Wishlist: How FarmVille can take full advantage of the iPhone
Zynga's newly released iPhone version of FarmVille is a passable if flawed miniaturization of its popular PC cousin. But the move to Apple's popular mobile phone brings with it the opportunity to add some rather unique new gameplay to the familiar farming experience. Here are just a few ideas for how Zynga can take full advantage of the iPhone hardware to make a better (or at least a fresher) overall game.
Geo-location: Visiting your virtual neighbors in FarmVille is all well and good, but sometimes you want to see what's going on with your actual neighbors. With the iPhone's built-in GPS (and IP-based geo-location for iPod users), this should be easy enough to implement. Simply let players opt-in to share their locations, then let them visit other farms are being shared in a set radius (anywhere from a few feet to a few hundred miles should be available). In addition to helping people discover new FarmVille freaks in their area, this feature could also let businesses and attractions set up virtual farms that are only accessible by visiting their real-world locations.
Text message harvesting: The iPhone version of FarmVille finally brings push notification of harvesting times, a great boon for on-the-go farmers that can't keep track of their schedules. As it stands now, though, iPhone players still have to load up the game and go through the onerous process of tapping all of their crops -- a process that can take entire minutes. Who has that kind of time? This is the new millennium! Why not let people harvest all their crops with a simple text message to Zynga.
Yes, this feature would actively encourage people to neglect spending time in the game, but so do time-saving features like tractors and unwithers, and people pay good virtual money (and sometimes real money) for those features. I can just see the ads now: "Text 'harvest' to 01223 and get those pesky crops out of the ground. Texts cost 2 FV cash for the first and 1 FV cash for each additional harvest per week, plus your telephone provider's fees. Text NOW!
Tilt to plow: Some of the iPhone's best games don't use the touchscreen at all, instead letting players simply tilt their phones to control everything from spaceships to tiny ball bearings to... whatever this thing is. Surely it can be used to control a virtual tractor as well, no? Just thing of the wild farm designs that could easily be created with a few deft flicks of the wrist. Of course, as it stands the game's graphics might not be responsive enough to allow for easy tilting controls, so maybe Zynga should get to work on that problem first. It's OK, we'll wait.
Personalized photo crops: The iPhone camera has revolutionized many games, from... um... well... OK, there aren't that many great games that take good advantage of the iPhone's camera yet. But Farmville could be one of the first by letting players convert their photos into personalized crop images. Why just grow ears of corn when you could instead grow a picture of your significant other, or Barack Obama, or even Bishop Desmond Tutu (cutest crop ever!). True, there would be a small risk of visiting a friend's farm and seeing dozens of pictures of their junk sprouting out of the ground, but really, if that happens, well, maybe you need to find some new friends.
Augmented reality farming: While the personalized crops discussed above could theoretically be implemented on the PC version of Farmville, this next idea would be much harder to do without a smartphone. Augmented reality, in this case, simply means point your iPhone video camera at the nearest table, book or other flat surface and seeing your farm displayed on-screen resting on top of that surface. Just picture it -- wheat growing out of your homework! Cows mooing on top of your bedspread! A grove of trees on... the carpet! Yeah, OK, this is actually starting to sound pretty lame now that we type it out. NEXT!
Audio commentary: Letting your best friend know their farming skills are "teh lamez0rs" via a signpost comment is all well and good, but just imagine how much more fun it could be to use the iPhone's built-in microphone to actively curse out their farming skills with your own voice (or we guess you could leave a nice comment too. If you really wanted to). But why stop there? Why not let players record detailed audio commentaries that take visiting friends from your elegantly designed koi pond garden to the haybale picture of Justin Beiber. Zynga could even add complex editing tools to give your virtual tour that Ken Burns effect.
That's all we've got for now, but we're sure there's iPhone farming possibilities we've left out. Leave your ideas for new iPhone FarmVille features in the comments.