The Ville review

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By Pete Davison Comments

The Ville is Zynga’s latest addition to its increasingly-broad “Ville” series, this time taking on the home design and interpersonal relations “life sim” angle. The game is available now on Facebook and is coming soon to Zynga.com.

The Ville casts players in the role of their own custom avatar (who does not have to have the same name or gender as their Facebook profile information) and tasks them with building a nice house and establishing relationships with neighbours. Players must earn coins and happiness in order to succeed and gradually expand their house over time as they rise through the experience levels.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: The Ville is very similar to EA’s The Sims Social. It’s not a complete clone — we’ll explore the differences in a moment — but it is similar enough to be worthy of mention. The visual style, the distinctive piano-and-strings music and even the “hands in the air” pose that the NPCs do when the player completes a quest is seemingly ripped straight from EA’s title, and it’s doubtful that this is a coincidence — it’s far too similar to be an accidental design choice. Zynga’s press release describes the game as a spiritual successor to YoVille, but this is nonsense — YoVille is a virtual world in which players may interact in real time, while The Ville is a far more conventional asynchronous social game.

The basic “click on things and coins pop out in exchange for energy” gameplay is also almost identical to The Sims Social — though it could, of course, be argued that this mechanic describes the vast majority of social games in general. What this means is that The Ville isn’t going to make any new friends outside of the usual social gaming audience, and doesn’t even have the The Sims name to draw in curious players from the core gamer audience. Zynga has a considerable degree of skill at user acquisition, however, so it’s doubtful that the lack of an established attached franchise will be a huge blow to this game’s almost-inevitable popularity.

As mentioned, though, The Ville isn’t completely identical to The Sims Social, and in fact does one or two very interesting things with social features. For starters, it includes its own in-game social network known as Z Talk, where players are able to post short status updates to their neighbors, who can then “Like” and comment on them from within the game. Similarly, when meeting a Facebook friend’s avatar, it’s possible to view their last Facebook status update and comment on it from within The Ville. This appends a link to The Ville to the end of the comment by default, though this functionality may be turned off. Players may also add friends in The Ville without them being Facebook friends, which is a blessing to those who want to play the game but don’t wish to pollute their News Feed with endless achievement and “We Just Danced/Had a Pose-Off/Farted/Had Sex!” notifications from their neighbors — though the in-game text doesn’t actually make it very clear if this feature is already implemented or is coming soon. Alongside all this, The Ville incorporates a number of options that are becoming increasingly de rigeur in this type of game, such as the ability to snap a picture of the player’s house and post it to their Timeline.

The exact flow of gameplay varies a little from The Sims Social, too, cutting out the latter’s “sim” elements. While in EA’s title players had to keep an eye on their Sim’s mood meters in order to keep them “Inspired” and earn more coins, in The Ville players simply have to watch out for red thought bubbles and home items with energy bolts over them. In The Sims Social, performing mood-improving actions did not cost any energy; in The Ville, performing these “free energy” actions provides the player with a bonus unit of energy, though there are no consequences for not performing them.

Another difference comes in the interpersonal relationships between player avatars. In The Sims Social, it is possible to develop relationships towards either friendship/romance or enmity; in The Ville, all actions, whether positive or negative, improve relationships between characters despite the apparent on-screen reaction of the characters. This makes very little sense and gives much less variety to interpersonal relationships than The Sims Social offered — it was particularly fun to visit an “enemy’s” house and sabotage all their items, for example — and simply makes relationship-building feel more like a grind than it already is. Yes, The Ville does offer the option to pursue romantic relationships with characters (including the ability for avatars to have sexual encounters, here referred to rather obnoxiously as a “Friendship Home Run”) but these differing relationship statuses have little meaning if it’s possible to improve one’s standing with another person just as much by farting at them as buying them flowers and flirting.

Ultimately, The Ville isn’t a terrible game and its new social features are a nice touch, but the trouble is that we’ve all played this game before when The Sims Social came out. There are also a few bugs that spoil the experience somewhat. For example: I managed to block myself inside my own house with an accidentally-dropped stack of pancakes that I couldn’t move until I refreshed the game page, and another time accepted neighbor requests seem to have a mind of their own as to whether or not they’ll appear in the friend bar at the bottom of the game screen.

The usual platform-based flaws present in Facebook games are also present and correct — if someone sends a request to the player while they are actively playing, for example, viewing and acknowledging it requires a complete reload rather than simply popping up an “inbox” page — or if there is an inbox page somewhere, it certainly isn’t obvious. Couple all this with the frequency at which the game bugs players to invite new friends and send gifts and it’s clear that Zynga doesn’t really mind that some of these behaviors actively discourage curious core gamers from checking out the social gaming landscape.

The Ville is likely to be a big success in the long run as Zynga generally knows what it is doing with regard to user acquisition, cross-promotion and viral marketing. The only issue might be the fact that The Sims Social has declined significantly in popularity since its peak in August 2011 and no other “life sim” game has managed to top its user figures since. It remains to be seen whether or not The Ville will capture the public’s imagination as EA’s title did — and given the myriad similarities between the two games, this makes The Ville more one to keep an eye on over time than a “must-play” title.

The Ville does not yet have any MAU or DAU figures listed on our traffic tracking service AppData. Check back shortly to follow the game’s progress according to its active user and user retention figures.

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The Sims Social – sim + social = The Ville