CityVille review

Zynga’s CityVille has been available for some time now and remains one of Facebook’s most popular games. Over the nearly two years since its original release in December 2010, it has seen a number of updates and improvements, but is it still relevant and interesting in the increasingly-competitive social game market of 2012?

Despite the rivalry between CityVille and EA’s SimCity Social and the two games’ seeming desire to distance themselves from one another, it will be immediately apparent to anyone who fires up Zynga’s title that there is a heavy degree of inspiration from the original standalone SimCity games. Everything from the isometric perspective to the piano-heavy, jazz-style background music is strongly reminiscent of the more recent SimCity titles. Gameplay, however, is not — where SimCity (excluding the more recent Social version) is a detailed, complex and challenging simulation, CityVille eschews realism in favor of simple, accessible social game mechanics that are well-worn and very familiar to players by now.

Herein lies part of the problem with playing CityVille in 2012 — while many of its features and mechanics were relatively fresh at the time of its original release, now they have been used by so many other titles that the game just blends into the noise of the rest of the crowded marketplace. The fact that Zynga is insistent on continuing to rely on outdated, player-unfriendly conventions such as energy systems, Timeline spam and friend gates also gives the experience a lot more friction than is desirable, particularly for new players. These specific mechanics are the sort of things that tend to put off “core” players from trying social games, so to see Zynga continuing to rely on them even in its newer games is a little disappointing. Of course, CityVille’s infrastructure and monetization system is so well-established by now that it would be impractical to change the mechanics so significantly at this point, but it’s still worth noting that the amount of friction in the game may deter many new players from trying it for the first time.

The game is actually still surprisingly buggy, given that it has been available for nearly two years. At several points during testing, a floating “tutorial arrow” appeared on the screen with no explanation and could not be dismissed, and there were times that the game just froze up for several seconds before continuing on as if nothing had happened. The “click to scroll” system sometimes gets stuck on, meaning players have to click again to stop simple mouse movements scrolling the screen around. And sometimes it’s impossible to build things towards the bottom of the screen for no discernible reason.

There are a few design issues that haven’t really been addressed, either. While the isometric perspective gives a good quasi-3D view of the player’s city, the sense of perspective can frequently block out objects that are behind tall buildings. For example, if a player builds a City Hall in front of their farm plots, it becomes impossible to click on or even see the farm plots in question. Fortunately, the game does have the ability to pick up and move any building at any point. This is an unrealistic, implausible and inelegant solution to the problem — albeit one that is used in most games of this type — but at least it allows players to get around the issue should it crop up without them realising.

Despite all these issues that are still present, CityVille remains a surprisingly compelling game. The addition of a “combo” mechanic where players are provided with additional rewards the more coins, experience and other goodies they collect in rapid succession is fun, and the detailed graphics and animations, where players can frequently see their residents wandering the streets going about their business, give the game a pleasingly lively look that is certainly a far cry from other, more “static” examples of the citybuilding genre. It’s a playable game, for sure, but without some significant revamps of the system — or perhaps a sequel that doesn’t rely so heavily on mechanics that some players find irritating — it’s difficult to imagine it getting back to the dizzy heights of over 100 million MAU that it had shortly after launch.

CityVille currently has 17,162,808 MAU, 2,404,150 DAU and 7,874,736 WAU — certainly not figures to complain about, but a tenth of what they were at the game’s peak in early 2011. Follow its progress with AppData, our traffic tracking service for social games and developers.

Wait

Still a solid game with a ton of content, but continued reliance on friction-heavy mechanics is starting to make CityVille look increasingly dated — and the number of bugs and issues still present in the game nearly two years after release is disappointing to see.

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