Zynga’s New Café World Game Takes on Playfish’s Restaurant City

cafe world logoWith around 16 million monthly active users, Playfish’s Restaurant City has been growing steadily since its launch — monetizing through a variety of virtual goods, it appears to be a solid hit. Well, that popularity has been noted by the competition, and it looks like Zynga is stepping into the restaurant business as well with its newest title, Café World.

As far as basic concepts go, Café World is the same as Restaurant City. Each player creates restaurant, decorates it, hires friends, and basically runs a business. However, both games do feel very different and are likely to appeal to different types of people. Here’s a closer look at the differences:

Cooking – Point: Café World

Obviously making food is a huge part of a restaurant game and creating an ample smorgasbord is part of the fun. In order to cook food in Café World, players have to purchase the ingredients to a recipe after clicking on an empty stove. They then have to cut, dice, smash, or whatever else is needed to prepare a myriad of dishes before cooking them. Dishes take anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 days to cook  and then it is placed on a counter for serving with a set number of times it can be served. The more time it takes to cook, and the greater the cost, the more servings available. Customers can feast on already-made food, and can have a very wide selection (even though the customers don’t “order” it themselves); space is only limited by the number of counters and stoves that a player has.

Restaurant City, on the other hand, does cooking passively. Patrons order from your preset menu of limited dishes (thankfully it has been increased, but is still limited to a finite number, regardless of level), but you have to trade for, buy, or earn individual ingredients on a daily basis before you can make a certain dish. Yes, trading the ingredients adds a social element, and yes you can level up dishes, but it just feels less involved than Café World. Point: Café World.

uniformsHiring Friends – Point: Restaurant City

Not only was Playfish the first to introduce friend hires in a major game, but users have a lot of control over it. Granted, you cannot change the look of a friend’s avatar, but you can at least change a uniform and job. As it stands, Café World only allows them to be waiters at the moment, and their clothing seems to be unchangeable. Restaurant City on the other hand… if you want to put a friend in a French maid’s outfit, then by all means, go ahead. Point: Restaurant City.

Restaurant Expansion – Point: Café World

This is one of the biggest differences between the games. As you level up in Restaurant City, you either earn new employees or a bigger restaurant. However, in Café World, you must manually expand and to do so, you must have “neighbors.” This means you must have friends playing the game in order to have a bigger place. Frankly, the trading of ingredients, working in others’ restaurants, and having your friends all on one street, in Restaurant City, seemed social enough. However, if friends don’t want to play, it won’t affect you too much. For Café World, if you can’t get friends to play, then you seem to be stuck with a tiny little restaurant. Sure you can take the Mafia Wars approach and add random people, but that just sort of looses any personal meaning. Nonetheless, you could have a huge restaurant in a significantly shorter amount of time. With that in mind – Point: Café World.

cafe worldCustomization – Point: Restaurant City

This is the most important part of both of these games, hands down. From oriental, to medieval, to modern, these games provide players with the means to truly create something that is of their own style. However, the Playfish title simply has more options than Zynga’s. Okay, yes, it has been out longer, so the developer have had more time to add new items, but beyond this, the players can only decorate their interiors with Café World. Restaurant City, on the other hand, allows you to customize both the interior and exterior of your restaurant; a feature that has been available since day one. Point: Restaurant City.

Frankly, both games are good, and it really comes down to a play style choice. Café World has more involved cooking and dish selections and potential, rapid expansion, while Restaurant City has more control over hired friends and better customization. Will these features change in the coming months? Probably, as both companies add more content. However, with the massive head start and the tremendously larger selection of items to decorate with that Restaurant City has, it will be a rigorous challenge for Café World to catch up.

Zynga, however, is far larger than Playfish, with 126 million monthly active users total across its games versus Playfish’s 55.3 million. Both companies cross-promote games to users. This means that both companies have far fewer unique users than the above numbers suggest — but the numbers also indicate that Zynga has many more opportunities to cross-promote Café World via massive hits like FarmVille. Zynga has also aggressively bought advertising for games on sites like Facebook. So, Playfish, for all of its success with Restaurant City, appears to have a serious competitor on its hands — even though Café World currently has only around 32 users.