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Facebook’s Parking Wars’ Play Dynamics – Updated

December 27, 2007

A few days before Christmas, I noticed that five fellow game developers had installed the Parking Wars app on the same day. This amounted to an endorsement of sorts, so I was in. The game has a number of interesting dynamics that are not present in recent games I’ve played on Facebook, including Jetman and Scrabulous.

Overview

Parking Wars is a simple game – you start with a street named after you and two cars. Your goal is to find a parking place for them on someone else’s street and wait while they earn up. Sit in a single spot long enough, and the car tops off at $5,560. Most parking spaces have constraints on them: red cars only, blue cars only, no parking, etc. So, if you can’t find an appropriate spot for your car, you have to park illegally and risk getting ticketed by other players. Giving out tickets is a money earning proposition for the ticketer, and a money losing event for the ticketed – receiving a ticket has the effect of creating a 2*Ticket difference in score. As you earn more money from parking and ticketing, you level up and gain additional cars. Parking Wars is also an advergame for A&E’s upcoming Parking Wars reality TV show.

parking.jpg

Dynamics

What excites me most about Facebook is how games are evolving in this space. Because of its newsfeed, you see how things grow and pass from player to player and can assess the relative success of a game pretty quickly. The dynamics of the game truly support its growth and reinforce its advertising message not just on my screen, but on all my friend’s screens, too.

Some strengths in its design:

  • Turn-based gameplay: This isn’t different from most facebook games, but worth noting. Given the nature of Facebook itself, turn-based gameplay works best.
  • Repeat Visits: Players are brought back to the game multiple times a day due to three specific mechanics. This is different from games like Scrabulous that don’t integrate time into the mechanics. I can (and have) gone back to Scrabulous a week or more after the last move. There’s no impetus to return to play like there is here in Parking Wars. The mechanics are:
    • Ticketing cars that are illegally parked on your street
    • Cashing in your cars that have maxed out their earnings
    • Checking to make sure the restrictions on your spot haven’t changed rendering you ticket-worthy (i.e. from red cars only to black cars only)
  • Encouraging Competition: Parking Wars actively encourages player competition by showing scores within your network on the right side of the screen. I’m currently in a battle with another developer for top spot. Unlike other games in Facebook, the top score is constantly in the player’s face, making competition feel like an active part of the game rather than an afterthought. Having to click on something to “display your friend’s top scores” doesn’t facilitate competition in the same way. Furthermore, if you share friends with fellow Parking Wars players, your competition is visible to the world.
  • Encouraging Network Proliferation: In order to succeed in Parkings Wars, players are encouraged to invite other unique players to their game. This facilitates growth and expands the number of impressions the game makes upon people in the social network. Their implementation differs from games like Scrabluous which allow you to have multiple instances of a game with a single player, and games like Jetman that offer a clunky multi-player mode for what is effectively a single player game. The Jetman Arena is less satisfying than the single-player game and sometimes even frustrating. Players are forced to expand the number of unique players in order to gain additional parking spots and ticketing opportunities, thus improving their likelihood of success.

There are a couple exploits in Parking Wars, however.

  • Dead Players: There are a few players in my particular network that have stopped – or never really started – playing. You can tell by their scores. People who are seldom logging in create a play-deadening effect for people who want to play on the up and up. You can park on their streets without worrying that you’ll be ticketed. In fact, if you pick a particularly dead player, you can just hang out there and shuffle your cars around their street. This deadens the reward for the player though. There are a couple dead players on my list, and I just avoid their streets unless I can park their fairly. To mitigate the natural drop out that will occur, Parking Wars could have added a construction dynamic to the game where inactive players’ streets were placed under construction so that active players could not park there. This would mitigate the effects of the inactive player, and furthermore encourage the active player to ping new friends or existing, non-active ones.

Names removed to protect the dead
  • Team Parkers: Theoretically, I could invite someone to Parking Wars, ask them to park illegally on my street and let me park ticket-free. Due to the way returns work, this would double my earnings throughout the course of the game. While it’s possible, there’s little reward in it for the cheating player or the assistant.

Update 12-31-07

Tonight, I noticed that Parking Wars has adjusted the gamestate to include “neighbors.” I have two of them – random people who aren’t on my play list, but on whose streets I can park.

Who are these people?

I have not yet tested this with a new Facebook account, but it appears the neighbors remove the mandatory multi-player nature of the game and also answer a question I’ve seen asked a lot about Parking Wars – “How do I park?” People add the app, but can’t figure out how to park since they can’t park on their own street and have no other friends playing the game.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. December 29, 2007 2:11 am

    Brenda, this almost makes me want to check out Parking Wars, but the last thing I need is *another* time suck 🙂

    Regarding the team parking exploit, griefers rarely need a traditional reward, so I wouldn’t put it past people. Also, it’s fairly easy to register face profiles now, so a single person can execute a team parking exploit solo.

    The biggest safety mechanism for griefing on FB is that it’s still primarily built around existing social networks, and I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that most people don’t have the balls to grief people they know. And if they do, their contacts can just terminate the relationship.

    That said, I just learned that a good friend cheats like hell at Scrabulous, which killed me just a little bit inside…

  2. December 29, 2007 6:34 pm

    Parking Wars won’t suck up your time. It’ll just make you check your computer once every 5 hrs or so. You can rationalize this as discipline, no?

    Actually, that’s another interesting point about it. The game has a very low time-to-fun ratio. You don’t need to put in a lot of time to achieve a top spot.

    (Play.)

  3. John Tremblay permalink
    January 16, 2008 5:48 pm

    It’s think a really good start for a “deep” facebook kind of game. It’s really interesting.

    By way thank you for your research in facebook’s game.

  4. Julia permalink
    April 7, 2008 12:53 pm

    Great review of this game… after overcoming my childhood video game addiction in the 80’s, then my Tetris and solitaire addictions in the early 90’s, I vowed never again to get sucked into a time-drain computer game.

    This, though, is different — like you said, it’s not a time drain at all, just takes a minute several times a day to make sure you’re maximizing your score. Love it! Definitely an intriguing study into the dynamics and mechanics of an online game.

    Honestly, I would go weeks without checking facebook if it were not for Parking Wars. Oddly, it even made me watch of few episodes of the show .

  5. Claire permalink
    June 12, 2008 4:31 pm

    I have just crossed the $million threshold and am now elligible to purchase vehicles with special powers. What I would like to know is:

    The rules state that buying a new car will cause you to drop down in rank, does this in turn mean I will also lose some of my cars as a result?

  6. Barbara P permalink
    August 7, 2008 9:30 pm

    I really like the game. I park with several of my adult children and we have a ball on it.

  7. Kris permalink
    November 17, 2008 8:09 am

    I have an ambulance and I earn more with that than my other cars – why is that? and is there anything special about having a dump truck?

  8. December 12, 2008 5:43 pm

    I have only got 2 badges to go, one is the regular customer and obviously the ultimate. I have been trying for weeks to get the regular customer and have used the advice of all the other members who have posted a message, I am now thinking I will not get it as that would mean I would be finished playing. I have given myself 2 more days and if I dont get it I am abandoning it all together sorry, but I really wanted to get all the badges it is so bugging

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