Zynga Friday is launching "The Pioneer Trail," a sequel that is based on its existing FrontierVille game. The game also introduces a new format where less friends are needed--they don't even have to be Facebook friends--but they need to be more active gamers.
This new Facebook game comes as big changes in the social gaming industry are happening. Thursday Google+ launched its own games on its third party platform. Zynga had one game Zynga Poker on the platform.
A sequel to FrontierVille, The Pioneer Trail is a travel or adventure game where people who already play FrontierVille can travel on a wagon from the Homestead they've built to a series of new territories. It still has a frontier theme, but unlike FrontierVille and some other Zynga games like FarmVille, the objective isn't just to build a homestead, farm or city. Instead Pioneer Trail is a narrative, where the objective is to stop a kidnapping of a child, Ezekiel, by the Gratchett Gang. It also has other mini story lines, such as a romance story line.
Pioneer Trail is a sequel or franchise game, a benefit of which it is much easier to draw users to the second game, rather than having to build a new fan base for each new game. In fact, with FrontierVille, existing users who go to the game will automatically be put into The Pioneer Trail game. So there's no having to push users to join, they're automatically in.
Players do not build the game board, but instead traverse through already built terrain filled with content. This game is large--five times the size of other Zynga games, the company says. There are three separate maps in the game--Beaver Valley, High Plains and Avalanche Pass--each with its own mini quests inside it. People who haven't not played Frontierville can just jump in on the trail. In addition, when people gather items they can take them back to use them in FrontierVille.
Zynga also introduces a new game mechanic with Pioneer Trail. In other Zynga games, players need to accumulate a large number of friends to help them play the game. But in The Pioneer Trail, it is more focused: players only need three active friends--in the hunter, doctor or carpenter role. The twist is that they need to be or can be more active than in other Zynga games, as Zynga is looking for deeper engagement between friends in this game. Two other differences from other Zynga games: The value of each visit from friends is much higher in this game than other Zynga games. In addition, there is specialization, with friends able to choose from a hunter, doctor or carpenter role. "Now we want deeper interaction with a smaller number of players," says John Osvald, general manager of FrontierVille.
Whereas in other previous Zynga games, friends just needed to drop in once in a while to help a friend play, in Pioneer Trail, more interaction is needed. "You're really playing together not just saying 'hey' once then... never interacting," Osvald says. "You really need to work together throughout the trail. We're trying to use that as a contraint in that we want deeper social interaction."
Soon Zynga will launch a Pioneer Trail community so that people can find other people to help them in the game. People will not have to become Facebook friends to help each other, which also is different from how other Zynga games operate. This makes it easier to get help for your game without having to spam your friends for help--a trade off between adding more (reluctant) players to the game and making it easier to play for those who actually want to.
FrontierVille is down to 12 million monthly active users and 3.5 million daily active users, from a high of 36 million monthly actives since it launched in June 2010, according to AppData. Still Osvald says the games' players are extremely devoted and very active on the game. Perhaps in response to that, Pioneer Trail is a "choose your own adventure" type game where different decisions cause different game play and different scores. Players can see how they rank against other players and replay the entire game to compete with others and Osvald expects people will play the game more than once.
Pioneer Trail started out as a feature of FrontierVille, for users to take their items and go other places with them. But Zynga eventually decided to turn it into its own game.
Zynga, recently filed its S-1 to list on the public markets, has recently launched a number of new games, including Hanging With Friends, Words With Friends on Facebook, and Zynga City in China with partner Tencent.