Another day, another quiet release from a large game developer. This time it’s Playdom with Verdonia, a strategy game that we found out about via Gamezebo, where you’re tasked with building up a high fantasy kingdom.
The game is, to say the least, an odd duck, especially considering Playdom’s lineup of straightforward social gaming fare. It’s certainly social — the bottom toolbar snaps open to a friend list, and a major component of the game is attacking, and defending yourself from, other human players.
What makes Verdonia stand out, though, is that it’s a serious strategy game. There are only a handful of similar games on Facebook; one called Evony, for example, recently launched on Facebook.
The problem, one might think, is that this sort of game is generally too complex to pick up many users. The most successful Facebook title of this type is Kingdoms of Camelot. It has just under four million monthly active users, many months after launching.
Playdom is almost certainly going for a niche gamer audience here, not your typical FarmVille player.
There’s a more obvious cue for gamers, too. Evony infamously went beyond the already-suggestive imagery found across traditional gaming with a set of revealing Google ads, a few years back. Those ads worked, because lots of gamers clicked through and then stayed to play.. You can see that this point was not lost on Verdonia creators:
But before we speculate on Playdom’s motivations, more about how Verdonia is played. On entering the game, players find themselves in an empty village. Literally empty — it’s up to the player to add in the various hovels, farms, barracks, academies and other buildings. These all require time to be built, but players can use a special fast-forward ability to instantly finish the simplest structures.
Building out this starting town serves as the tutorial. However, even this guided process could quickly become confusing to a new player. In all, there are 16 basic building types, all necessary, with associated upgrades; 13 units, which have to be led by heroes; 20 skills to research; four different world areas; and an assortment of upgrades, items, quests and achievements.
An hour of play will be enough to teach most veteran gamers how all of these components work together, but the average FarmVille user will probably feel afloat within seconds. Of course, Verdonia probably isn’t meant for FarmVille users.
A hint of this is provided in the chat window, which is also a rarity in Facebook games. Although players can join and chat with a guild at some point, the game opens up in the Global channel, which broadcasts the chatter of all Verdonia’s players. Many games have thus far avoided global communications on Facebook.
With Verdonia, though, Playdom is almost certainly going for a smaller, more dedicated audience.If a hardcore audience can be built for a Facebook game, it’s probable that they’ll also offer a much higher average revenue per user than the typical crowd.
Games like Verdonia and Evony are inevitably compared to Civilization. But that’s not a particularly accurate or helpful description, when you really get down to the details. The truth is that these games are a growing hybrid category of their own, created by through mixing time management and social features.
In that sense, Playdom is being fairly pioneering with Verdonia. We’ll be interested to see where the game goes; but for now, the company hasn’t even officially announced its existence.