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Social games maker Zynga is launching an Oregon Trail-style adventure within its Frontierville Facebook game today.
The add-on to Frontierville, a spinoff of the company’s smash hit Farmville, gives players the chance to travel on the “pioneer trail” in search of a kidnapped child. While Frontierville’s traditional goal is to build up your homestead and brag to your friends, Pioneer Trail has a very clear mission — to survive and advance.
“The world is much bigger than a typical homestead by about five times, and we’ve also replaced blue sky and ether with an actual surrounding territory to really immerse the player,” Frontierville general manager John Osvald told VentureBeat. “The real special thing about Frontierville and Pioneer Trail is that we consider it a story game.”
When they begin, players get a note that someone was kidnapped and immediately hit the trail. They can add up to three friends to their team of trailblazers, each fulfilling a different role. For example, one is a hunter that you send off to find food. Like other Zynga games, players have a reserve of energy. They can add to that energy (called rations) if they get friends to join.
Pioneer Trail is similar to a core game in the sense that it has a lot of traditional gaming features compared to Zynga’s other social games — like Farmville and Cityville. Frontierville’s Pioneer Trail features special music and is much more cinematic than the company’s other games. The levels are much larger and are much more vibrant, and there are many more ways to interact with the environment than on your typical homestead. The game also features certain events that require the player to make a decision on what to do. And there’s definitely a wrong answer to some of them — like mowing down a butterfly with a hail of gunfire (I was scolded for picking that one).
Pioneer Trailblazers don’t actually have to add their own Facebook friends to their team in Pioneer Trail. Instead, Zynga is giving players the option to add random people that they don’t know on Facebook to their team and will give them the same bonuses they would get if they added their Facebook friends. It’s a new step for Zynga that encourages more asynchronous play — basically letting gamers play a game together at different times of the day.
“Instead of a neighbor bar that’s just an infinite number of possible neighbors, we want a deep social interaction between you and a bunch of your friends,” Osvald said. “You can make it all the way through Frontierville using the in-place characters, but it’ll be much faster with friends.”
There are a bunch of missions to complete on the trail. As you finish them, your wagon gradually moves down the path. Once you reach the end of the path, you move on to the next level in the trail. At launch, there are four “levels” — the High Plains, the snowy Avalanche Pass, Beaver Valley and the final destination Fort Courage. Players get prizes when they complete the trail, and they can start playing again if they feel like playing it.
“As you get to the end there’s no penalty as to why you wouldn’t want to start it again,” Osvald said. “This is probably a couple weeks of play to get to the end of the trail.”
Players will still need help on the trail, such as when they have to put out a big fire. They can ask their friends on Facebook for help, as in other Zynga games like Farmville and Cityville. When someone agrees to help, their avatar will actually show up in the player’s game and start helping out, even though the game is based off asynchronous play.
Frontierville has more than 11 million monthly active users, according to AppData. That’s small compared to its other major hits like Cityville, which has around 77 million monthly active users, and Empires & Allies, which has around 44 million monthly active users. Farmville still has 33 million monthly active users.
Osvald said if the first Pioneer trail is a hit with gamers, the company will probably design more trails within the game. He wouldn’t say whether the company would carry some of the newer features — like mission-styled gameplay or grabbing random friends instead of Facebook friends — to Zynga’s other games.
“This is another new social mechanic — it’s a gigantic social mission rather than just a typical homestead,” Osvald said. “It’s a brand new map, all the art is new, everything is new and we think our players are gonna have a lot of fun with this one.”