Farm Story Challenges FarmVille on the iPhone

Farming games may have saturated the Facebook platform, but the iPhone has seen considerably fewer. Obviously, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist, as Farm Story is just one of several examples. Developed by TeamLava, this older title has been recently updated with a few new social mechanics, which appears to have been enough to briefly push it above FarmVille on iPhone.

Farm Story itself is nothing terribly new to those that saw the farming foray that took place on Facebook last year. In fact it does little, in terms of its core, to really differentiate itself from a game like Farm Town, except for being on the iPhone instead of Facebook. But that isn’t to say that there aren’t a few different features. On the contrary, Farm Story actually does a better job in the social department than most farming titles.

As with any farming game, the player’s objective is to grow the biggest and best-looking farm they can. Right from the start, players are granted a sizable amount of land in which to decorate and till. Moreover, the controls are all quite easy and simplistic, as everything is controlled through context-sensitive tapping. Tap an empty piece of land, and a second tap will plow it. Tap a crop, and a second tap will harvest it. Of course, users can always select these specific tools from the game’s menus manually as well.

Like any other farming game, players plant crops that grow at varying rates, ranging from five minutes to a day or more, with the slower growing products generally being worth more. Should they forget to return for them, the plants wither and die, and must be replanted unless the user decides to utilize the virtual currency, Gems, to revive them.

This marks the primary means of monetization for TeamLava as users can purchase Gems directly from the application in quantities of 24, 105, and 275 for $4.99, $19.99, and $49.99 respectively. These can then be used to not only revive withered plants (which costs a large amount of Gems, depending on how many are dead), but also special plants, fertilizer to make things grow quicker, in-game coins, and decorative items.

Regarding décor, it’s about the same as any other Facebook farming title and is merely there for aesthetic value. However, there are some functional items beyond crops that can look nice, like animals and trees. Like others of their ilk, these are harvestable after a set amount of time, and thankfully, never wither. It is worth noting, however, that some of the items that do cost Gems are surprisingly expensive. A corgi or dachshund, for example, cost 55 Gems, making their cost about $10.

It isn’t uncommon for a virtual item to cost this much — Blizzard’s Pandaren Monk virtual pet for World of Warcraft cost $10 and sold hundreds of thousands — but such virtual items do a lot more than just stand there. In the Blizzard example, the pet that was purchased was forever bound to the user’s account, allowing them to have it on any character or server, past, present, or future, and actually looked fantastic and full of style. It even did kung fu; it goes without saying that your Farm Story corgi will not.

Moving into social features, Farm Story begins to outshine its competitors. Unlike virtually every farming game on Facebook, Farm Story does not force players to only interact with friends that the player adds as neighbors. Should the user wish, they can actually visit and water a limited number of crops at random users’ farms as well. Doing so will earn points toward a Star Rating and an extra reward.

As for the Star Rating element, the more the user visits other people — there appears to be no limit to how many they can — and the more crops they water, the higher ranked their profile will become, eventually leading it to the top of the social charts and making it more visible for other random users to see.

In addition to this, players can also post comments and see a feed of happenings and going-ons on both in their own and other users’ virtual farms. Adding to the social elements, the recent update also allows players to take pictures of their virtual spaces and share them on Facebook.

This makes for a rather interesting business choice, as this functionality appears to be granted through another downloadable app from TeamLava, Farm Story Snap. Additionally, those that search the App Store may also notice Farm Story Summer and Farm Story Flowers as well. Each download connects to the main game (like an expansion pack), granting the user free Gems along with exclusive items such as tulips or a summer home. As to why TeamLava took this approach, rather than just update Farm Story itself, it’s unclear, but it may have been a means to make the title more noticeable in the highly saturated App Store. Unusual, yes, but since the game has breached Apple’s top free apps list before in the past, it appears to be working.

Overall, Farm Story is a pretty standard farming game. It doesn’t bring much fresh to the table as far as the farming concept goes, and a number of its virtual goods are a bit overpriced. However, on the social side, it does a significantly better job than most iPhone titles, allowing players to interact and help strangers as much as friends. Granted, it may not be as interesting as farming with wizards or zombies, but for what it is, Farm Story is still pretty solid.