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Facebook Games: Why Do Your Friends Play Them?

With the inexplicable success of Zynga’s Facebook game “Farmville”, the industry has become flooded with developers trying to duplicate the popularity of that money farm. Facebook games are readily consumed by casual gamers, but would any of these apps offer something to the hardcore set?  In this weekly feature we make our way through the minefield of Facebook gaming in the hope of finding something worth playing.

Many Facebook games are "Action Point RPGs". This means that when a player fights enemies in the game they use up one or more Action Points, called “Energy”, “Stamina” or “Mana” depending on the game. Regardless of what they are called, when you're out of points, you're done playing until they are replenished. The business model behind all of these games is that players are encouraged to spend real-world money to buy more action points, or in-game items.

Because these games have little interaction, players are essentially there for the self-satisfaction of going up in level, and the only true reward is getting to see your character’s storyline play out through the game’s text.  So what kind of settings and stories do they offer?

The most popular one is “Mafia Wars”, which I played for two minutes. I would have liked to experiment for longer, but I ran out of points almost instantly. The entire experience consisted of me clicking my mouse 20 times, and reading a few lines of text explaining that I was increasing my Mafia level.  The experience could have been duplicated by turning off my computer, then clicking my mouse while reading the dust cover of “The Godfather”.

Ran out of Action Points in:  2 minutes

Game you should play instead:  Grand theft Auto

Another Facebook game centered around Action Points is, “Superhero City”, which boasts that is so addictive that it was banned in Utah. Honestly, the Mormon Theocracy is overreacting on this one. The game only has two things going for it. First are the customizable avatars that let you design your superhero's appearance with a greater degree of detail than most of these games. Secondly, it has actual animation that plays during the fights. Even though the mere presence of animation puts it a step above its peers, “Superhero City” is still unfulfilling because you can only observe the fights, not actively control your character. It's like watching a selfish child playing a video game, but never offers you the controller.


Ran out of Action Points in:  5 minutes

Game you should play instead:  Freedom Force

Next was "Band of Heroes", an obvious attempt to draw in WWII buffs with a title close to "Band of Brothers” (But not so close that they need to pay royalties to Major Richard Winters). “Band of Heroes” is essentially a re-skinned version of “Mafia Wars”, but it refreshes its action points quickly, so you can play it almost indefinitely. The story and missions show that someone was at least TRYING to write a story, unlike most other games of this ilk. Even though it’s the best Facebook has to offer in this category, the only reason to play it at all is the WWII setting and there are many “Real Games” games that give players a taste of being a GI.


Ran out of Action Points in:  Almost never

Game you should play instead:  Brothers in Arms

All of these Action Point games are basically cloned from a browser-based game called “Kingdom of Loathing,” a very well-written satire of traditional RPGs.  If hammering you mouse buttons over and over is your idea of playing a game, then do yourself a favor: skip Facebook altogether and have a look at Kingdom of Loathing instead.


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