Where Zynga’s Treasure Isle Went Wrong

As most Treasure Isle players have probably noticed, Zynga is beginning to charge for more and more of the game’s maps.

SGC’s stance is that charging for maps in this nature is very disappointing and sets a scary precedent for social games in general. These maps are the game – this is one of the first examples of Zynga charging money for core content, instead of cosmetic bonuses or other optional boosts. It’s the equivalent of Mafia Wars charging for two of the six chapters in a new expansion, or a Farmville farm expansion only available via FV$.

Most social games (Zynga’s included) give players a choice. If you want a new Petville room, you can gather up more neighbors, OR buy it with cash. If you want more Mafia Wars energy, you can wait for it to recharge, OR buy more with cash. If you want a Farmville dog, you can pay a very large number of coins and jump through kibble feeding hoops, OR buy one. Users can use cash to bypass pain points.

The problem with these new maps is that they remove this choice. You have no choice – if you want to fully complete Treasure Isle, you have to pay up. This is a first, for Zynga. Why not allow premium maps to be purchased with a large number of hard-to-find gems *or* cash? Or make them unlock at a very high level, but allow players to pay to access them early? There are a number of more player-friendly options.

As we’ve said many times, we don’t begrudge any social game company for charging for virtual items. These companies are businesses, and have employees to pay. They offer up a tremendous amount of content free of charge. But what Zynga seems to be forgetting is that users need to feel good when they purchase something. If you buy a fun, elaborate Farmville or Petville decoration, it’s fun to gain that big item. It’s fun to leapfrog your Mafia Wars friends by using a few energy packs. Paying cash to access basic Treasure Isle maps is very much missing that feeling of fun.

We can appreciate that to some readers out there this editorial might read as “News Flash: Company Charging for Items – Users Complain,” and there is certainly an element of truth in that. Rather than being happy about all the free maps, we are worried and upset about the paid ones, which can certainly be construed as an overly developed sense of entitlement.

The issue here is that Zynga itself set the initial precedent. What we’re now seeing is a change in the established practices & a shift towards a model that is less player-friendly. If Farmville had told players 5 weeks after launch “We’re glad you like our game! Continue to enjoy it for free, or pay $5 to expand your farm,” then these Treasure Isle maps wouldn’t offend our sensibilities to this degree.

Social games have been truly free to play up to this point… players could pay to increase the fun factor, but never had to pay for game access itself. We’re concerned about what will happen to this young industry if that sentiment no longer exists at the largest social game maker.

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