Playdemic credits Zynga with Village Life’s success, launching new game features soon

Playdemic’s life management sim Village Life may have just launched a few months ago, but the game’s deep, original gameplay is already proving successful on the platform. Playdemic CCO Alex Rigby sat down to chat with us regarding the game’s initial success, as well as what’s in store for it in the near future.

Our review of Village Life called attention to its unique mechanics, and the game’s continuing to show strong growth. Village Life is still showing up in our weekly gainers lists, with AppData estimating the title has 4.77 million monthly active users on Facebook (showing its broader reach on the social network) and 276,725 daily active users (the best measure of a game’s core audience).

According to Rigby the major source of this success is largely due to Playdemic’s partnership with Zynga, which was announced just over a year ago at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. On Facebook,  the game is benefitting from Zynga’s cross promotion bar, pictured below, and it’s also enjoying prominent promotion on Zynga’s own web portal.

“We’re one of the top partners with Zynga, and Village Life has been getting a lot of attention through that,” he notes. “They give us different stages of traffic through the different channels they have at their disposal. They’re really pushing our metrics up there.”

As a result, Village Life is Playdemic’s biggest social game, surpassing its previous social hit Gourmet Ranch. However, Rigby says, “we’ve done things a little differently in terms of Village Life. We wanted to create something that would create deeper social bonds between players; we didn’t feel we could do that with Gourmet Ranch. Potatoes and cabbages aren’t the best vessels for creating those links. We thought if we created a game about people, that’d be what players cared about and connected with in a meaningful way.”

The game’s core social mechanics are arguably more meaningful than in other sim games, which is probably why it’s seeing twice as many players returning as Gourmet Ranch did at its peak. In Village Life’s titular setting, players watch every member of their village being born, and Rigby tells us Playdemic has noticed people tend to name their village’s population after spouses, children, friends and even pets. “This instantly forms a connection between players and the game,” he explains. “When you have the opportunity to name a baby in a village, hopefully it’ll be something meaningful to your life. But when you do that, of course, we can start sending you messages quoting that name … that’s a more powerful message to get.”

The extra social mechanics come from getting one’s villagers to date. As soon as a villager reaches the age of 18, they’ll want to date, but players can only set them up with other players’ characters. This can result in a player’s villagers leaving their home and moving into a neighboring player’s village, but Rigby explains it makes sense in the long run because Playdemic can then notify lapsed players about these characters’ offspring, encouraging them to return to the game and visit their virtual grandchildren.

Additionally, Playdemic doesn’t believe in creating meaningless content in order to squeeze extra money out of its players. Rigby tells us “if a mechanic doesn’t have coherence with the game, then we wonder if we should even bother putting it in the game. Cheap viral tricks, they just don’t work any more. Our company ambition is to do social mechanics with meaning.”

As a result, the studio makes it so every in-game item is relevant to the village, such as oil that can be purchased to add some life to a fire for characters to gather around. 

Aside from continuing to tweak Village Life’s gameplay and mechanics, Rigby reveals that Playdemic has a couple of big updates for the title on the way. First and foremost is the game’s upcoming “family tree” feature, launching in a few days and which will allow players to keep track of their characters’ bloodlines. This feature came about because the developer noticed players were actually setting up fan pages where they would put together family trees by hand; since characters are only born to characters created by other players, a village’s population will eventually be formed by the descendants of different users who aren’t directly connected via the social network.

“We’re creating a social graph within the social graph of Facebook, and we wanted to give players the ability to explore that,” Rigby notes.

Likewise, Playdemic is also working on bringing Village Life to tablets.  “It’s a given, really,” Rigby notes. “Tablet is the best social gaming platform, in terms of ease of monetization, in terms of performance and in terms of ease of virality. Discoverability is still a challenge that everyone faces, but as a games platform it’s perfect for the types of games we create.”

All of these moves seem to be paying off for Playdemic, since Rigby tells us Village Life is monetizing at a level “comfortably above the norm” for social games. Provided that the game continues to benefit from Zynga’s cross-promotion power, the upcoming tablet launch will likely further catapult the company’s success in the social games field.