but not because of net problems – the game has no challenge and there is no way to fail. At first I thought the model used might have interesting potential, but I quickly relaised the implementation is flat. However, if I could get my hands on a copy of the code, I could tweak it to make an interesting simulation of a medieval manor or an Eighteenth century estate.
If you have have not been dragged into FarmVille (or any of its close cousins like FarmTown or YoVille), it is, briefly, a Flash game where you start with a patch of land and some money. You plough sections, buy seeds, plant and harvest, make money and cycle on. As you go on, you make more money, and can cultivate more of your farm. Different crops mature at different rates, and sell for differing prices, and the community forums have several spreadsheets to help you max out your return. The other distinguishing, social features are that you can gift trees or animals to friends for free, and you can help out with chores like weeding on friends farms.
Initially, I thought this was interesting. A problem with using games like Civ or Sim city for teaching at any age is the overhead in terms of installing the game, getting it to work, and learning not only basic play but the deeper elements of the sim. FarmVille looks like it answers many of these problems, and does it in a massive social networking environment easily. It runs in any browser, and it has very simple controls. It is a bigger download each time than I like, but it works, and that is a big plus for anyone looking to deploy sims in a class or a alb. I know, any good flash based game will do that, but Farmville does it in a very popular setting. There are some really good flash based sims out there, designed as thoughtful edugames, and they never reach as many people as Farmville does because they are stuck in corners of the web where people only go when teacher sends them there.Â If you really want to use the web for education, you need to be able to put it in a bottle, throw it out to sea and have it wash up on a million beaches.
Sadly, Farmville falls short in so many little ways. It has no market model – I can keep growing rice every day, and get the same price, no matter how many people churn it out.Â It has minimal social interaction beyond sending gifts and sharing chores. If you don’t harvest a crop, it will wither,Â so you can lose your investment, but you’d have to be pretty sloppy for that to happen. And as far as I can see (I’m up to level 8 so far) the challenge level never changes – its just a grind for money and XP.Â Crop growth rates are different, but I don’t think they are proportionate to real world growth rates. You can grow rice overnight (it has a 12 hour growth cycle) and then plant strawberries in the same patch (4 hour growth) with the same basic ploughing; and that can’t be right. One of the most basic faults I noticed is that your animals don’t eat your crops. Now if you have a goat and you have a field of anything, pretty soon you have a clear field and a happy goat.Â SO it is fun for about a day, but quickly loses its charm.
And yet I still like the underlying framework – a nice little square, big enough for about 20 x 20 “fields”, a couple of dozen each of crops, trees, animals and other things like barns, and simple point and click gameplay.Â Each crop only has about three things to track – cost, growth period and selling price. Adding a few more variables or rules doesn’t add much to the load – in these things, it is the graphics that are big, and a few lines of code to implement a new game rule doesn’t add much to slow the game. If you were an educational sim designer and you could get it out to as many people as fast as FarmVille, you’d be very happy. Now if I could just get my hands on a basic open source template for it, I could have fun.