Friend’s Finance – Social Yet Complicated

It’s surprising how often developers can overlook the perspective of a user. In so many games, regardless of genre, the creators take a lot about the game for granted and assume it will be just as easy for a new user that knows nothing about it. Even if you have a game with truly fantastic potential, if the learning curve is too high it will inevitably fall short. While it holds some potential, Friend’s Finance falls into this trap.

Friend’s Finance is a social business simulation that lets you start your own company. Once you’ve done so, you can do any number of things from hiring friends as employees, making industry investments, buy gifts, and so on. The only clear goal is to “earn as much money as possible,” and that isn’t really a problem for me. There are plenty of games out there that have no specific objective (i.e. The Sims) and have done unbelievably well.

As you play Friend’s Finance, the game periodically updates itself with changes in the virtual economy, sending out of pay checks to employees, and cash collection for your business (available every two hours). The game is constantly changing, and players need to be aware of changes in the market just like in the real world in order to catch opportunities.

Unfortunately, also like the real world, the game is extraordinarily complicated. Sure, I can pick nits about the game’s other shortcomings, but they all pale in comparison to the lack of almost any consideration given to new users. As soon as you start the game, all you get is a long FAQ about what to do in the game. Text is bad! People hate reading instructions, and while better than nothing, most people will do exactly what I did and skip it.

Of course, you cannot very quickly figure things out on your own either. Right after leaving the FAQ, you’re greeted with pie charts, big numbers, and a whole lot of very advanced looking information. Many users will be overwhelmed – it looks more like a screenshot from Microsoft Access or Excel rather than any sort of game.

I played with the game for a while for purposes of this review, but normally I wouldn’t have touched it simply because I didn’t feel like figuring it out. Nevertheless, by playing for a while, I was able to see some rather strong points.

Unlike most Facebook games, Friend’s Finance actually has a pretty good social aspect. The game is constantly updating itself, but the market consists of other players as well, and what they do can also change what happens for your company. Other players can steal your employees, forge company alliances, corner the market, as well as hire each other for their virtual business. The potential of the social interaction is significant and impressive, and I respect the developers’ effort to create an interesting game dynamic.

Complexity can be a compelling thing, but as a general rule, it’s not always the best idea. The more complex you make a game, the more time you need to spend teaching the user how to use said complexities. That alone is the biggest pitfall for Friend’s Finance: It is simply too hard to learn.

However, the game could actually be rather successful were it not for this. People enjoy virtual worlds and means to create and grow themselves in ways they would not normally be able to do in reality. I could see a player periodically checking back on their virtual business throughout a day, making choices, and playing as things change every few hours. Also, the fact that all the businesses and players can directly affect each other is a refreshing change from most “social” games that simply compare high scores.