Fairyland Pairs Cuteness and Complexity

[Editor’s Note: The reviews on Inside Social Games tend to focus on new or successful Facebook games that appear on our weekly rankings lists of games by traffic growth, informed by research from our traffic tracking service, AppData. Every so often, however, our reviewers find themselves fascinated by a game that may not be new or may not enjoy any particular advantage in traffic or monetization. Our weekly reviews examine these social games, which otherwise might fly under the radar.]

About two years ago, most Facebook games were simple collection games and what I played were variations of games like African Safari and Lil’ Green Patch — collections games that benefited charitable organizations. I started playing Fairyland because a friend had posted the cutest creatures from the game on her Wall and it turned out that developer Play and Connect, Ltd. donated some of their proceeds to the Nature Conservancy. Nearly two years later, I’m still playing.

Game Overview

Launched in 2008, Fairyland is a virtual farming simulation and collection game. Players buy flower pots, plant seeds, water and harvest the fruit of their labor. Each plant will attract specific wildlife that eats a certain food. Players watering plants have a chance of spotting these creatures and winning diamonds. Players also receive a message that they save one (or more) square foot of rain forest each time they harvest the fruit of a plant.

When players start the game, they receive 175 gold, 25 diamonds and 3 sprinkles of stardust and may have nine items in the garden (five at start), two of which can be feeding tables for wild life. They name a garden helper — a fairy or elf to which ownership of the garden most of the activity is attributed. The game identifies players by garden name as well as by the player’s first name and name of the garden helper. Plants generally take one to two weeks to grow and produce fruit, although higher level plants can take as long as 30 days or more to complete the cycle. The goal is to spot creatures and gain diamonds as these in combination with plants grown are what provide levels and achievements.

The mechanic that gets players coming back is a social one that extends beyond Facebook friends available in-game. Players have to spot creatures in their own gardens as well as other gardens in order to fill the creature spotted page, as well as move forward in certain thematic plant collections. Furthermore, spotting creatures in other gardens rewards the garden owners with the same amount of diamonds that you the spotter receives, encouraging garden owners to attract people to their own gardens. Fairyland gardeners can also set up mini-games in their gardens for visitors to play. The only benefit from having your Facebook friends play the game is that these players can gift each other seasonal seeds.

There are two main types of currency in the game, gold and diamonds. Gold is used every time a player waters a plant and also to purchase seeds, flower pots, food and resources for mini-games. Diamonds are used to shorten plant growing time and to purchase special flower pots and garden games. Five gold can be collected every three hours and other small amounts can be earned through other means, including finding them in friends’ gardens. Stardust is a third and rarely used type of currency in the game that comes in small amounts whenever a player purchases gold. Stardust can be used to purchase super food that attracts twice as many creatures, and special decorations for the garden that accompany in-game actions. For example, you can purchase flying pigs that appear in the background whenever you have plants in your garden out to attract the piglet.

Game Complexity and Development

Although the mechanics are simple, Fairyland is complex enough that fans have formed resource lists to keep track of all the “right” plants and pots and animals players need to advance. Garden lists show friends gardens, favorite gardens that players bookmark and random gardens. Wildlife lists tracks the wildlife you have spotted and links to pages where you can advertise your garden and find other gardens currently attracting that particular creature. Additionally, there are complex side games like alchemy and herbalism that award resources, which the fan pages break down by materials needed to complete the side games and where those materials can be earned or bought.

If growing the right plants in the right pots to attract wildlife with the right food and at the right time isn’t complex enough, there are three grades of food. Regular food costs 5 gold and attracts 5 wildlife in 3 days; organic food costs 10 gold and attracts 5 wildlife in 36 hours; and super food attracts 10 wildlife in 36 hours. From those numbers, players have deduced the time intervals where it is most likely to spot a creature when watering a plant. Complicated player etiquette systems have developed around what is considered polite behavior, such as not “swooping” in to water after a certain time has passed in “first feeds” on a feeding platter if other players have been diligently watering in hopes of spotting a rare creature.

Achievements in the game are understated but recognizable by regular Fairyland players. For example, titles attained from collecting a certain number of diamonds from spotting wildlife are not displayed, but they unlock increasingly higher level magical mushrooms for the garden. These mushrooms not only attract mythological creatures, but also deter common creatures worth, say, only one diamond from showing up in the garden. A regular player would see one of these mushrooms and be able to deduce how advanced that player was. For example, I know a “Fairylander” with an enchanted black mushroom has earned 15,000 diamonds from spotting wildlife and has attained Legendary III. At time of writing, Legendary VI is the highest achievement, worth an unheard of 30,000 diamonds.

Why do I still play it?

I’ve played Fairyland for 20 months now. I call it a substitute for a real garden, but I’ve found it’s an uplifting social experience. A regular “Fairylander” leaves a different haiku on my wall each time he waters my plants; general greetings have turned into friendly “back wall” chats; and the first spot of new and rare wildlife is still a triumph, especially in another player’s garden because I feel like I’ve given that player a gift even as I collect the reward for myself.

The game has gotten more complex over time through content updates that introduce additional plant types and creatures. Although I’ve given up on actively trying to attract and spot the very rare wildlife, I occasionally plop the odd $5 in so I can relax in the evenings by visiting gardens, watering at will…. And just so I can have flying pigs in my garden.

Carolyn Koh is a freelance games journalist covering social games, massively multiplayer online games and children’s games. She is also Vice-President & COO of  Genesis Advanced Technologies, Inc. You can read her stories on ISG here.