Cityville: This is why Google needs to change the game

Google doesn't need Cityville, but Cityville represents one of Google's major weaknesses. Does anyone want to open a franchise in my town?
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

ZDNet's resident Millennial has sent me a couple of invites to Zynga's latest social game, Cityville. I kept ignoring him, fresh from finally getting Farmville to stop sending me messages. Then my oldest son happened to be playing it tonight and told me that he needed neighbors and wanted to set up a franchise, so I should really join.

Franchises? Hmmm. Social commerce beyond picking which crop I should plant and making sure that my youngest son popped into my account once in a while to plow under my whithered crops? It sounded interesting.

But no! I needed to be strong! No Zynga, no 'villes. I barely have time for Facebook as it is, but how else will I keep up with all the friends from high school who I'll never see again?

Then again, I rationalized, with Google investing in Zynga and clearly building some sort of web-based gaming/social platform, playing Cityville just might be considered research, right? I expect that social gaming has come a long ways since I last played Farmville and I owed it to my readers to be able to speak with firsthand knowledge about this stickiness and monetization potential of Facebook vs. Google, right?

So I signed up. And the game was truly sticky. There were immediately many more aspects of the game to manage and coordinate than Farmville offered even at advanced levels. Commerce, construction, supply lines, agriculture, conservation vs. development, and even partnerships with "neighbors"...it was all there. A dedicated tree hugger, I found myself chopping down as many trees as my energy levels would allow to generate additional money to fund further development.

I could even see myself using this with students. Though obviously a caricatured simulation, there are important elements of trade, commerce, and urban development that you explore.

I'm not rationalizing any more here. It's a total time drain, but Cityville has entertainment, social, and educational value that exceeds just about anything Zynga has done to date. The incentives to involve your friends are also quite high and I could absolutely envision people just using money (like real dollars on real credit cards) to bypass some of the more tedious requirements and just pay for the items they need (most importantly, the energy they need to keep playing).

My point here is that Google has nothing like this. Sure, they give you the tools to access the collected knowledge of the human race and their cloud-based productivity tools are incredibly powerful. Google eBooks is a worthwhile competitor to Amazon with a very different business model. But there's no reason to go to Google's properties and stay there interacting, spending money, and recruiting other users.

Everyone knows that Google needs to finally figure out "social," whatever that is, and, while many have questioned whether their Google Me effort, purportedly centered around social gaming, is too limited to compete with Facebook. However, given the sticky (OK, addictive) nature of games like Cityville, a Google social gaming platform may be a far better start in the social space than Wave or Buzz could ever have been.

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