While the farming genre boom has died down significantly, the prospect of growing virtual crops has still stirred up sparks of life here and there on Facebook. Perhaps the most common “reinvention” of this type of game comes in the form of island farming — as opposed to the Midwestern prototype. We’ve seen it before in games such as Tiki Farm, but now we’re taking a look at Metaplace’s rendition, Island Life.
Metaplace is the gaming company founded by well-respected game designer Raph Koster, that has shifted focus from making virtual worlds to social games. Overall, the game shows this, with polished interface and smart spin on gaming dynamics. And so far, it is getting some decent traction with just shy of 400,000 monthly active users.
The primary reason is likely the familiar farming element. The game, at its core, is the same as any other farming sim, just on a deserted island. Players are granted a small space littered with plots of land and two palm trees. Now, for the record, we do not know why every deserted virtual island is approximately 20 feet in diameter with two palm trees, but the cliché is still fun. Thankfully, players are able to use an island expansion feature to reshape and sculpt their virtual space to the way they see fit.
Regardless, players can plant as many crops as there are plots of land, 36 to be exact, with no apparent limitation based on level (the type of crop and some decorations, are still limited by level). After X amount of time, the plants are harvestable and can be sold for more money.
This is where another major difference comes into play. Friends can still visit each other’s islands to help care for their farms, – picking up trash and fertilizing to earn points – but it doesn’t look like Island Life has any of the other caretaking elements to worry about. Namely, this refers to watering, killing bugs, and so on. Everything is simplified to plow land, plant crop, harvest crop, which for many players may actually be an improvement.
Considering the very casual and non-gamer nature of most Facebook users, the prospect of not having to check back constantly to ensure your plants are taken care of is a plus. To many, the constant logging on can feel like a chore, and often, many players don’t log on more than once every one or two days, anyway.
Of course, the second element to Island Life, is the décor. Players are able to decorate their virtual island with tropical-themed elements ranging from simple rocks and fences to glorious pirate ships. It offers a social take on this that we haven’t seen in many competitors games — some of the items require friends to help you construct them.
If you do not have friends playing, then the building (a “small hut,” for example), will remain a heap of construction materials wherever you placed it. If you do have enough friends, then it will build in X amount of time, depending on how large it is. Additionally, friends also come into play in the fact that each island is its own multiplayer environment, complete with real-time chat, bringing a bit of that virtual world mentality to Island Life, and making the creation of a good looking space even more apparent.
Unfortunately, this creative use of the social network also comes with a large number of prompts. Just about every two or three minutes, the game throws an “invite friends” message at you. Many social games push invites and other actions like this. The reason is that more prompts can increase reach and engagmement numbers. The risk is that players get fed up with not being able to enjoy the game itself, then spend less money on goods and move on sooner than they might otherwise.
Island Life does have some differences that make it a bit more in tune with the more non-gamer type demographics on Facebook, and it also has a realistic style that is a nice difference from all the cartoon graphics out there. Moreover, some of the virtual world-like features really do add a nice extra flare to the title. Nonetheless, users would be better able to enjoy the game’s qualities if it dialed down the messaging.