The entire company has been playing Zynga’s Frontierville for the last few weeks as a group observation on social games. I’m amused (and a little embarrassed?) to admit that I’m one of the few people I know in the games industry that actually enjoys playing these games. However, as penance for an excessive amount of time wasted, I’ve decided to blog about some of the interesting things that they are doing to make the game effective. 😉

1. An !Explosion! of Rewards (Achievement)

After harvesting crops or feeding hungry animals, Frontierville really emphasizes the reward. Huge piles of coins, food and collectible items visually spew across your screen. These rewards also urgently need to be collected, as they fade away within a few seconds. The more rewards you can collect in one uninterrupted session, the greater your multiplier of collecting money and experience. This results in some frantic clicking and heightens the sense of productivity and reward, especially compared to standard Farmville harvesting which looks like a progress bar above your character’s head.

2. Frontier Jack, always one step ahead. (Competition)

Frontier Jack is the fictional character who is your sole neighbor at the start at the game. Visiting his decorated homestead makes your starting land full of weeds, thorns and snakes look positively pathetic. Not only is Frontier Jack the model of what your homestead could look like for those of us that love decorating, but he’s a clever way to inspire the need for competition and to “keep up with the Joneses” even if you don’t have an active friend playing the game with you. Beating him always seems to be within reach, since his level is always just one level higher than wherever you currently are.

3. “Ghost” friends helping you out (Reciprocity)

Frontierville has the same mechanic as other social games in that you can visit your friends’ homes and help out, so they help you out in return. They’ve taken this one step further, however, in replacing the standard dialog box alert that “your friend came to visit” with an actual ghost of your friend’s avatar the next time you log in. Clicking on them activates a re-play of all the actions they took earlier on your farm earlier that day.

Conclusion

There wasn’t a lot of innovation as gameplay mechanics in Frontierville, but I was struck several times by their clever enhancements to make well-known game mechanics even more effective through execution. While the game isn’t differentiated as far as discovering some clever new game mechanic or recombination of several of them together, the heavy improvement on feedback, reward, and experiencing social gameplay is a substantial improvement from Farmville.

Also, related reading is a recent TechCrunch post on SCVNGR’s list of nearly 50 social game mechanics.