On the 4th of February, 2015, your Dirt Farmer Team welcomed some very special guests to our special Wednesday night show. Game Designer Madhumitha, and Product Manager Vinukumar joined us LIVE on air to talk about the New Upcoming SEASON TWO of the Avalon Farm, Valentine’s Day features and their plans for the game. This time we are going with almost a complete transcript, with minimal editing as the interview time was shorter. This post will be lengthy , as it is intended to be a thorough recap to allow those who need to use a translator or are unable to listen to the podcast for any other reason to review the topics discussed. If you would just like to review information on one topic, please use your browser’s search function to locate it. Please do share with friends as well.
If you would like to listen to the interview yourself click here.
Dirt Farmer Team members participating this evening : LOCKE and HEATHER.
MADHU - Game Designer on the Farmville team.
VINU – Product Manager at Farmville,
LOCKE - MADHU tell us a little bit about what you do for Farmville at Zynga
MADHU - I'm a content designer for Farmville which means I design all the animals the trees that you see all the trees all the decos . I also work on some of the features for Farmville.
LOCKE - Have you personally worked on any of the newer features that are coming out?
MADHU - I've worked on some of the features that have gone out and I will be talking about some of the new features that we will be putting out, but so far I've worked on Mystrees, Bob's Berry Farm and Bring Back Winter.
LOCKE - They like those two, those last two especially, I didn't do the Mystrees myself but I really liked the other two. Also with us tonight we've got VINU!
VINU - Hello Guys
LOCKE - Hello, how are you doing this evening or actually this morning for you. ?
VINU - Yeah, I'm very good
LOCKE - We especially want to thank MADHU and VINU for joining us today, because it is early, early in the morning - it's like an hour before they would have had to wake up for work and they were gracious enough to come and spend a half an hour with us out of their morning time, it is Thursday morning for them. VINU I know you were on the show with us before but remind all the listeners out there what you do for Farmville.
VINU - Well I am one of the Product Managers for Farmville so we monitor the game and we address any immediate issues and we work with the Game Designers and the Content Designers so that overall the game features look good. We kind of help the game get better.
LOCKE - Well we all want to see that and I'm going to turn everything over to HEATHER right now because I know HEATHER's got some questions for you and she's got a list of stuff you wanted to talk about to the players so I'm going to hand everything over to her and let her run the show.
HEATHER - Welcome we're so glad to have you with us this evening! So let's get right into this
VINU - Our pleasure!
HEATHER- Very glad to have you here. First question. Season Two of Avalon is coming up soon and Mayur had mentioned that that's going to be called Avalon Kingdoms on the prior interview. What is special about Season Two of Avalon, what can you tell us.
MADHU - Well first of all I want to say that we are absolutely overwhelmed by the response we are getting to the new farm. Just seeing how players are loving playing it, how they feel that is a lot different from the other farms that we've put out so far. So yeah, that's really, really heartening and I want to thank you guys for that. So as we move from Avalon Wilderlands into the Kingdom, there's going to be a whole lot of magic and grandeur. And with all of that we're also going to have breeding. I can sense the excitement already so yeah let me talk more about it. So at the Farmville Studio we're constantly working towards surprising and delighting you guys - so it naturally makes sense to revive some of the old favorites and build on top of the most popular features. So Sheep breeding was on top of our list and just seeing how players absolutely enjoy playing the feature, even years after it's been added to the game. We really wanted to work hard on a follow up to it. Hopefully you guys will love it as much as we're loving putting it together for you. If you want to know what animal it's going to be, all I can say is it's going to be a beautiful animal that breathes fire.
LOCKE - Oh I can guess but I don't want to spoil the surprise.
HEATHER - A beautiful animal that breathes fire, hmm that could lead to the next point that Srivatsa had said you guys wanted to discuss, which was Dragon Breeding. Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about it.
MADHU - Dragon breeding is pretty much what I was talking about you got that right.
VINU- and you guys already got a snoop on it and it's on Dirt Farmer is what we saw.
MADHU - Yeah we see that.
VINU - So looking forward to seeing the players' reaction.
MADHU - We're having a lot of fun building it, so hopefully it will be really exciting for you guys too.
LOCKE - I will warn you, if you put anything out there that we can get our hands on, HEATHER will find it.
HEATHER - & if I don't Rina will, Prashanth will or Jason will.
VINU - You guys are really good.
HEATHER - Somebody will find it.
MADHU - It's ok a sneak peek is always good
HEATHER - So, moving right along, what can players expect and look forward to during Valentine's Day. We've found a few hints like Valentine's Week and Get Rewards during Valentine's Day - what can you tell us about it.
MADHU - So we've got a whole bunch of surprises for you guys during this special month of love celebration. So yeah it's going to be a month long of things lined up for you guys. Kick starting that was Cupid Stable where players are given the chance to transform foals into magical ponies and not only that for the first time we are going to let players play match maker and pair up ponies with their true love to see what happens. So we've got that and then we've also got some free giveaways for you guys coming up. We really want to make all our players feel loved and valued, and we've got a few exciting things. For all the limited edition lovers, we've got exclusive one day only LE's through the week leading up to Valentine's Day. We really kicked it up and I think it's going to be a very exciting month for all you guys.
LOCKE - A lot of pink stuff
HEATHER - Lot of pink
MADHU - Hey it's the month of love.
VINU - and lots of hearts so
LOCKE - I usually take that month off in real life.
HEATHER - Hey, those of us who aren't all that into pink can just hang out and drool over the Dragon Breeding and hope you let some more images slip so we can get more excited hint hint.
HEATHER - The next topic on our list, fixing performance issues. What can you tell us about that?
VINU - So I will be taking that up. Just want to reiterate again that we are very, very committed on making Farmville a very awesome experience, & we are listening closely to the players and basically Farmville is your game and we are just helping it to be more enjoyable. It's our humble and honor to work on a game that's played and enjoyed by so many players. Coming back to fixing performance issues, we are aware that a lot of our players use older machines, and hence they might not be able to have a great experience, while playing the game. So apart from just looking at improving things from the tech side, we are also considering making changes in the game so that the game gets lighter and in turn performance picks up. Apart from this we also plan to educate our players in terms of what system requirements should be there to play the game better.
However I would like to assure you guys that slowly the backend will gradually be doing incremental changes so that in the coming months you will be seeing improvements. Especially coming down to client issues, as these incremental changes are rolled out, it should be far, far easier and better to play the game. As you guys are aware we are already interacting with some of our most engaged players, asking them for ideas and we have got valuable input. We put together a plan to implement some of them. As I said the changes are going to be slow and gradual in our backend, but we will be making the changes and hopefully soon our players should start experiencing a very improved or a better way to play. Just give us some more time and we will be there soon.
HEATHER - Just a little aside in layman's terms, what you're covering there when you're talking about client issues in layman's terms, you're talking about reducing the lag and reducing the shockwave crashes because the game will take less memory for them to load - am I correct?
VINU - Yes that's right
LOCKE - Just recently, in fact just 2 or 3 weeks ago, Zuckerburg the owner of Facebook came out and said that they had gone to great lengths to compress the data that was coming from Facebook to the mobile phones and they were actually able to compress it so that it would play on older, first, second generation smart phones, you could actually see Facebook on there. Is that anything that Zynga's looking at right now? I know I'm putting you on the spot, that might not be your department, but would you know of anything to that degree that Zynga's working on for this game or any other games?
VINU - On the compression part, we will be rolling out incremental factors that should help the load time issues. On the client side it's altogether different ballgame because the game right now has lots of assets and it's a very old kind of code base which is incrementally increasing forever. So we actually are thinking out of the box and we are seeing how it can be changed so that the improvement really picks up. I hope that kind of answers your question.
LOCKE - It does, in fact it answered it more than I ever imagined. It's great that you guys are doing that.
VINU - So it will not happen immediately, but in the course of the coming weeks or months, more than weeks it will be months, you should be seeing better things, an upgraded experience.
LOCKE - That's great
HEATHER - Absolutely fabulous. Next in line the animal pen issue, which we know as pen building error, that's the one where the farm kind of goes crazy and the animals go into orchards and kind of bad things happen and we had been warning players for quite a while not to expand past 60 capacity. Srivatsa had said that there was an experimental fix put out and you're monitoring that and what can you tell us about that? Is it safe to expand that Toyland play pen that just got re-coded in a totally different way to expand to 100?
VINU - As you said, the experimental fix has already been done and we are continuously monitoring it if players are having issues. I want to say that people who were initially affected, we are going to be rolling fixes for them one by one so that people who are affected can also roll back to the new fix so that there are no more issues going forward for them.
HEATHER - So the people who have been hit by this bug over the past two years, you're saying they're going to get their stuff back or is their farm going to be rolled back that long.
VINU - Well the feature will be fixed and if they have any issues, we will be fixing for them. So they shouldn't be concerned or worried about it.
HEATHER - Excellent, that is great news! Is it ok to go ahead and expand that Toy Town play pen that's recently been recoded to expand to 100 that did not before?
VINU - Yes, it should be, if there are any issues kindly let us know. That's why I said we are monitoring the experimental fix, so any feedback on that will really help us.
HEATHER - Excellent. As these folks have said tonight, they're talking about focusing on player feedback and that they're committed to giving you a great experience in the game, so to that effect, we have a couple of other topics, one of which we added right before the interview, because out of the blue a player campaign, Ms. Wizard in ASK the Dirt Farmer had asked for Bob's Berries to stay and this happened just a couple of days ago and it went crazy. There's tons and tons of comments and likes and people asking for it to stay. What can you tell us about that?
MADHU - Before we jump in to answer that, I'd just like to give an overview of what we had in mind for Bob's Berry Farm. So the idea behind it was to give players the ability to choose what task they wanted to play, depending on however engaged you are. Which is something that's not available in the game right now. We also wanted to give all of our non-payers access to some of the cool rewards which are usually locked to Farm Cash like your 6x6 combines or some of the consumables. So yeah, we are really thrilled to see that you guys are enjoying playing the feature and on popular demand we've decided to extend the feature for a couple more months. We're looking at adding some cool rewards to the berry market as well.
HEATHER -Oh that is awesome they're going to be so happy. So many people said they just couldn't get enough time to get everything they wanted, so they are going to be so happy, thank you for doing that.
VINU - Coming back to the stable and nursery barn, we will soon be making it permanent in the marketplace because people really love it. Just wait for it is all I can say right now.
HEATHER - Will there be another limited edition period to test before it comes back permanently do you know or will it just show up and then it's there for good?
VINU - What I can definitely say is because people love it a lot, mostly it will be permanent for some good amount of time so people don't have to be concerned if it's a limited period or not. Because we realize that people really love it and they would like it to be permanent, so that's the plan as of now.
HEATHER - They do , it's one of the most fun features of the game, because it doesn't give you a foal you just share it - so sharing foals with your friends and getting to talk to people , that was one of the things that made everyone love Farmville. So that is a very exciting development.
HEATHER - On to the next question - you recently rolled out an improvement to the Free Gifts Page. What can you tell us about that and are there any more changes planned?
VINU - Well I hope all the players like the way that the new feature looks, especially putting out the SDB where it clearly can be found and also helping them search for the different gifts. As we said we will be taking more feedback and we are committed to helping Farmville become a better experience. So we will be closely listening to players and their voices on what they really feel they want to improve and finally after all Farmville is your game and it's our privilege to be working on this game. I hope any future changes we will be taking will be from the feedback that we are getting.
HEATHER - Excellent. We actually asked you VINU this one on the last interview but apparently there is an update, because it was on the list - refreshing mystery babies?
MADHU - One of our other missions is to also revive old farmer favorites - like old features that you guys loved the most and revive them. We are looking at refreshing the mystery babies, yes that's on our list, we're working on it. We also like to hear what are the other features in the past that you've enjoyed playing and what would you like to see come back. Maybe you could leave us a comment and who knows, your wish could come true.
HEATHER- If you like we can make a post in ASK for them to leave their comments there?
MADHU - Yes that would be fantastic, that would be perfect thank you. (If you wish to comment click here, or here. Both links have been forwarded to her)
HEATHER - I will do that. There was a poll too in ASK the Dirt Farmer, I'm sorry the name of the person from your team who asked for it is escaping me, but we did do a poll for frequency of updating mystery babies and that was linked back to you guys.
HEATHER - The next topic is a hot one because a lot of things have left these recently that normally have them - quest crop alternatives.
MADHU - So we are aware that this is one of the huge pain points for our players. After all the feedback that we've received from you guys, we've added this to our quest system so all quests that you will see going forward will have this built in. So you would be allowed to use quest crop alternatives. However we do understand, that some of our features still don't have this functionality, but we are working really hard at incorporating this into our other features as well.
HEATHER - Excellent. You don't have to answer this if you don't want to because we didn't discuss it before but this just popped into my mind, does that mean that there is going to be a change to the crafting so that the higher level recipes are not in the beginning of the quest anymore so that people who haven't leveled up can play them?
MADHU - More logical crafting? Yes. We're working on it.
HEATHER - Excellent thank you so much. There was also an update on the question that we also discussed on the last interview. Is there an update on adding confirmation pop-ups to Farm Cash purchases? You guys had also asked for a poll on that and we had an overwhelming, like 1,000 people in 24 hours that wanted it for one farm cash. What's the latest on that?
VINU - As MADHU said, we are listening to the feedback ,and like the quest crop alternatives, over a period of time, I would say in a couple of months, because it's not easy for us to add pop-ups in all features, we will be adding the 1 FC confirmation box. For the future features that are coming, we will definitely be having these features so people are not getting affected. So a confirmation pop-up will come and people can actually choose whether it happens at 1 Farm Cash or a different amount of farm cash according to their preference. All don't want confirmation, so different people's comfort levels are also taken into care and whatever issues are pretty much higher on the line where the farm cash is having issues because we are aware that some of them are also 1 farm cash in a lot of place, those things we will immediately take it up. So using the data that we have in the backend. We will be adding confirmation pop-ups in most of these places and will consciously do it for all the new features. We just ask the players to be kindly patient with us. I think we should be rolling these out within a month.
HEATHER - That is terrific news! The other big, burning question, we know that we have a lot of friend disconnections, like with the cupid arrows rolling out, and that neat new Cupid's Stable you guys just talked about we have players saying that they collected one, two or three and it told them that they've hit their limit for the day or every one they touch is expired. Why can I only collect one and my friend can collect 5 per day? That kind of thing. We tell them in our ASK group that that's likely the friend disconnections where for whatever reason, certain people cannot click on certain of their friends' posts because Facebook and the game aren't quite communicating right in terms of being able to recognize that these folks are actually friends and or neighbors. On the last interview, we had discussed a little bit the possibility of removing the friend requirement and making feeds clickable by everyone and what would the progress be on that?
VINU - We took in the feedback and this also in turn relates to the feeds not surfacing properly on Facebook so we are planning on testing this out on one of the coming features soon. Meaning try to make them clickable by everyone in the upcoming feature. There are several impacts that we need to monitor in the game on the system side, before we make this a regular feature. We will roll this out with one feature, see how it goes and will take it up from there. On the connection part in terms of number of friends we are also giving idea how to add new neighbors and possibly once they add more active neighbors, I think the feed aggregator in the game should be more usable. We are also contemplating whether adding hash tags on the Facebook posts would help people connect across the entire Farmville game. So then you post and you search for the hash tag of Farmville or that feature, the feeds should show across on that page.
HEATHER - you were talking about adding more active friends, interestingly enough we've found that within our team and some ASK members the people who have 3,000 to 5,000 friends are having more problems with disconnections and then someone like me who's a little quieter and I have about 500-600, I can collect from anybody. We have a couple other admins and members like that, that seems to be going on quite a bit.
LOCKE - That actually started happening more and more when Facebook limited what you could see, if you had 5,000 friends you used to be able to see all 5,000 of them when they interacted on the newsfeed and now everybody is throttled, pages are throttled and individual accounts are throttled by Facebook and ever since that started this is when we started seeing these massive disconnects.
VINU -So that's interrelated to two things as I mentioned before, the feeds not surfacing because of Facebook throttling it and I think even Dirt Farmer has mentioned on how feed surfacing could be improved and like Heather was mentioning that lots of friends you are seeing issues, that's the impact that I was mentioning before. Instead of rolling it out for all features, we want to test it for one coming feature and then see how we can scale.
HEATHER - That is the end of the list that was sent in. One other thing you may not be able to answer because we didn't send it in ahead, but I was scrolling through ASK today and I ran across also the Sheep Breeding thread, and you were talking about similarity to sheep breeding with bringing the Dragon Breeding into the game. Is there any chance of new patterns for the sheep and the pigs, because people love those too, they'd be happy with more of those as well.
MADHU - so we understand that people want new patterns for the sheep and they want to be able to breed more of those so `we're looking into it. Our team is investigating to see if it would be possible for us to do that. We will keep you guys posted.
LOCKE - There is a very lovely lady, Ms. Trembley who is retired and she plays Farmville each and every day and she actually has been contacting me personally about this one specific issue. I thought I'd possibly ask you right now, I'm not sure if this is your department, you may not be able to answer. She hasn't been able to get her farm cash ads, she basically does everything for farm cash by watching those ads all day and she hasn't been able to get that yellow bar to get her ads to pop up. I remember we discussed this before but I'm not sure if there's been any new developments on it.
VINU - I will take that up LOCKE, so the thing is, we usually allow the pop-up to come whenever there are ads and sometimes there are not enough ads, so we don't surface the pop-up. However, I'm not sure whether only that player is seeing the issue or it's across, so in which case if you could just pass us her Facebook ID we can see whether it's a specific case or `lot of people are facing it .
HEATHER - I've got probably hundreds to 1,000 people who are commenting that in ASK who have not seen an ad since the end of November and usually around the holidays is when people see the most and there has been exactly zero since the end of November for many, many, many people who usually get them all the time. Then there are other people who are seeing them and basically most of the people who still see them are the ones that brag that they will never buy farm cash but anyone who would religiously look for them every day, and anyone that doesn't get the little in-game instead of under game one , the little cow that you only get if you haven't bought cash for a long time, most of those people haven't seen one since the end of November.
VINU - There are a bunch of things on that front. We are working with our advertising team internally and the advertisers who want to advertise and how many times which is indirectly translated to farm cash has also slightly come down. We are following up with them, but you should see more number of ads for everybody. I hope that's clear.
LOCKE - That's perfect and we're just about out of time. I want to thank MADHU and VINU for joining us this evening. The two of you are welcome to come back with us any time, I know there's a huge gap in the time difference, I think our usual show is normally on about 5 am your time, so it might be a little hard for you to join us, but you're welcome any time as well as any member of the Farmville Studio. That does it for our show tonight. You can join the Dirt Farmer team, right her where you are right now, every Sunday night at 8 PM.
VINU – On a parting note, I would just like to say that we love doing these interviews, and we’re looking forward to having many more interviews and talk to you guys to see how we can improve the game and look forward to more feedback.
LOCKE – Can you imagine that? 5 years ago if you thought somebody from Farmville would actually speak to you. Nobody ever spoke to us at all, we just had to guess on our own, so this is an incredible achievement.