Oh pioneer! FrontierVille's Brian Reynolds takes on the Wild West of social gaming [Interview]

frontierville's brian reynolds
frontierville's brian reynolds

It's almost ironic that while social gaming is still in its Wild West phase, FarmVille creator Zynga seems to be giving us a knowing wink and nod by releasing a new Facebook game set in the Wild West -- FrontierVille.

The new game, which debuted on June 9, has all of the trappings of a typical social game -- neighbors, in-game currency, virtual goods, and even a little farming. The pioneering game also attempts to innovate by expanding those features and adding elements that we've seen in more traditional video games, such as a reputation meter which you fill by helping friends.

Zynga's Head Game Designer Brian Reynolds calls FrontierVille "a living, breathing world" that encroaches on your plot of virtual land. "If you go away for a while, the weeds grown up, and you'll have to clear them out. The little trees grow into bigger trees, grow into really big trees and the really big trees drop seeds that might start new trees. And that can be good or maybe you don't want it so you have to decide if you want more trees to grow or not. It's not exactly the same way you left it when you come back -- there's a sense that the wildness is alive."

This is something that we've seen in video games for ages, but adding it to a social/Facebook game somehow makes the concept novel again.

Then there's the Western theme, which we haven't seen explored fully in a Facebook game (though touched upon in Meteor Games' Ranch Town). Reynolds describes the game as "Oregon Trail meets 'Little House on the Prairie' meets FarmVille" He says the game's concurrent release with Rockstar's epic western Red Dead Redemption was purely coincidental. "Everyone has their Western thing going on," he says with a laugh.

We also talked to Reynolds, who is also a seasoned video game vet who worked on several popular PC strategy games (Civilization II, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri) about how FrontierVille will fill a gap in the social gaming space, how the game will keep people coming back for more and plans for the game on iPhone. Read the rest of our interview after the jump.