What if Zynga Actually Cared About Gameplay?

Other Web-playable
Joe Chedburn

When you start playing Torn, your first thought might be "Oh, it's another Mafia Wars clone." And you would be wrong.

For one thing, Torn dates back to 2003, and Mafia Wars launched in 2008; if one is a clone, it's not Torn. The similarities are obvious: you use a resource that replenishes slowly over time to commit crimes that earn you game cash, you can attack other players, you level up slowly with the grind, and the main point of monetization is selling resource replenishment for real world money.

But while Zynga's development efforts have been geared primarily to adding more graphic glitz and Flash elements, Torn has stayed a pure-text online RPG, and instead gone for greater depth. The elder game has been built out extensively, with players able to do such things as let off a dirty bomb in the city -- a task that is extremely difficult to accomplish, and is very rarely done in the world. Many gambling minigames can be played in "the casino" -- including sports betting, using game cash, on real world sporting events. A system of education and (non-criminal) jobs include a "life sim" aspect to the game. Players can race cars against each other, and there's an in-game stock market in which players can invest, with game world stock prices tied to real-world ones.

In short, this kind of text-based, energy-limited, long-term RPG may or may not be to your taste; but if it is, the extended development of this game means that there's far more detail and richness to be explored than in any Facebook game of similar ilk. And, of course, it's operated by a small team of indie developers in the UK, not a venture-funded company of notoriously questionable business ethics.

Torn is not a Facebook game, but without access to FB viral channels, without the ability to cross-promote to other games, and without a huge ad spend, it runs at a MAU of about 900,000 58,000 and DAU of 30,000, which would, assuming ARPDAU is comparable to other games (and games with PVP tend to have high ARPDAU) make it more than successful enough to carry a small live development team profitably.


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Why such a low ratio between MAU and DAU?


Idunno. However, I suspect that FB virals are, at this point, more effective at encouraging return and retention than at customer acquisition, and without them, you might naturally expect a lower DAU/MAU.


A little math tells us that with DAU/MAU of 1/30, users never return (or return once per month, and are really organized about it). I smell a rat with the numbers.

It also rather funny if anyone thinks "mafia wars" invented the genre, as this was already a tired concept in 2002 (when I got my first broadband) and everyone and their dog was making one of these: spend 'energy' (everyone called it 'energy', even when it didn't fit into the setting): get money and XP, fight other players in their absence, wait long periods for energy to refill or buy a refill for tokens. As you progressed you'd usually open new areas for 'adventuring' (or whatever the theme was, like, say new networks to hack), but no one bothered to write well back then, so they were basically all the same. Then, Kingdom of Loathing did it right (in 2003, as it turns out. It was already at that time a parody of the bandwagoned genre) and that had a bunch of clones too. But now everyone thinks Mafia wars (which isn't even a bit funny) owns the mechanic.

Wrong on the MAU

Dev wrote, and I was wrong on the MAU. 58K makes the DAU/MAU look more plausible. Good, even.

MAU/DAU and cloning

MAU/DAU of 58k/30k suggests a boutique game: small but extremely loyal player community. I'd be curious what "typical" ARPDAU is, though - I've seen numbers across the board and it's hard to find any that agree, in my experience.

As for the idea of Torn being original... while I don't doubt it's added depth only possible with internet capability, the whole Mafia Wars formula predates the ubiquitously-accessible-internet-as-we-know-it. Before there was AOL, there were local BBSs that hosted what were called "door" games (I was just a kid at the time so I just accepted this, maybe someone older than me knows why they were called such a strange thing) with mechanics that would look suspiciously familiar to any social-game aficionado. I distinctly remember one designer remarking a few years ago, upon seeing Mafia Wars: "at last, technology from the 1980s is finally OURS!"

If torn is 'caring about

If torn is 'caring about gameplay' I'm glad I've never tried farmville.

I'm assuming their php coding skills are far better than mine in saying that - if not, okay, they have gone for what they can manage to code.

Generally torn seems to forfil the RL company job paradigm of about fifty years ago. Ie, you got a job at the bottom - you knuckled down, then relatively free of actual competance at anything, you slowly move up the ranks/up the social ranks, until people respect you. There is little game, more like poking your assets every so often so they generate a lil more further assets than before.

What I don't get about it is that doing so takes a few minutes, less time than playing urban dead each day. But people stick around to chat - while doing nothing?

Possibly PTT should review the 'boring rpg' browser game, with it's apparently large number of players and yet frightening honest reduction of the whole torn thing to simply hitting a button, then waiting for the cooldown before - hitting the same button.