Ubisoft Re-Enters Social Gaming with Vineyard Country; Will Other Big Game Companies Follow?

By Azam Khan Comment

ubisoftlogoLarge game developers have trouble finding successes the way early social gaming companies like Playdom and even some casual companies like PopCap have had. Ubisoft is a good example of a traditional game developer that delved into the murky waters of social gaming with poor quality titles in the past. Their latest title, however, is a fantastically made, high-quality sim wine-farming game called Vineyard Country which, despite struggling with performance, should motivate other mainstream players to take the social gaming space more seriously.

The French publisher Ubisoft, producer of titles like Assasin’s Creed, Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six, launched its first title for Facebook called TickTock in July of 2009 – a game that sits stagnant today at almost 67,000 users. Vineyard Country stands in stark contrast and aims to tackle the same genre as Metaplace’s ‘My Vineyard‘ – a wine making game. Vineyard Country is a sim farming game at its core but replaces traditional crops like corn with wine. Players are given large estates upon which they can grow their wine making facilities and decorate with trees and other items to their hearts content.

Ubisoft’s approach resembles city building games as players have access to large countrysides that scale up from player progress. The tutorial helps players get into the game fast although it can be confusing for some since there’s many things to do. The game saves players the hassles of harvesting and planting individual crops by simple drag and drop planting and one click harvesting. This does mean that players only plant one type of grape per field and need to create more fields in order to create different types of wines. Players have both a macro view of the entire countryside that includes their farming fields as well as their Chateau (indicating a French setting) and can click on each field to zoom into it and plant / harvest.

Once players harvest, they then go to the brewing house screen that comes pre-equipped with items that help you create wine. Players can unlock more equipment as they progress thus increasing the wine value 1-2 stars( the rating system of the crops determines by quality, growth time and quality of soil upon which grapes are grown). There are plenty of social elements as well such as the ability to gift wine, hire friends for brewage house upkeep and even throw parties with friends in which a player’s friends show up as avatars, earning the player money and experience.

Vineyard Country has suffered from optimization as can be expected of a highly visual game but the frame rates do seem to be improving. When first trying the game, an ‘allow additional storage access for flash’ message appeared on my Firefox for Mac and simply got stuck, so I had to switch to Safari. Regardless of these issues, Vineyard Country is on its way to becoming a great game, although it only has 3,781 MAU, a surprisingly low number. Lacking the cross promoting power of social gaming giants, Ubisoft will have to work with distribution partners such as 6waves and giving up 50 percent revenue (in the case of 6waves that is) or deal with offer companies like AdParlor to drive incentivized installs. This will be in addition to running Facebook ad campaigns which some insiders from the industry look dismally upon due to a lacking ROI. Let’s hope Facebook is able to deliver on its promise to improve virality as Nick O’Neill discussed yesterday on AllFacebook.com.

Despite these setbacks, the question remains whether other mainstream competitors will follow suit. Activision-Blizzard has been eyeing the space for some time and is hopeful about monetizing social games, having already launched the World of Warcraft armory app on Facebook as well as announcing fb connect integration for Battle.net for the upcoming Starcraft II. Popular console and game developer Sega has also tested Facebook’s waters, taking a brand-oriented approach by launching the Vancouver 2010 Official Minigame on Facebook in February of 2010 that’s taken a nosedive according to Appdata. Take Two, publisher of Sid Meier’s Civilization series is set to launch Civilization Network Beta on Facebook sometimes this month or the next and the fan page has already garnered 85,000 fans.

With companies like Sony Online Entertainment already seeing success on Facebook with titles like The Agency: Covert Ops and beautiful games like Vineyard Country appearing, will we see a stronger interest from mainstream gaming companies?