Mafia Wars – A Deposition

As I mentioned back in the post about FarmVille, as part of the preparation for SUWT #60, I was looking into Facebook games.

In addition to FarmVille, Zynga‘s #1 game, I though I should also try their #2 game (it “only” has 25 million monthly active players according to Facebook), Mafia Wars.

Unfortunately, after only a few minutes with the game, I felt it was #2 in more ways that one, if you know what I mean.  It struck me as nothing but “advancement” through pointless, repetitive button clicking.

Still, 25 million players.  That means somebody must like it, even if it hasn’t been banned in Utah like that other game that is constantly in the side-bar ads on Facebook.

And, sure enough, I know somebody who likes Mafia Wars, or at least liked it for a bit.

To get him to testify against the Mafia I had to offer him full immunity from prosecution/persecution, a place in the MySpace witness protection program, and secret identity.  So here is the testimony of Mr. X.

I “played” it for about 3 weeks.  It takes about a week to actually get any kind of rhythm so I got about 2 weeks of playtime out of it and then I heard about the autoplayer.  The autoplayer does exactly what it sounds like:  it plays automatically to a set of rules you define.  I let it run for weeks, checking it periodically and pausing it occasionally to do a specific task but mostly it just autoleveled me.

The good news / bad news is they have developed a health “system” that only allows you to play or do a finite number of things in a finite amount of time. You have stamina “points” that regenerate every 5 minutes so once you’re depleted you need to 1) wait 5 minutes per point (many tasks require more than 1 point; a pvp encounter requires exactly 1 if I recall correctly) 2) buy more points for real money or for earned Godfather points or 3) level up so your stamina is refreshed.  The good news is you can only level so fast.  The bad news is you can’t sit down for an hour and play because you’ll deplete your points in 10 minutes.

The autoplayer can be setup to play a variety of ways (e.g. only perform tasks, only perform pvp, hide in the hospital when hurt, auto-buy property with your winnings, etc.) but, as you’d expect, it can play better than you ever will therefore the best way to gain fame/fortune/levels is the autoplayer.

One of the interesting aspects to those games is your Facebook friends.  Not sure how it applies to Farmville but your mafia is comprised of a subset of your FB friends who “join” your mafia and provide you reinforcement in a tough fight.  Additionally, they provide you resources in the form of gifts such as guns, ammo, traps and other things.  I assume Farmville is similar albeit with feed, livestock, etc. that you can gift back and forth.

I did enjoy the experience while it lasted.  The addition of the other areas (eg. Cuba, Moscow) helped but I found it frustrating that it was just more of the same and you can’t transfer wealth from one area to the other.

Thank you Mr. X.

One of the ironies of Mafia Wars is that Zynga got sued (and settled) because they apparently stole the whole game idea and mechanics from another Facebook game, Mob Wars.  They stole a game about crime!  It is like cheating in your business ethics class.  (Which, contrary to popular myth, will not secure you an automatic “A”) Mob Wars may “only” have 800,000 monthly users, but at least they got a few million dollars out of Zynga, or so it seems.

And, in case you were wondering, Zynga’s game Vampire Wars appears to be Mafia Wars reskinned with a vampire motif.  So if you feel that pointless button clicking would be better if you were pretending to be a vampire, you have that option available.

For me, FarmVille is a step up from this.

8 thoughts on “Mafia Wars – A Deposition

  1. Leumas K

    The Zynga games I have looked at were all ‘borrowed’ from someone else. I was kind of under the impression that they did that with all of their games: take a mildly successful social media game, re-skin it and change some of the mechanics, launch, and promote it better.

    When Farmville was introduced, it looked very similar to Farmtown, which I had been messing around with for a few months.


  2. SynCaine

    I see Zynga is following the Blizzard model :)

    It goes far beyond the vampire reskin though. If you look at the iPhone RPG section, you can literally find a mob style game with almost any theme, from shopping to soccer to racing.


  3. PeterD

    There are vast numbers of those facebook games that are essentially re-skins of Mafia wars. Just about any game on facebook that involves conflict of some sort is a re-skin of mafia wars and it’s well and truly sad. There are superhero ones, fantasy ones, castle ones, historical ones, future ones, you name it, there’s a skin for it. But they’re all the same stupid click game with different text and icons.


  4. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @SynCaine – Actually, Zynga has “improved” the Blizzard model, taking that money that one might use on polish and spending it on advertising to drive revenue immediately.

    As for reskinning and similarities, certainly it is all over. I mentioned Vampire Wars merely because it is literally the same game with a new skin. The ultimate in code re-use.


  5. Xyd

    An interesting side-effect to playing Zynga’s FB games with any fervor: you need FB friends to excel. I found that my wife had a couple friends whose husbands were level 400+ in Mafia Wars and, well, it’s always nice to have a high-level hit man on your side, right? Well, to add them to your mafia you must be their FB friend which resulted in a dozen FB friends that I had never met in real life. Eventually I stopped playing Mafia Wars yet kept these newly “found” FB friends and, oddly, over time I got to know them a bit by seeing their FB posts. I actually found a couple new real-life friends this way.


  6. M

    Does anyone else finding the re-skinning of games incredibly annoying?

    Just about every free online browser strategy game is Travian re-skinned. In fact Travian might be a clone of Tribe Wars its hard to tell. I get banner ads constantly for the different versions, all of which are 95% the same game.

    The various iteration of the game I find more similar than playing WoW as different classes.

    I found the problem with the iTouch/iPhone strategy games was that 95% of them were mafia wars reskinned.


  7. HarbingerZero

    Sounds exactly like Castle Age, which was the only FB game I really got into. Reskinning isn’t a bad thing though. That’s essentially what the entire d20 PnP RPG market is based on, and its done remarkably well financially, even now, 10 years later. And let’s face it, we all have computer games that we’d love to see “reskinned” for HD monitors but with exactly the same game mechanics.

    Actually, come to think of it, that goes for MMO’s too. Do we have any Fantasy MMO’s that aren’t essentially just a reskin of Everquest?


  8. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    Well, there is reskinning and there is reskinning.

    Saying I want, for example, StarCraft that runs at a resolution greater that 640×480 is a bit different than the concept of taking the game Mafia Wars and reskinning it so that it has pictures of fangs and you press a button to bite people rather than shoot them.

    Your trying to equate nostalgia for old games (and we’re big on nostalgia ’round these parts) with reskinning current games to maximize code re-use.


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