Diversion’s FameTown Attempts to Bring the Hollywood Experience to Facebook

Diversion’s (diversion.la) impending launch of FameTown may have caught the eye of the press when it was announced in October, but the hoopla appears to have been more about the game’s high profile investor – Michael Eisner – and less about the title itself. A few weeks into launch, the game has almost 700,000 monthly active users, and remains surprisingly stable for a self-published title. But the excitement that preceded its launch is missing among those who hailed it as The Next Big Thing™, and for good reason.

Self-described as an RPG along the lines of Farmville or Mafia Wars, FameTown takes you on the journey from D- to A-list film star. Your sojourn begins in Universal City along the 101 Freeway. That I recognize the location is a testament to FameTown’s greatest strength: exceptionally high production value. Every image from the Capitol Building to the scores of fake marquee film posters (that had me searching on IMDB) rings true.

It is from these amazingly crafted marquee posters that you attempt your rise to stardom by choosing a film to complete from one of five genres: action, comedy, sci-fi, drama, or romance. Each requires that you purchase a prop – a gas mask, judge’s gavel, rigged dice, or condom, for example – and a specialized skill. Skills vary from accents to improvisation to firearms training, and once learned are retained.

Once the requisite items and skills are purchased, it’s time to “make” the movie. Upon entering the back lot of the movie studio, you’ll need to complete three activities to increase the success of the film. These vary according to the film itself and, like all copy written for FameTown, are articulate, creative, and topical.

But this is also where FameTown begins to show its weakness. Each activity comes with a badly-designed minigame; in one example, FameTown fails to indicate the proper sweet-spot for a hammer swing skill game. Once you have completed the task three times, your average success is calculated and you receive bonus money, experience, and fans. Your performance does not, however, affect your rating with the critics.

Experience is what drives your levels; money is what determines the staff you can hire (for boosts) and items you can purchase for films; and fans are what determine whether you‘re a D- or B-list star. The climb from a D- to C-list start can be arduous. It takes 100,000 fans to rise from D- to C-list, and 900,000 to B. Progress is slow: eight films into the action category,the base fan acquisition is 5,000 fans. This can be supplemented by doing what film stars do best, attending Events.

Events have multiple categories to choose from – Charities & Fundraising, Bars & Clubs, Parties, Industry Events, and The Underbelly – but all work in the same manner. A number of activities are presented within a category. Based upon the energy cost, you choose an activity that appeals, and then click to see the results of your actions and what you’ve “won.” Another screen appears with a spinning slot machine, the pay table, and the option to re-spin (with an energy reduction). Money, experience, and fans are always awarded along with a variable bonus prize. Unfortunately, the pay table for fans is so low that no matter how frequently you complete this, it will have little effect on your rise from tier-to-tier.

Once a film completes production, you need to help move it into distribution to receive reviewer feedback. Then, choose another film and begin anew. Additional films can be purchased with Favor, FameTown’s microcurrency – or rather, the necessary props can be purchased. This will add to your cumulative fan base, but lengthens the already long wait. Favor is also used to refill Energy, push a film into distribution if you missed the window, or to purchase the services of exceptionally pricey assistants (agents, stylists and the like).

So much polish went into FameTown – the graphics, the writing, the sound – that all are picture perfect, but the gameplay throughout lacks the forethought to be successful. This is painfully obvious when picking successive films. Each new film takes longer to complete than the previous. What began as a 15-minute wait quickly becomes six hours. There are no choices in mission length, no way to help speed the process, and no way to affect your neighbors’ missions.

A single bright star in this dim sky is the advergaming element. Once you have leveled sufficiently, you can complete a Special Engagement, which was for the November 24 release Burlesque with Cher and Christina Aguilera, during my play. Completing the film will reward you with a faster energy regeneration time, and serves FameTown’s purpose of promoting new films. Unfortunately, links to trailers and Twitter take you outside the game.

Having spent time working in the film industry I look at the visuals, the writing, the situations of FameTown and with a strong sense of recognition. But the game element of FameTown is a mere shadow of the successes it attempts to emulate. Players recognize the game’s problems, too: only five percent of its MAU returns as daily active users, revealing a lack of stickiness that will eventually be fatal. In the end, FameTown is less a game than a long, plodding film.

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