Mafia Wars is NOT a 5 Star Game


A friend of mine recently gave Mafia Wars, a Zynga game most commonly played on Facebook, a five star rating. While I play the game, I think the rating should be much lower. We have to give it a few stars because it appeals to man’s base nature of conquering things, thus becoming an addictive experience, but we also have to remove stars for the many bugs in the product as well as the shifting rules.

Let’s start with the later:

Shifting Rules

When I first started playing Mafia Wars last year, you had a fairly simple method of setting up properties. First, you had to buy land and then you had to buy properties to sit on the land. As the price went up each time you purchased, it made more sense to buy in lots of 10. If you played this correctly, you quickly got up to a level where you could get to billions of dollars of daily income rather quickly. In addition, you only had to pull the money out once per day and all of the properties were pulled at one time. And, if you continued to build this way, you could achieve the money accomplishments within a few months.

Rule Change #1 was to reorganize properties like so:

image

This gave us a very pretty reorganization. More importantly, it gave the advantage back to the house (Zynga) in this casino we call online games. Here is how it works.

  1. Reorganize properties, including getting rid of some that are very profitable for peeps – this reduced my daily take tremendously
  2. Make all properties expire at different times, making them easier to rob
  3. Only allow a person to buy one property at a time, so you can raise the price on each property instead of each 10

When robbing was reintroduced, you could only rob when a bar was full and you could collect. This was to illustrate you have to pay attention to avoid getting robbed, or something similar. In the past day or so another rule change has been instituted (Rule Change #2): people can rob you even when the bar is not full. What this means is even a person who stays on the game 24 hours a day can be robbed.

For evidence, the screen cap above was taken about 1 minute ago. Note that my Chop Shop and Weapons Depot, which take 24 hours to fill. This means I cleaned up my take about 4 hours ago. Below is a screen cap of my Mafia Wars home page taken right now:

image

This means the rule is no longer “if you don’t watch your properties, they get robbed”, but rather “to make sure people rob, you can get robbed at a point in time where you can’t collect”. If this is the way the game is changing, the fair thing should be that I can collect on my take at any moment to ensure I can’t get robbed. But, that type of change would not benefit Zynga, as their goal in rules changing is to ensure I eventually get tired enough of not making progress I will buy something from them.

I am personally hoping this second “change” is a bug, as it is really annoying enough to have to keep getting into the game to make sure a property with a full bar is not robbed. Getting robbed without having a chance to do something to prevent it lifts annoying to the level of aggravating. Making it nearly impossible to get the big money accomplishments pissed me off too. 🙂

NOTE: I am not talking about game additions here. Adding on additional features is a dynamite way to add more incentive to play the game. I have no problem with that. I am talking about core changes in the way the game works that make it harder to achieve goals. While it is their game, and they have the right to program it how they desire, I would not want to play a board game with a person who changed rules like this in mid stream. Especially if the rule changes he instituted were things like “when ever Greg passes Go, he goes to Jail and I collect $100,000”. That is how I feel about Zynga’s rule changing; they seem to only benefit the house.

Bugs

While rule changes might be okay in some people’s definition of a five star game, I have a feeling most would disagree that a buggy game should earn this designation. Here are just a few of the bugs I have encountered in the game over the past week or so:

  1. Can’t receive boost from self when clicking on friend’s link. First the link:
    image
    then the message
    image
    I am not, and have never been, Rob. As such, I think I can safely label this one a bug.
  2. Gifts expire shortly after someone sends them. I saw my Mafia Wars gift request change on FB and had this:
     image
    click on the Claim Rewards and get this
    image

    Unless near immediate gift expiration is a clever feature, I would call it a bug.

  3. Failure to give items it says you just collected. I have had this happen on skill points, reward points, experience (harder to gauge as you do not see experience without going to profile) and money:
    image
  4. Disappearing energy, etc. When I played this morning, I left nearly 300 points so I could play England in a few hours (currently working on something that costs 48 points and I can do it 6 times in a row before the authorities get suspicious). When doing the screen caps earlier, I was down to 232 points. Now I am at 153. WFT?
    image 
  5. Other strange point anomalies – This one shows points temporarily being reduced:

  6. Money shown in wrong currency:

These are not the only bugs I have seen and I am not even certain they are the most egregious. I have actually contacted Zynga about some of the bugs I have encountered and even received correspondence back, although I have never had my game adjusted. In short, it is not worth complaining unless you are paying and I am not convinced you will get much out of Zynga no matter how much you complained.

My Thoughts

Which of these better describes you?

  1. If someone produced a really good quality free game and gave me an offer to get additional features for money, I would pay it
  2. I pay money for games that make things really hard to progress just so I can get it over with

The point is you can provide a carrot (more stuff in a great game for people who buy) or a stick (make it harder to progress as time goes on so you spend). Zynga seems to focus on the stick. I am not a stick kind of guy, nor are most people I have talked to, so it is not working for us (perhaps it is for others?).

More importantly, even if the game was awesome I doubt I would purchase it when it is as broken as it routinely is. As a developer, I would cringe at the high number of bugs making it to production. Perhaps their crack dealer model, “the first one is free”, is not profitable enough to put a quality assurance department in place?

Last Bits

So why do I play? Frankly, because I hate to give something up before it is “done”. As the game always adds features and special bits, I doubt I will ever truly be done. But, once the bits in front of me are completed, I will pack up and leave.

But my point here was not “this is a game nobody should play”. I was simply stating this is not a 5 star game, as it was rated. If people were paying for this game, I am sure it would be skewered by sites like IGN and GameSpot and I don’t believe that free gives someone a 5 star game that would likely only get 1 star if it were a paid game.

Peace and Grace,
Greg

Twitter: @gbworld

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