What are farm games?
Zynga made farming games popular around the world with their now infamous Farmville which, in turn, was a clone of Farm Town created by Slashkey and released on MySpace and Facebook. Now "farm games" populate the internet, mobile devices, and social networks. Farm Town, Farmville, Zombie Farm, Astro Range, Tap Farm, and We Rule are all farming-based games that have taken a bit of a different twist from Farmville. They all, however, play the same. Players create plots, plant crops, and wait to harvest them in order to get coin to build more things. Players then decorate their farm or kingdom and show it off to all their friends. Crops rot, we are sad, we re-plant, and life goes on.
Is Farmville all we have?
Farming video games, however, have been around far longer than Farmville and its clones. One of the earliest farming video games, Harvest Moon, was created in 1996 by Yasuhiro Wada. Natsume imported the game to the United States and released the game on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1996. Since then, ten additional Harvest Moon games have been released for various Nintendo platforms.
A new type of farm game became available on the PC in 2007 with the release of Alice Greenfinger. Classified as a time management game, Alice Greenfingers allowed players to farm in a fast-paced, frenzied clicking game. Players plant crops that grow in seconds, harvest them, and either sell them or use them to create other items like jam. Farm Craft by Nevosoft quickly duplicated this style of gameplay, and a slew of similar games came into existence. Hobby Farm, Magic Farm, and Farm Life all play similarly to Alice Greenfingers and is a popular genre on BigFish Games.
Farm Frenzy, released by Alawar in November of 2007, became a chart-topping hit on sites such as Pogo and BigFish. Farm Frenzy does not operate like a traditional farming game where players plant crops and harvest them. Instead, Farm Frenzy focuses on the livestock aspects of farming. Countless games have been released using the Farm Frenzy model including six other games in the Farm Frezy line.
Why this obsession with farming? Do gamers really love farming that much? Perhaps we do. Farming games like Farmville offer continuous rewards that come over time with very little effort. Click a spot and simply remember to come back and harvest plants. Very little of the real world effort of planting crops, weeding, and harvesting is reflected in the game. But hey, we can buy pretty things, and the animals are so cute.
The real answer to why there are so many farming clones on Facebook and mobile devices that operate completely like Zynga's Farmville lies in the developers. Farmville is an easy game to make as far as creating games go. It possesses no game mechanics besides clicking and dragging, and the game requires little to no balance. Making farming games is easy for developers as compared to designing new games.
Still, farming will always be an inspiration for video games. People love to see change and feel like they had a hand in creating that change. Players get the satisfaction of growing crops and running a farm without any of the hard work involved. Plus, farm life is exciting and a throw back to a simpler time. Gamers love that.
Do we need another farming game?
Simply, we DO need more farming games, but we need the RIGHT KIND of farming games. We need more games like Harvest Moon not Farmville. In Harvest Moon, not only do people grow crops and fruit trees, they can also breed them and create new plants. Cows give milk but only female cows and only if they have been pregnant. Chickens hatch from eggs. They don't magically spawn from neighbors. Wool comes from sheep that have to be bathed and fed. They don't simply stand there waiting to be clicked. In Harvest Moon, weather matters, and players must keep themselves updated on what the weather will be like and when the next season starts. They have to know what crops grow well in what seasons, and they have to plan what to do during winter.
In Farmville, it is always sunny and pretty. That makes for a fun decorating game, but it leaves much to be desired for gameplay and strategy. Why are there not a hundred Harvest Moon clones but tons of Farmville clones? Harvest Moon is a complex game with complex systems that have been planned and developed over years. Farmville is actually a clone of Farm Town, an equally simple game. With the time it would take to copy Harvest Moon, a game developing company could simply create their own farm game in their own vision.
So, again, the simple answer to this question is that we do need more farming games, but we want original farm games. The genre is still well-loved, but we simply do not need another click and wait game.
Do you like farming games?
For those who love farming games but have sworn them off because of the Farmville clones, try other farm-based games such as Harvest Moon, Farm Frenzy, or Farm Craft. For a really interesting farming experience, try the massively muliti-player online game (MMORPG) called A Tale in the Desert. Not only can players farm, they can create goods from their farming endeavors. Runescape, a web-based MMORPG, also has a fun farming system as a side note of the overall gameplay. Even as an aside, Runescape's farming offers more of a challenge and more fun than the Farmville clones.
Conclusion… especially for game developers.
If this article should ever be read by a game developer or even a wanna-be game developer, fans of farming games definitely want more, but please, don't give us another Farmville. We're done with that. We want innovative farm games that offer more of a challenge than clicking and watching the clock. So much inspiration can be taken from the farming community. This classic gaming theme still has many, many fans.
(A special thanks to my friend Meghan who gave me shots of her Farmville farm. Unfortunately, I deleted that appliation two years ago and could not take pictures of my own farm.)