We Rule Brings Facebook-Style Gaming to the iPhone

Ngmoco, one of the top game publishers at the iPhone, released its latest game globally last Saturday: We Rule, a kingdom-building time management game that’s free to download.

We just took the time to check We Rule out, and found a surprising number of parallels between the game and some of Facebook’s top games. Sure, Ngmoco VP Jason Oberfest told us at SXSW that the game would involve FarmVille-style crop raising — but we were surprised to find that the publisher of innovative games like Rolando and Word Fu was inspired almost entirely from Facebook games for its new release.

The basic idea in We Rule is that you’re the lord of a medieval kingdom, in charge of building commerce and population in the environs of your castle. It’s a social game, but there’s no fighting, trading or even communicating with other kingdoms.

That lack of direct interaction is the first point of similarity to a Facebook game. But as on Facebook, it’s also necessary to have friends. As you can see at right, your initial kingdom is pretty small; its borders promise that they’ll expand if you add friends. Friends can also have buildings that other players can interact with, producing a bonus for both (though they can’t, for instance, harvest your crops).

Another similarity is that there’s no real way to “win” the game. The point is simply to build an ever-larger castle and surrounding town, creating an aesthetically pleasing home as an end in itself. At launch, the game has 20 crops to grow and a larger number of buildings, all of which can be rearranged at any time.

Crops and buildings take time to grow or produce revenue, but as in FarmVille and other Facebook games, the plants will wilt if left alone too long, encouraging players to dip in and out of the game throughout the day.

The only way to get around the game’s time requirements are to use “mojo”, which is also Ngmoco’s virtual currency for the game. It urges players to buy at every turn despite the iPhone’s limited screen real estate. You also get a few mojo at each new level to complete some task instantaneously; it takes three mojo, for instance, to make a field of beans mature.

But for the moment, mojo seems rather pricey, ranging from a dollar for five mojo to $50 for 800. Paying a buck to watch a couple fields of virtual beans mature right away seems like too much to ask, though Ngmoco has obviously calculated otherwise

One conspicuous difference between We Rule and a Facebook game is the lack of constant requests to make wall postings or invite friends. Of course, the iPhone has no wall for postings. As for the options to invite friends, there are several, including Ngmoco’s own Plus+ network, from which the company can only gain a limited number of new users, the iPhone’s contact database, and Facebook Connect.

There’s a seemingly obvious problem here: inviting friends from your contacts is not as easy as it is on Facebook, because most of your contacts probably won’t actually have iPhones (unless you’re in Silicon Valley). The same goes for Facebook friends. Even friends who do have iPhones and see an invitation to We Rule may not be inclined to go to the game because of the extra hassle involved in leaving Facebook to download it from the App Store.

This brings up the question of whether We Rule’s requirement that players have friends should be so central to the game. On the one hand, the feature is unlikely to spread the game as virally as well as it does on Facebook; and on the other, the App Store is already much better than Facebook’s app directory at driving new players to fun games.