With over 143,000 monthly active users and climbing, it’s doing well as it attempts to hybridize concepts from the farming genre and a Zynga title, Café World. While the game is technically sound and well made, it doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the game play directly. However, it does score bonus points in the forms of convenience and social elements.
The basic idea is to create a successful organic food restaurant. To that end, players create an indoor/outdoor space in which to serve customers. Using specific ingredients, dishes are cooked up (with more valuable ones taking longer) and placed on a counter, where a waitress comes to serves it to the paying patrons. Each dish has a set number of servings, and only one dish can be cooked per stove and served per counter-top.
As far as the restaurant half of the game goes, there is also a popularity rating for the business. As customers come and eat, they give varying amounts of praise that increase this number, and the larger it gets, the more patrons there are to fork out money. Unfortunately, the popularity element seems almost arbitrary, as we’ve yet to see anyone get upset and lower that rating (it does seem to decay passively), nor has it exceeded 130. Whether or not this changes at higher levels is yet to be determined.
Cooking up food is only half the game. The other half comes from the farming realm as each ingredient needed for the large quantity of potential dishes can be grown. Like in FarmVille, this consists of crops, trees, and animals, with the better ones taking longer to grow. It’s the typical plow, harvest, rinse and repeat concept with the only differences being that one doesn’t have to replow after a harvest and animals must be placed in pens.
One of the nice things about Gourmet Ranch is that one never has to take part in both aspects. There are convenient ways to work around both of them. If someone is only interested in the restaurant stuff, they can always purchase ingredients from a random non-player character (though this is a bit pricey). If they just want to farm, they can put their crops up for trade.
Farming, however, is a bit more difficult to make an income off of, as it’s where the major social features of this app comes into play. After each harvest or finished dish, players can choose to either keep it for themselves or put it in their Trade Store. From here, friends that play can purchase the item at a cheap price. Obviously, this means that if one doesn’t have many friends that play, it’s not a reliable revenue source, but it’s a nice addition all the same.
Regarding other social elements, they are all fairly basic to the farming niche, consisting of visiting each others’ farms and fertilizing crops. However, there is a minor addition to wall posting that allows them to include a specific Gourmet Ranch emoticon representing a sultry, happy, or sneering look. Additionally, if friends do click on a post, the player gets little bonuses to things like the serving size of a dish.
On the negative side, Gourmet Ranch is mostly two games stuck together with minimal innovation. Other than improved social features and some greater convenience, there’s not a whole lot to write home about. Moreover, the combination of popular game premises is something that’s been occurring in increasing frequency. Already, this exact combination of Café World and FarmVille mechanics was done with Wonder Island from Gamenaughts. Though it uses different games, FrontierVille is yet another app to mix and match features (such as FarmVille and Treasure Isle).
Unfortunately, such a complaint is no easy fix. One that is (though minor by comparison), is the extraordinarily high price of decorative items in Gourmet Ranch. Plants, flowers, and rocks are affordable enough, but some things are just absurd. In the game, players earn small amounts of money per paying customer, yet a simple Wagon Wheel costs $150,000 while a Welcome Sign costs $96,000.
In the end, Gourmet Ranch is a technically sound good that plays well. At least for a time, it will do well and attract some new players too. Nevertheless, it is still made up of two concepts that have been seen time and time again, thus the longevity of the title and its potential will likely be a bit stunted. FarmVille’s continual decline is proof enough that people are getting bored with the farming concept, thus challenging developers, new and old, to be more innovative with social games.