For the first time in history, Zynga is letting you take the farm with you. The Web and mobile gaming company is taking its popular — and addictive — FarmVille franchise to mobile devices Thursday with the U.S. release of "FarmVille 2: Country Escape," in an effort to expand the game's audience and capture more of your precious gaming minutes.
So instead of click-click-clicking your way to farming fame and glory, now you can tap and drag to build your agricultural empire.
Zynga's been struggling over the past two years to fight a slide in player engagement. While its games are pretty much designed to be addictive, the time players spend with them has dropped significantly. Meanwhile, Zynga's faced criticism that it hasn't been moving quickly enough — both to release new games and to add innovative features to the ones it has.
So engagement is the watchword of the new title, which retains essentially all of the familiar FarmVille atmosphere, but was designed to have a more casual feel, thanks to its coastal setting. Players are told they're watching after their grandmother's farm on the water, and the title has a folksy, idyllic feel.
While slowing down the pace of life in the narrative arc, however, Zynga's designers have actually sped up some aspects of the game, such as the time it takes for crops to mature, to fit the on-the-go aspect of mobile play.
The game is "designed specifically for those short sessions," said Jamie Davies, general manager of "FarmVille 2: Country Escape."
Zynga has also granted mobile players the option to craft new items such as baked goods from the raw materials on the farm, to keep a few layers of play going at once, which should keep players coming back to the app again and again. The game will also sync across mobile devices, so players can plant seeds or set items to bake during the day from their phones, and then really get their hands in the digital dirt at night on their tablets.
While this marks Zynga's first move to take FarmVille onto a new platform, it's also been smart to take the opportunity to fire up its desktop base as well.
Those already playing FarmVille on Facebook, for example, can link their mobile and desktop plots, in a fashion, to trade resources between your farms. Not everything can be linked up, but having the mobile farm does add value. For example, "Country Escape" takes place on the coast, so it's surrounded by water — a scarce resource on normal FarmVille 2, and one which you can collect and ship out to your other thirsty plants.
In typical Zynga fashion, the game also offers rewards for connecting with your friends who are playing the game via Apple's Game Center, Google+ or Facebook. You can trade farm workers, chat and cooperate toward goals — all while helping Zynga spread the word over those networks about their game.
If the social integration makes you scoff, however, you'll be happy to know that you don't have to connect to Facebook or to any social network to play the game. You don't even have to be online to play. Nor do you have to spend real money on in-game items, though buying premium currency (keys, in this game's case) will help speed your farm along.
Davies, who's worked exclusively on FarmVille titles since coming to Zynga over three years ago, said that the developers worked to build a lot of flexibility into the game because that's what players have demanded.
"We listen to players and see what’s important," she said. "And what’s important is control and choice — so we’ve added a lot of that."