Backyard Monsters: Game Play
by Stan Faryna
Below, Coolio, Gangster’s Paradise:
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As I mentioned in a previous post on Backyard Monsters , the apparent genius of The Casual Collective’s most popular game, Desktop Tower Defense, is that there’s a million ways to get it wrong. Or almost right. I also mentioned that Backyard Monsters doesn’t accomplish that same emphasis on creativity, choice and failure.
While Backyard Monsters arguable stands out among Facebook games in terms of game play, throughout my blog posts on Backyard Monsters, I have proposed that this game can be better without breaking the bank. David Scott and his team at The Casual Collective (CC for short) just need to think through future updates with three things in mind: venture capital, business objectives, and game play.
In terms of game play, what Backyard Monsters has going for it now is a great start. Dave and the team deserve kudos. The next step in developing this game into the purple, cash cow (a la Arrington and Seth Godin) that will open up the next level in venture capital funding for CC is not far from their grubby reach. <grin>
In Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, Godin explains his take on the golden key to success. It’s about finding a way to stand out–to be the purple cow in a field of monochrome Holsteins. More recently, Founder of Techcrunch, Michael Arrington, speaking on start ups, encouraged entrepreneurs to write the purple cow story – because that’s what brain-dead journalists and editors want to publish.
Backyard Monsters can become the Purple Cow with a little focused think, imagination and development from Dave and his team. I propose that their greatest challenge is getting the game play to adequately address three of the most relevant dynamics of great multiplayer gameplay:
1. Expanded menu of offensive, defensive and creative options to choose from (individuation)
2. Long path to greater accomplishments, capabilities and consequences
3. Social interaction (necessary and voluntary interactions and transactions)
Apparently, the most frequent requests and proposals on the Wish List are for new turrets (defensive strategy) and monsters (offensive strategy). The most alarming of requests is for a meaningful game beyond Level 30ish. And the most intelligent requests and proposals are often a plea for dynamic social interaction. All of which seems easy enough to address within three to six months if Dave had a good plan and three teams to execute it.
Tower Defense Games
Tower defense is about getting the right combination of turrets to do the job and stop advancing enemy units in their tracks. It’s also about walls that focus the enemy units into the firing range of turrets. And great tower defense games are about the economy of upgraded turrets (increased fire power) placed in the most efficient positions because the cost of upgrading all towers fully is beyond the players’ means. Intelligence is begged. Or, at least, considerable trial and error.
Three to nine new types of upgradeable, destroyable, and specialized super towers for the 40+ crowd could make the game play more interesting, intense and creative. Obviously, the super towers should be defined by range (short, medium and long range) and type of defensive action (damage, slow or flee). A player should only be able to choose one super tower path and would need to renounce it (destroy it) to pursue another super tower path. Perhaps, a cap of two super towers per village would prevent the development of chronically unassailable villages. Likewise, components for super towers could be won through research (building) or conquest (total decimation of a village).
Thinking ahead, super towers, new and additional wall blocks, and new and additional booby traps should enable a player to have a fighting chance at foiling future multiple-player attack.
Combat is about the size of force, the capability of the units used to attack, the frequency of attack, and the surprise of the attack. It’s also about getting the resources to develop the attack force, upgrading the offensive and defensive capabilities of attack units, and making the best combination of units for different attack strategies. The best raiding games require players to synchronize their attacks and defense with others to face a more powerful opponent.
While new monsters could be added to the game, the more interesting path would be adding an armory and blacksmith so to speak. These buildings could research and produce added bio-capacities for attack and defense for each monster type. Some components for such upgrades could be looted from decimated villages or the destruction of specified buildings. Other components would have to be crafted by players who have specialized in a related craft.
Obviously, additional or better monster housing would be required to hold larger and larger attack units. On the other hand, the capability to launch a simultaneous attack from three to eight players reinforces the necessity for communication, diplomacy, planning, alliances and community. But I have to wonder if Dave has the kind of people that can and want to do remarkable things?
Online communities are best forged by shared necessities: social, economic, and otherwise. Within the game environment, specialization through craft, military roles, and social roles become key to building and sustaining community and social game play. Communication tools must empower individuals to connect with others and form relevant communities. Interactive tools must energize a community far beyond the necessities of in game war and peace. Last but not least, accomplishment and contribution must be recognized and publicized.
Communication tools must include individual chat, group chat, private messaging, group messaging, alliance forums, and individual profiles. Beyond these common in game tools, online community could be advanced in game through player’s micro blogs, additional social media integration (Twitter for example), etc.
Interactive tools must include public discussion forums and resource and item trading between players. In support of trade, specializations can be pursued through new buildings. Taken a step further interactive tools could include low cost paid links/ads on alliance and player profiles, thereby integrating real life with game life.
Esteem tools must include leader score boards, personal and team badges, and, last but not least, special contests and prizes. There is a very real need for Honor and Glory in the human heart. But in the real world, there is more missed opportunity than opportunity to stand out and be recognized. The best multi-player games allow individual and teams of players to rise out of anonymity to reach certain levels of celebrity, admiration, respect, love and fear that are unattained in real life.
Keep ’em busy. Keep ’em in necessity. Give the player just enough fuel for a little self-congratulations every now and then. That’s happiness in a nut shell. It’s a gangsta’s paradise. And if the gangstas are happy, you keep ’em. Or so it seems.
So long as accomplishment, recognition, and community are faithful handmaidens to the process, it should all work out as a purple, cash cow.
June 11, 2010
May 2011 Update
If you want to dominate your neighboring tribes, my new Backyard Monsters cheats are here.
January 2012 Update
Check out my Castleville Guide.
About Stan Faryna
Mr. Faryna is the founder and co-founder of several technology, design and communication companies in the United States and Europe including Faryna & Associates, Inc., Halo Interactive, and others.
Stan Faryna served as a Global Voices author and translator. Global Voices is a non-profit global citizens’ media project founded at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, a research think-tank focused on the Internet’s impact on society.
His political, scholarly, social and technical opinions have appeared in The Chicago Defender, Jurnalul National, The Washington Times, Sagar, Saptamana Financiara, Social Justice Review, and other publications.
Mr. Faryna also served as editor-in-chief of Black and Right (Praeger Press, 1996), a landmark collection of socio-political essays by important American thinkers including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Copyright 1996 to 2012 by Stan Faryna.
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