When Zynga launched FrontierVille back in June 2010, lead developer Brian Reynolds was upfront about its influences.
“FrontierVille is Oregon Trail meets Little House on the Prairie meets FarmVille,” he had said.
Today, the social gaming king is releasing a FrontierVille spin-off that travels a bit deeper down the Oregon Trail.
In Pioneer Trail, players embark on a journey through three levels--Avalanche Pass, Beaver Valley and High Plains--all to reach the final destination, Fort Courage. Instead of building up a homestead, as is done in FrontierVille, the user goes on an adventure, woven into a narrative about finding a kidnapped child.
More than other games from the developer’s collection, Zynga this time has placed an emphasis on storytelling and plot, which could become more important in future titles as well.
Also new in Pioneer Trail is the fact that users can adventure, not just with friends, but also with total strangers from Facebook. While it deviates from Zynga’s mission to connect friends and family through games, this change could actually help the company attract more users. (After all, not all potential gamers have tons of friends that want to play with them.)
AppData ranks FrontierVille, with 11.9 million monthly active users, at number 23 on its app leaderboard. That’s well below CityVille (ranked first with 76.5 million users), Empires & Allies (ranked third with 44.7 million users), Texas HoldEm Poker (ranked fifth with 34.7 million users) and even FarmVille (ranked sixth with 33.7 million users).
In total, Zynga, which has filed to go public, boasts 257.2 million monthly active users.
The launch of Pioneer Trail arrives on the gaming scene at a tumultuous time, but one built to let games thrive.
On Thursday, Google announced that Google+ now has a section devoted entirely to gaming. From day one, users can play popular games like Angry Birds, Bejeweled and Zynga Poker, something that could prove to be a thorn in Facebook’s side.
Hours after Google released this news, Facebook updated its own games platform with a separate stream for game activity, a bigger gameplay screen and a feature for bookmarking your favorite games.