Zynga Looks to Keep FarmVille Flying High With English Countryside Expansion

While much of Zynga has been occupied launching and growing CityVille over the last few months, the FarmVille team has been working on its biggest game expansion yet. Rolling out to users in the next few weeks, FarmVille English Countryside will allow all players level 20 or above — basically those who have played steadily for a couple weeks, or about 75% of the user base — to start a second farm, a long-standing player demand.

The theme, which Zynga says users overwhelmingly favored when polled, introduces some new elements to the game that are intended to make it more interesting for more experienced players without overwhelming the broad audience with complexity.

The storyline has a fictional character, the “Duke,” crash-land his airship into each player’s farm, then taking the player with him to England to repair his family farm. FarmVille general manager Todd Arnold told us in an interview yesterday that the aim is to layer a shared new experience into the game: it will start all players off exploring the new territory at the same time, and it will include a guide map showing friends’ progress to each player. There will be ways to go back and help friends going slower or get help from those going faster. Every player can keep everything they’ve created and earned in their first farm.

In this sense, the company is building a slightly different type of play into the simulation game, somewhat similar to the quests that it has characters doing in FrontierVille.

English Countryside doesn’t just feature a different visual theme. It cuts down on the amount of clicking players need to do to farm, offering a combine at the start that both tills and plants the soil. Instead, the expansion directs users to do things like buy a sheep pen and start breeding wildly colorful lambs. Players pair any two sheep, send them off into a humorously curtained part of the pen, and then spend “love potion” to speed up breeding and pregnancy from hours to instant birth.

To keep users coming back, the FarmVille team has created algorithmically selected colors and designs for each new lamb — there are thousands and thousands of different variations that users can generate, based on the appearances of each parent sheep that they breed. Ranching isn’t the only new thing to do in the game, as the expansion also allows you to build a pub and sell dishes, although it’s far more simplified than what you’d see in Restaurant City or Café World.

The expansion is built into the existing FarmVille Facebook app. Switch locations through the toggle button on the main screen and you and the Duke will go sailing in his airship to the other farm.

We’ve only seen the game during a press briefing, however, and more questions remain, like how it will implement Facebook Credits.

All in all, English Countryside shows Zynga’s commitment to the title, even as it nears its second birthday and continues to dip from all-time highs of 83.8 million monthly active users and 32.5 million daily active users. As of today, it has nearly 50 million MAU and 13.9 million DAU — still easily the second-largest game on Facebook behind CityVille, according to AppData, our data tracking service for applications. The fact that the game has stayed this big this long is impressive in and of itself.

But the company has generally excelled at keeping older titles going, with Mafia Wars (the first Zynga game to push expansions, and quite successfully at that) and Texas Hold’em Poker having been hits since the early days of the platform. FarmVille, until recently its biggest hit ever, clearly also has a lot of life in it. If this expansion goes well — which we expect it will, given Zynga’s marketing know-how, the overall quality of the game, and the 1.5 million Likes its Page has already gotten — look for Zynga to introduce more.