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'CityVille,' Zynga's Next Click-Happy Time-Suck, Launching Soon

Mark Pincus admits that his ego is larger than a tycoon's. "I want to create something that will matter in a hundred years," the CEO of Zynga and creator of time-suck games like 'FarmVille,' said on Nightline last night. Parading his innocently vainglorious vision of the Internet and gaming, Pincus dismissed worries about the millions of users who funnel real money into unreal products as part of his multiple online games. "Virtual goods is [sic] a very affordable pastime and form of entertainment, much less money than taking your family to a movie," he said. Thanks to that affordable pastime, Zynga is now valued at roughly $5.5 billion -- but Pincus and his crew aren't ready to stop. In fact, Zynga is soon launching a new game, called 'CityVille.'

Like 'FarmVille,' 'CityVille' -- which is opening in beta in the next few weeks -- will rely on users' interactions with their friends. "In 'FarmVille,' you're tending to your animals, and, in 'CityVille,' you're tending to your residents and your people," said Pincus. "And in both cases, it's all about playing with your friends." Although, by our estimation, Zynga games have never really been about making people more social; rather, they operate as crypto-pyramid schemes that virtually require you to recruit your compatriots. (Devoted readers will recall that we spent a decent amount of time with 'FarmVille,' and got sucked into its one-upmanship and compulsive clickery.) Zynga's Sean Kelly, the General Manager of 'CityVille,' says that the new game will be even more "social" than 'FarmVille.' "By interacting, I'm also actually making progress in the game and looking for ways to increase the number of friends that I can play with," Kelly said.

Of course, we can't deny the evil genius of Pincus and Co. They concocted a formula for games that require little skill or brainpower, and are accessible to almost anyone with opposable thumbs and an ISP. What has always fascinated us, though, is the subject matter of its most popular games: day-to-day chores. Unlike 'SimCity,' 'FarmVille' doesn't allow its players to become heartless overlords of decaying megalopolises, or brush millions of digital denizens away with the option-click of an alien attack. 'FarmVille' doesn't even allow users to pause the game; instead, they must tend their crops day in, day out.

'CityVille' promises similar workaday diversions. "In our game, you can even run a business in one of your friends' cities," said Kelly. But Kelly does liken the new game to a cross between 'SimCity' and 'Monopoly,' with a dose of Main Street entrepreneurship -- an idealistic vision for a game in the midst of the country's economic woes. The irony, of course, is that 'FarmVille' users are still clicking away real dollars and cents through the recession, and, potentially, millions more will head to 'CityVille' to build their own virtual small businesses and gleaming Shangri Las, while the real Main Street will continue to deteriorate.

The scariest part about Zynga, though, is its CEO's willful naivete. "Why isn't there a website on the Internet that stands for fun?" Pincus wondered aloud to Nightline. He spoke of his estimation of the Web as a "cocktail party," and that his company's games are "giving [users] something to do together while they're at the party." But we know that the party is populated by some people who can't hold their liquor, so to speak. A 12-year old racked up a $1,400 credit card debt by buying virtual goods, and a Florida woman shook her baby to death because its crying interrupted her 'FarmVille' game. In our estimation, Pincus's vision of "fun" is a multi-billion-dollar network peopled by millions of bored netizens, with games that provide not much more than addiction and slimy privacy leaks. So, we say, in advance of the 'CityVille' launch, you should do your wallet a favor, and stick to a real game, like 'Robot Unicorn Attack.'

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