Saturday, January 1, 2011

Wildlife Refuge: SOE Tucson's Latest Facebook Endeavor

I haven't been able to speak much about what I have been doing at Sony since I joined in June.  Our game was tightly under wraps until our quiet beta release this past November.  After a month of bug fixing and additional features I think its finally time to dust off the keyboard and try to put a couple sentences together about the game.

The first question I always get when I mention if I am working on a Facebook game is...   Is it like Farmville?     I dislike Zynga... I dislike their practices (towards customers and employees) and I dislike the 'spaminess' of their games.  Therefore, I cringe whenever I get thrown in the same lot... but to answer the question, yes... looking at it from the big picture it is kinda like Farmville.  They are both on the facebook platform, they both use isometric engines, they both involve tending/caring for things, they both allow you to decorate/personalize your space, and they both rely on helping and interacting with your friends.  

So yeah, our game falls into the Farmville genre... BUT OUR GAME IS DIFFERENT DAMMIT! ;)

Our game, Wildlife Refuge, drops you into the African Savannah and tasks you with helping the native ecosystem.  You get to explore the terrain in your jeep (Away3D) in hopes of finding and rescuing rare animals which you can take to your refuge to nurse back to health.  You can assist your friends through gifts, neighbor visits, and best of all... Animal Mating!  I'll let you check that last one out for yourself... :)  

I've really enjoyed being a part of this project, more so than I think I would have enjoyed a typical facebook game, since it has some noble/rewarding goals.  We are tied to non-profit charities (ex: Cheetah Foundation) and thus some of the money you spend on the game can go to a good cause (besides helping pay my rent).  We also have a fair amount of educational content in the game to help players learn about the African ecosystem.

I am going to shy away from going into details about the game's development and design decisions at this point and plan on touching on those points in a post mortem down the road.  Right now the game is very much alive.  We are fielding bug reports/feature requests from our player base while trying to improve our virality, stickiness, and overall profitability. 

We have gotten some very positives reviews (4.7 out of 5!) as well as some nice accolades (top 10 facebook games released this year).  However, the last line of the InsideSocialGames article shows that there is much room for improvement: "Sadly, despite how well-made the game is, it only has 58,000 MAU."  

I'll touch more on that in the post mortem, but for now I am going to enjoy my remaining holiday before I jump back into trying to help this baby get off the ground.  As for you, take a minute and check out our game: Wildlife Refuge.  

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