state that you can fashion to your own liking. Build houses for your people, assign them a job and away you go. There are a number of buildings that you can use to bolster the resource output of your population and expand your borders. The city state can function on it’s own but there seems to be no point in doing so except for your enjoyment of creating a simple city that has no discernible flair. This is of course a social game and there is a whole meta game built up around the social aspect.
|Managing your city state requires a few minutes at a time and
benefits from visiting frequently.
The Social Aspect
You will have to join a civilizations and by doing so you will contribute your resources to that civ. Each civ in the game is formed somewhat at random and random people will work together to win each era of the game. In every game has a total of 21 eras and winning an era grants the players in the winning civ fame points. You will have to work together to win because each of the four win conditions are designed to promote teamwork and measure the accumulated effort of the civ.
You can meet certain conditions and be appointed the king of the civ or assume the role of a minister. Each position gives some benefits according to the related field of the position.
You seem to get dropped into a random game with random strangers and you have the option of joining any civ given that it hasn’t reached it’s maximum number of players. I don’t know if it’s for the purpose of the beta but there seems to be very little connection to your friends list which is unusual for a Facebook game. At the moment I can’t see any benefits to recruiting your friends to your civ over joining an already decent one.
|Each civilization has a king and 7 ministers.|
The Meta-Meta game
On top of the social game that’s on top of the resource gathering game is a vanity penis-measuring. Old Civ players might remember the palace that got cut in Civ 4 where the progress you made gave rewards in the form of pieces to add to your palace. It had little to do with the rest of the game and served only as a nice place you could feel could about. The throne room in CivWorld serves a similar purpose and undoubtedly you can show it off to friends and brag about the length of it… ehh I mean the splendour of your royal abode.
The game also tracks the fame points you accumulate, by winning eras and earning achievements, through all of your games. These points serve as your score and presumably will also be taken into consideration when you put you manly-hood on display for the world to admire.
I find this aspect to be rather unappealing and useless but it might be amusing if I stick with the game for an extended period of time. It’s not really all that different to trophies or achievements but I feel like it’s not the best platform for such vanities because odds are that most people on your friends list aren’t gamers and couldn’t care less.
I’m not paying
One thing that really bugs me is the way the game progresses. I might be a part of a civ and in that civ there are a number of dedicated players who have a lot of time to waste on Facebook. Now I might not be able to log in for a day and already a few hundred years have passed and I’m left in the dust without any hope of becoming a major player in the game. The game is designed to just be there and you tend to it every once in a while and make your moves.
Now here is the hook for getting you to spend your hard earned dough on Civ Bucks, Firaxis’ own space currency that enables you to buy vanity items for your throne room and more importantly it can be used to by extra harvests which are, otherwise, only gained through the passing of real time. To their credit, they are limiting the impact of the benefits, gained by spending real money, in the game but one has to wonder how it will evolve and if the significance of gaining in-game progress through micro-transactions will change in the future.
|One of the three mini-games you can play to give you some financial, cultural or scientific advantage.|
I, for one, do not feel compelled to literally buy into the game at the moment. I’m not in any way above supporting a good game with some money but at the moment I don’t feel that the game is compelling enough to start investing in it.
CivWorld is by far the most game-y Facebook game I’ve played and rivals a good mobile game in terms of depth and strategy. My main concern is that because it’s heavily focused on the social aspect, it might get frustrating to find games where people want make the most out of the systems in the game. As time goes on it will be important to find friends that you know will partake in planning the right strategy and make most out of the time spent there, because we all know that most of the time random strangers simply wont cut it.
It’s certainly an interesting game and I will continue to play it and keep you guys posted on my findings.
– Arnar L