Zynga games on Facebook are not generally considered great games for experienced gamers. But taken all together the number of people playing these games are in the hundreds of millions. They are most definitely a trend in modern gaming, and potentially an entry point for many people into the world of video games. That makes them worth looking at.
Earlier this year I noticed some encouraging trends with Zynga games: The gameplay improved. Empires & Allies, while still not quite what a gamer would call a "strategy game", is a huge improvement over simple cow-clicking games like Farmville. Adventure World has "instanced dungeons" with a puzzle-based gameplay which, while not being terribly complicated, still offers more puzzles than the average MMORPG dungeon.
Unfortunately it seems that this trend towards better gameplay has stopped or is even reversing. This week Zynga released Castleville, which like Farmville and Cityville is void of any gameplay worth mentioning. There are the same farm plots and cows to click on to make money to buy stuff to decorate your land with. Castleville is "better" than Farmville in terms of graphics and sound, has more appealing characters, story and quests, and has a simple crafting system. But in the end it is a game about clicking on stuff to build a pretty
farm castle. And, like in all Zynga games, you can't even do that without constantly begging for stuff from your friends. Or, as I do it, from your "Zynga friends", which you can find easily enough on the Zynga forums in "add me!" threads. In terms of evolution of gameplay it is clearly a step backwards.
As reported earlier, Zynga's profits are down, and there is increasing evidence that user numbers of Zynga games peak more and more early, and then decline quickly. The "-ville" games have historically been Zynga's greatest successes, so I would interpret Castleville as an attempt of Zynga to land another super hit before their IPO. It will be interesting to see, albeit somewhat worrying, if Zynga manages a return to previous form by releasing a game with less complicated gameplay. Do players evolve from simple games to more complex ones? Or are "click to get reward" games already the highest form of gaming some people are interested in?