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Will Zynga’s ChefVille revive the company’s fortunes?

Social games giant Zynga has launched its newest title, ChefVille, a “next-generation cooking” game. This probably won’t draw charges of cloning unless Zynga can be accused of copying itself.

chefville 2Zynga’s previous restaurant game, Cafe World, was a big hit on Facebook when it debuted in the fall of 2009. But the game has grown a bit long in the tooth, and the time is right for Zynga to modernize the concept. The game is part of Zynga’s effort to revive its fortunes after a slow second quarter that prompted a poor earnings report last week, a 40 percent drop in Zynga’s stock price, and shareholder lawsuits.

Overall, Zynga’s recent troubles — including a lawsuit for copying one of Electronic Arts’ games — have not been good for the rest of the social game industry. Zynga is the largest maker of social games, and as its financial performance sinks, so does the relative value of other game companies. Each new game launch is becoming more and more crucial as the company needs new games that monetize well to improve its lot.

This new game is part of a category where player interest is on the rise, thanks to popular TV shows like Iron Chef and Top Chef, said Jonathan Knight, the general manager of ChefVille. It’s part of Zynga’s process of expanding into new genres on Facebook. Overall, Zynga has 290 million monthly active users on Facebook.

“This is one of the most significant games ever made about food,” Knight said in an interview. “The key difference between this and Cafe World is the emphasis on ingredients and how they are used to help you level up.”

chefville 3The title emphasizes self-expression, crafting, exploration, and social play. It also has real-world tie-ins such as recipe rewards. Players create their own dream restaurants, designing the decor and the cuisine. They also run their kitchens and can create more than 200 dishes. Each player becomes an ingredient specialist. They can cook with grills, brick ovens, woks, or sushi stations.

Players can visit friends’ restaurants and dine there as VIP guests. Once they do so, they can borrow ingredients and then return home to complete their dishes. Zynga emails frequent players’ real-world recipes as rewards for playing in what Zynga calls a “game to table” feature. Players can also interact via “table to game,” where the players contribute their own recipes to the game, or join a cooking academy and unlock new cuisines, cookware, crafting stations, ingredients, recipes, and trophies.

You can expand into new hidden areas of the map board, unlocking a dock so that you can access seafood dishes.

chefville 4Zynga borrows from other “Ville” games such as CastleVille, YoVille, FarmVille, FrontierVille, CityVille, and TheVille. The game is available in 17 languages, including English, Danish, Dutch, German, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and traditional Chinese.

Other popular cooking games have paved the way for Cafe World, Knight said. Those include the time management games Diner Dash and Cooking Mama. The popularity of top shows like Iron Chef reflect how much cooking has advanced in the past decade, Knight said.

“It has become much more of a competition,” he said.

Here’s a video preview of the game below.

watch?v=gfYKf8Fsv0A&feature=player_embedded


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