ChefVille Aftertaste: The pros and cons of Zynga's increased focus on social

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While Facebook games may have wildly varying themes and genres, there are some elements that are standard across almost every experience. One of those is the ability to interact with your friends in some fashion, whether it's by visiting their own version of the game personally or just sending them free gifts to help them progress. Both of these are options in most of Zynga's games, including ChefVille, but where ChefVille differs in is the mandatory nature of these social features, which is both good and bad.

In most Facebook games, visiting friends is a mostly voluntary process, as players may need to visit one or two neighbors every few days to finish quests or earn a couple of additional energy points to finish something back in their own games, but in ChefVille, visiting friends is absolutely necessary to making real progress back in your own restaurant. Why? Salt and Pepper, two spices that are required for a slew of the game's dishes, are only available for free by visiting friends.

Each time we visit friends in ChefVille, we're allowed to complete five tasks, from eating friends' dishes to tending their plants and buildings, and we'll have the chance to earn coins, reputation hearts, energy bolts and even free ingredients along the way. This is a fairly standard setup found in many other Facebook games, even outside of the Zynga catalog, but where things become a bit more tricky here is in the Salt and Pepper rewards. Each day you visit a friend, you'll receive a free Salt, so long as your inventory isn't full of them. Visit a friend three days or more in a seven day period and you'll receive Pepper. That doesn't sound so bad until you factor in the time it takes to visit friends and earn those spices for your game.

As the overall goal in ChefVille is to cook dishes enough times to master them, and there are plenty of quests that will stall your progress entirely until you've earned enough mastery stars to continue, players can't simply ignore these dishes that require Salt and Pepper and hope to advance by cooking everything else. This forces us to make a decision: either take the time to visit friends at least once every two days (to maintain our ability to earn Pepper), or purchase those missing ingredients with Chef Cash instead.

The exclusivity of Salt and Pepper may not outwardly seem like a big deal, and in practice, the limitations probably won't be a problem for many players. But what happens when a dedicated player runs out of Salt and Pepper after a day of constant playing, with no additional neighbors that they can visit until the next day? Should we be forced to stop playing the game if we're working on mastering dishes that require Salt and Pepper to prepare?

Furthermore, the "casual" Facebook gamer, or those that are simply limited in the amount of time they can play each day or week, will make even slower progress still, as they may not have the free time necessary to visit friends each and every day, or may be playing on a slower computer that lags when visiting neighbors with massive restaurants (which unfortunately is already becoming an issue).

Ultimately, our being forced to visit friends for Salt and Pepper is a double-edged sword. We may be able to earn plenty of coins and dozens of free ingredients alongside those Salt and Pepper bottles, but it takes a lot of dedication (ie: time) to keep an ample supply of each on hand. This also encourages players to add strangers as Facebook friends just so they can have additional restaurants to visit for each, which is frowned upon by Facebook itself.

While I can definitely understand Zynga's attempt to make ChefVille a more socially interactive experience, it would also be nice to be given the opportunity to purchase Salt and Pepper Shakers (or some other tool) for our restaurants so that we could always have a way to earn them, even if our friends' list has been exhausted or we simply don't have that much time to play. Hopefully, such a feature will be added in the future, and we'll make sure to let you know either way.

Do you have a problem with being forced to visit friends for Salt and Pepper? Have you every run out of either spice because you didn't have enough friends left to visit? Sound off in the comments!
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