GamesBeat

Zynga preps CastleVille in bid to defend its social game empire

Social game maker Zynga is about to launch a new game, CastleVille, in its ongoing bid to keep on the path toward an initial public offering. The game will go live in the next couple of weeks.

The launch of this high-profile addition to Zynga’s Ville series of games — YoVille, PetVille, FishVille, FarmVille, CityVille — is an example of how Zynga has stepped up its pace of game launches in preparation for its IPO. The company is determined to grow its user numbers and overall business and lately has been launching something every couple of weeks, rather than every few months.

With Castleville, Zynga is continuing the strategy that it has shown in its recent games — Empires & Allies, Adventure World, Pioneer Trail (formerly FrontierVille), Words With Friends on Facebook, and Mafia Wars 2 — where it mashes up its cartoon style, which has a wide appeal among Facebook users, with more interesting game play than it has had in the past. The company is also tapping an expanded team of nearly 2,500 employees, far outgunning many of its rivals in social games.

“We wanted to bring Zynga to the forefront of gaming with the next installment of a Ville game,” said Bill Jackson, creative director on CastleVille and part of the Zynga Dallas team that it acquired with the purchase of Bonfire Studios last year. “Our streamlined social functions make it seem like a next-generation game.”

In the game, you build your own kingdom. It’s sort of like a combination of Pioneer Trail and CityVille, except in a medieval fantasy setting. Zynga is launching the title today in 17 languages.

In the global view, CastleVille is clearly a move to hold on to the No. 1 position. Zynga has roughly 40 percent of the market share for social games on Facebook, with more than 49 million daily active users. Its next closest rival is Electronic Arts, which after years of trying finally scored big this summer with The Sims Social. The Wall Street Journal pointed this out in a story on Wednesday, as The Sims Social grabbed the No. 2 spot on Facebook, behind only Zynga’s CityVille game. However, EA still has only 14.5 million daily active users, or about 10.9 percent. In the last week, Zynga has been the one to gain share, growing 2.4 percentage points while EA lost 1 percent. EA clearly needs something more than The Sims Social to catch Zynga.

With other Ville games like FarmVille, the object was to create a cool farm and show it off. It was purely self-expression. CityVille took that up a notch with a simulated game world that seemed alive, despite the limitations of the Flash browser-based format on Facebook. CastleVille was also designed to be a lot more social.

You can create your own main character, using lots of different facial features, clothing and decorations.

At the opening, you meet your first neighbor, The Duke, a portly guide to the game. And you also meet “the lovely maiden” Giselle. She asks you do undertake a quest. If you do it, then she becomes the first character to join your kingdom. You help her build her house and then you can go about undertaking more quests, meeting more characters, exploring the land around you, and building your kingdom. You can pursue the overarching story of the game by fulfilling the quests that the characters give you. Each time you do, you gain experience and level up. The game has elements of role-playing and simulation.

The game is social because you can visit your friends’ kingdoms and help them with tasks. That earns you Reputation Points, which you can use to buy expansion regions or decorations. The more social you are, the faster you can progress in the game. In an improvement over CityVille, it now takes a lot less time to interact with your friends in the game.

As you push into unexplored territory, you push back the forces of The Gloom. If you want to explore all of the regions available on your playing map, the journey could take months, Jackson said — “Exploration is a big part of it.”

As you build your castle, you can place walls on the map any way you choose, so that you wind up with your dream castle. The game has its own original musical score, created by Zynga with the help of a 75-piece orchestra.

Rival games include the upcoming Ravenshire Castle from 6waves Lolapps, Ravenwood Fair from 6waves Lolapps, and some other smaller fantasy titles. Will the game be a hit? It uses the tried-and-true formula of combining game mechanics with a mainstream art style.

“We are shooting for a broad audience,” Jackson said.


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