“Farmville” Enters the “English Countryside” to Entice Old Players to Return

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What’s better than having one farm on Farmville?

Having two farms –- and subsequently no social life –- of course! Last week, Zynga slowly rolled out Farmville English Countryside, the biggest expansion to Farmville since the launch of the game. English Countryside gives players level 20 and above an additional farm to tend to.

“We’re hoping to get players who used to play Farmville back into the game,” Farmville general manager Todd Arnold told Techland. “It’s really something to keep our best fans engaged. They’ve been waiting for something big.”

Let’s be clear: This is not a separate entity, but an expansion of the original game. In the English Countryside, you have unique items like a sheep pen and new crops including barley and hops to work with. The game addition also integrates features used in newer Zynga games like Cityville. You’ll finally get a coherent storyline, which is something Farmville has always been missing, and in-game missions.

By now, if you’re a hardcore farmer, you’ve probably zipped through the mini-goals and are on your second farm in England. However, the majority of players are still fixing their zeppelin to the U.K.  Arnold estimates it will take most players a couple of weeks before they’ll touch English soil. “We need to do that to make sure we aren’t releasing a buggy experience,” he explains. “When you have a user base daily of 14 million people playing the game, you have to roll it out in a controlled fashion.”

Okay, but what’s the real reason Zynga doesn’t want to make it that easy to get to the English Countryside? It’s all part of their master plan to get old players who have abandoned their farms back on the plow. Getting to the England involves a lot of additional help from other gamers, and Zynga is hoping that if you annoy your friends who have fallen by the wayside to help you on your U.K. mission they’ll get suckered into playing the game again. In fact, it’s impossible to play the new addition if you don’t have at least a small group of friends playing the game regularly since you’ll need them to give you supplies. It’s all part of the push to make Farmville more “social.”

Recent stats have shown a steady decline in people playing Farmville. The English Countryside expansion seems to be driving players back to the game, however. The daily active users (DAU) has been up 248,641 players in the last seven days. It hasn’t been that long since the launch so we’re keeping our eye on the stats to see if this trend will contune. And Farmville still has a long way to go before they beat their all-time high of over 32 million players a day. Right now, according to this data, less than 14 million players check in once every 24 hours.

So what new features are English farmers playing with? First, there’s the sheep pen that we briefly mentioned above. You put a ram and ewe together in a breeding suite, give them some love potion, and presto, with some luck you’ll get a lamb with his mother’s color and his father’s wool pattern. You get a new crafting pub where you can brew your English crops into delicious products. There’s an additional horse stable, chicken coop, more cow barns and fun English-themed animals to rear.

If you’re worried because you’re a level 81 player and your friend is only at 22, it’s okay because everyone starts out with the same structures, leveling the playing field. It also ensures that players who have been out of the game don’t feel overwhelmed if they decide to return. “We realized everyone ended up being involved at different levels,” he explains. “This is a way to reconnect with all your friends in the play experience.”

One annoying thing for obsessive players is that only one farm is active at a time. That means that when you’re on your regular farm, your English crops or animals won’t grow. You have to choose where your loyalties lie. Another thing is that once you set an animal or tree down on one farm, you can’t move it across the virtual pond. Arnold says that’s because they wanted to keep things at an intermediate level. Instead of having to worry about two farms with rotting crops, you only have to keep your timer set on one of them.

The Farmville GM says they realize how much time it takes to work on one farm, so don’t worry, they won’t inundate you with ten farms for you to look after just yet. They want to keep the game fun and social so you’ll keep playing.

“Give the story a shot, and you’ll see everything new that the English Countryside has to offer,” he says.