Zynga Heads Back to the FarmVille Trough

Zynga is once again plowing the furrow of its greatest success with the launch of FarmVille 2: Country Escape.

The latest title from the casual gaming studio is a mobile-focused effort. Zynga has launched the game globally on iPhone, iPad and Android devices.

FarmVille 2: Country Escape was crafted from the ground up as a new mobile experience with redesigned crop times, touch controls and animal interactions. Zynga has reformatted the game board with the intention of making sessions of all lengths enjoyable to players. However, the design draws from FarmVille 2 and allows players of that game to transfer virtual goods like water and sugar between their mobile and Web sessions.

Social Features

The latest installment, which includes updated social control features, is the first FarmVille game to offer a full single player experience without requiring help from friends or in-game neighbors in Anonymous Mode.

That said, those who do want to play the game with others can connect to friends through Game Center on iOS or Google Play Games. Users still can connect to Facebook to visit their friends’ farms and help accelerate their progress as well.

Sticking with the social theme, players can join Farm Co-Ops to work together with their friends and compete on a global leaderboard for the designation of most successful Co-Op farm.

Also new in FarmVille 2: Country Escape is the option to play offline.

Casual Gaming Stalwart

“The concept of the farm-simulation game is … a stalwart of casual gaming,” said Steve Bailey, senior games analyst at IHS.

“Part of its perennial popularity is in the neutrality of the theme — irrespective of culture or religious belief or gaming experience, people can enjoy this style of resource management with very little barrier to entry — not least because its settings are so universally familiar,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“There’s no failure state, but such a game still has numerous layers for players to tend to. There’s room for self-expression, customization, and tinkering at your own speed, but there can be deeper detail provided for those who seek it,” Bailey noted.

“Moreover, farm sims are a great canvas for what’s known as co-opetition — a combination of cooperation and competition,” he pointed out. “You can help your friends and have them help you, visit one another’s farms, but a low-level sense of rivalry can still be fostered … without it souring enjoyment.”

The original FarmVille was perhaps Zynga’s most successful title, reportedly having harnessed the power of Facebook to grab more than 84 million monthly active users at one point.

FarmVille 2 followed in 2012 with more-refined graphics and a modified system for farming and harvesting crops. The franchise has reached more than 400 million players worldwide, according to Zynga.

The company’s stock has dipped sharply in recent weeks, from an almost two-year high of 5.79 in mid-March to close Thursday at 4.29. It dropped as low as 3.80 earlier this week.

Big Competition

If Zynga is banking on FarmVille 2: Country Escape to provide it with success in mobile – an area where it has lagged after dominating the social gaming ecosphere on Facebook for years — it faces stern competition, even within its own genre.

“Just breaking into the top 10 on smartphone or tablet game revenue in the third quarter or fourth quarter of 2014 would be a huge step forward for Zynga,” Lewis Ward, gaming research director at IDC, told TechNewsWorld.

“They need to walk before they can run on mobile. The top dog — no pun intended — on farm sims is Supercell’s Hay Day. That game was already a top-five-grossing game worldwide on iOS in the fourth quarter of 2013,” he said.

“Country Escape will have to be better than Hay Day in order to displace them, and I just don’t know enough about the game to say if that’s feasible, let alone likely,” Ward added.

“What I can say is that it’s unlikely that there will be two farm sims on the top 10 iOS grossing games list at the end of this year, so there’s a battle royale brewing over at the virtual OK corral,” he remarked.

“I see FarmVille as a core part of Zynga’s strategy [but] not the key to revitalization per se. It’s a pillar of Zynga’s ongoing business and has been a consistently top-grossing performer as a Facebook game,” IHS’ Bailey said.

“It can still be a highly valuable earner on mobile, but as for it spearheading a resurgence? The game genre that FarmVille belongs to has waned somewhat,” he noted. “If Zynga’s looking to source a spike in audience similar to its former heights, I suspect it’ll need to look elsewhere.”

Kris Holt is a writer and editor based in Montreal. He has written for the Daily Dot, The Daily Beast, and PolicyMic, among others. He's Scottish, so would prefer if no one used the word "soccer" in his company. You can connect with Kris on Google+.

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