Friday, January 8, 2010

The Eighty-Sixth One: Facebook Addiction Chronicles, Entry Four: Restaurant City

I didn’t get any comments on last night’s post, and I won’t be able to check the site traffic stats until after midnight, so I don’t know if this new “review the Facebook applications” gig is working or not. I’m a little leery, since generally somebody has something to say about every post. This time, total silence, with tumbleweeds blowing by. Hmmm.

For now, I’m going to plow ahead as if everything is just ducky and people are singing happy songs about food and alcoholic beverages.

Application: Restaurant City

Basics of the Game: You own a restaurant. You hire your friends to work in this restaurant as cooks and waiters. The main activity is collecting ingredients, which you then use to create and subsequently “level up” those dishes until they are gourmet status. All the while, you have to satisfy customers coming in your restaurant to dine.

Current Level: 46

Cash on Hand: $258,683

Current Number of Neighbors: 180 (Yes, 180. Keep reading.)

Number of Gifts in My Inbox When I Signed In: 20

Message displayed when I started the game just now: “We are unable to connect to the server. Please try later.”

I hate that message. I get it ALL THE TIME with this game. There are days when it takes me a full 30 minutes to satisfy the evil server and it finally lets me in. You would think that THAT situation alone would stop me from ever playing this game again.

But of course not. This game has frustrated me immensely, but it is also amazingly addictive. So much so that I can freely admit, with no exaggeration, that I have completely lost my mind while trying to run the stupid restaurant and feed the endless stream of “customers” with their impatience and rudeness.

This game is a bit more complicated than others, since there’s more to it than just clicking on a square to plant something, and then you can go watch “Lost” while the squash grows.

First, there’s this hiring thing. You have to scroll through your list of Facebook friends, select a few, and then designate them as cooks, waiters or the lowly janitor. Right away, you’re in the middle of emotional turmoil. Who do you pick? We all know how touchy some of our friends are about the tiniest thing.

Let’s say that you pick Friend A to be your cook, Friend B to be the waiter, and Friend C to be the janitor. Now, keep in mind that none of your friends actually have to do a damn thing. Most of the time they won’t even know they are “working” for you unless they are also playing the game and happen to visit your particular restaurant and see themselves slinging hash.

Trouble is, this game is very popular, and chances are that at some point, your personal choices in the division of labor will be discovered, analyzed, and commented upon, perhaps in a very visible post to your wall for all to see.

This much I can tell you: People want to be the cook. They don’t want to be the waiter, and they sure as hell don’t want to be the janitor. The cook just stands there and moves a frying pan around on a stove. The waiter has to pick up the finished dish from the cook, schlep it across the restaurant, and slap it on some customer’s table. And the janitor? They have to walk around picking up food that lazy customers have thrown to the floor, and they have to clean the toilets. Seriously. There is toilet cleaning in this game.

And to my astonishment, I have had some friends express their dissatisfaction with the work schedule. Even though these friends aren’t really doing anything. They want to be the cook and just stand there. They don’t want to have to walk around as the waiter, and they are appalled at the prospect of being a janitor that has to touch discarded food and porcelain.

Isn’t this sad? It’s a game. And yet people treat it as if it’s real life. Everybody wants the easiest job, where you don’t even have to move. If they have to perform physical duties such as walking or scrubbing they get really upset and form unions and such. People are just lazy, even in the virtual world.

Anyway, my advice: Pick friends to work in your restaurant that have a sense of humor, just in case they ever join the game and find out what you’ve done. This will avoid problems and heated discussions down the road. And for God’s sake, don’t make your mother the janitor. Word.

Now, once you have a staff, you then have to arrange your furniture in the store in an optimal manner. You have to coordinate tables, chairs and stoves. Sounds easy, but 90% of the people who start out the game make the mistake of trying to make a “cute” restaurant. And there are tons of accessories that you can buy from the “store” that enforce the false illusion that you really need all this crap in your restaurant.

You don’t.

The key is to minimize the distance your waiters have to walk between the stove and the table. Cut it down as much as possible. In fact, shove your tables as close to the stoves as you can get them, being sure to leave room for the waiters to walk. Yes, it’s kind of ugly and sordid, but do you want to beat this game or not? Man up.

This is critical: If your waiters have to walk too far, they get behind in the serving, and customers get bored waiting on the food and they leave, making a hateful “thumbs down” sign as they do so. This costs you popularity points and eventually people stop coming to your restaurant and you don’t make any money. It’s very tragic.

But do people listen to me when I explain this? Of course not. I go visit their restaurants, and everything looks really pretty, but the tables are nowhere near the stoves. Which means the waiter, lugging a plate of steaming lamb chops, has to trudge across an open space the size of a football field. The poor customer, doubled over with gnawing hunger pains, is not happy about this.

The customer calculates the distance the waiter has to travel, realizes they won’t be fed for hours, briefly considers Plan B (snatch up the discarded banana on the floor that the janitor has refused to pick up because it’s not in his union contract), decides that’s not worth it, and finally stomps out the door.

Meanwhile, since you aren’t making any money due to poor planning and refusing to listen to wise people, you can’t afford to buy food for your employees (yes, you have to do this) and they slowly run out of energy, walking slower and slower with the now-cold lamb chops, until the waiter finally collapses on the floor and dies.

Yes, your employees can die from malnutrition. Life is hard in Restaurant City.

Okay, they don’t really DIE, but they do fall to the floor, and are then completely worthless until you either feed them (can’t do that if you don’t have any money) or you put them in a bed where they slumber until their energy level slowly refills. And as we all know, you can’t make any money while your employees are in bed. Or dead, whatever the case may be.

Put the tables by the stoves. End of story.

Now, on to the truly wicked part of this game. As mentioned, you have to collect ingredients (beans, carrots, tofu) that you can then use to create and upgrade the dishes served in your restaurant. Each dish has 10 levels, and upgrading at each level requires a combination of at least 3, sometimes 4, ingredients. Which means that fully upgrading any dish requires 30-40 ingredients.

Sounds simple, right?

Here’s the kicker. When this game first debuted, there were about 45 or so dishes. Now there are nearly 100. Which means you need at least 3,000 ingredients to have any chance of “winning” the game. THREE THOUSAND. No joke.

And how many ingredients do you start off with?

About 12. You have to find the rest on your own.

How does one do this? Well, each day you have a chance to get two ingredients. You get one just by signing in to play. (Hurray!) You can get another one by correctly answering a daily food-related question. (Well, that sort of sucks, having to think and all.) Two possible ingredients per day. When you need thousands. And these ingredients are random. You may get 24 strawberries in a row when you don’t even need strawberries.

At this point, with this realization, most “casual” gamers completely give up and go play Farkle.

I’m not a casual gamer. If I start something, I have to finish it, and if that means innocent people have to die in the process, then so be it. Life is hard, and people have to win.

Now, for those who choose to remain with the game, there is another option for obtaining ingredients. If one of your Facebook friends starts playing the game, you can go visit their restaurant and get a free ingredient. It’s a random ingredient, but you just might need it. Trouble is, that’s the only time you can get an ingredient from your friend. After that, your friends are basically worthless.

And thus we fall directly into the vicious trap built by the Restaurant City developers. They want you to have thousands of friends playing, because that means more people see the product ads in the sidebar, the advertisers make money, and the advertisers are therefore willing to pay even more for the placement of the ads.

Pure economics.

But who has 3,000 friends?

I mean, I invited as many friends as I could, but most of them just ignored the request and went on with their lives. I did get a handful of people who joined the game out of pure sympathy. They have done nothing with their restaurants since then. All of the employees are dead and the food is rotted. But I got my free ingredient. Hayyy.

What to do?

Well, Restaurant City DOES allow you to “trade” ingredients with your friends playing the game. You can submit a trade proposal to them, and they then decide if your offering is worthy or they determine you’re an idiot for making the suggestion and they decline the request.

And based on this option in the game, some rogue developer out there came up with another app, “Restaurant City Market”. With this app, you can input the ingredients you have that you are willing to give up, and then indicate the ingredients that you desperately need. The app then presents you with a list of all gamers that might be willing to provide you with a satisfying transaction.

You don’t know these people. They could be anybody. Maybe drug addicts or sex offenders. But they have the ingredients you need (or at least claim that they do). And with a few simple clicks, you can invite them to be your friend in Facebook. When you do so, you not only get the automatical free “first visit” ingredient, you may also be able to arrange for some serious bartering to get further ingredients.

And thus I became a Restaurant City whore.

I built a profile and away we went. Suddenly, I was getting friend requests from all over the world. Seriously. (Apparently, Asians are very fond of this game. They play it with an intense passion. ) I had friend requests in Mandarin and Hindi and Greek. The only thing I understood was “Restaurant City”. And I was sending out just as many requests as I was receiving.

It quickly spun out of control.

Within a few weeks I had several hundred new friends. And the ingredients were pouring in. I was leveling up dishes at a frenzied pace. It was a gaming miracle, and I was quite pleased. It was also tawdry and slightly weird. Most everyone understands the rules of Restaurant City Market. You have a quick one-night stand and then you break the relationship. Somebody un-friends and you move on. No one expects a second date or follow-up phone calls the morning after.

But while you are having all these one-night stands, everything these otherwise strangers do is appearing on your wall and your home page. Hundreds and hundreds of posts. Not kidding. One of my “real” friends could post something on my wall that I normally would want to see, but the post would scroll off the page within 37 seconds. That fast.

Next thing I knew, I was having emotional and angry discussions with my friends. Why wasn’t I paying attention to them? Why didn’t I respond to their urgent question about the kumquat soup recipe? Why did I hate them so much?

Good gawd.

Something had to give.

But that something would have to wait until I leveled up all my dishes. Don’t mess with me when I’m on a mission.

Eventually, that exact thing finally happened. I shamelessly slept with enough strangers that I managed to upgrade every available dish to the top level. I was a Restaurant City god. To show that I was a merciful winner, I then began giving away my remaining ingredients to anybody who wanted them. It was a beautiful thing.

Within a week, the RC developers introduced four new dishes. And all of them required ingredients I had just given away in the love-fest. This was irritating, but I quickly got back to work and leveled those dishes up as well, using all my global contacts.

Then the holiday season hit. It started with more new dishes at Halloween. Before I could get those leveled up, Thanksgiving brought even more dishes. This was quickly followed by an enormous amount of Christmas dishes. I now need almost as many ingredients as when I started the game. This has turned into a cruel and emotionally-wrenching exercise.

I give. I’m throwing in the towel. I did my best, I accomplished a victory, and that victory was snatched away from me by heartless developers. I still check on this game from time to time, but the thrill is gone. In that respect, the developers failed. They pushed it too far, and they lost a player.

In another respect, the developers created a situation that they, nor I, was expecting. In the mad frenzy of making what should have been short-term global friends, I actually got to know some of these people. And neither of us ever broke the temporary friendship relationship. Some of these folks I talk to every day, completely outside of the Restaurant City world. Pleasant jewels in the aftermath of a twisted game.

And from this I learned two things. First, an amazing amount of the world can speak English as a second or third language, while most lazy Americans can’t speak to anyone but themselves. Second, and more worthwhile, never lose sight of the importance of human connection, however that connection may have been made. This warmth I can carry with me always. This is the game I should really want to win.

But I still have 113 mushroom ingredients if anybody needs them. Just friend request me….

Night all.

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