First Look: Birdland is a social game that contains very little social and even less game.
Social gaming is so clone-happy at the moment that even seeing a new motif applied to a familiar genre can be refreshing. Birdland plays identically to your average aquarium sim, but you raise cute birds in an expansive cage instead of dainty fish in a fantasy tank. I get the feeling Zynga is going to be watching this game’s growth very closely over the next few months, to see if it needs to go register a trademark for BirdVille.
Birdland is in its third week of operation, but offers players shockingly little to do. You might wonder if this is a case of a young game just needing time to roll out more content, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Playdom’s Big City Life offered more in its first 48 hours. Zynga’s Treasure Isle is rich with both social and game content, despite being only a week or so older than Birdland as of this writing.
Any satisfaction a player draws from Birdland is going to come from their enjoyment of the bird care motif. The rhythm of the game is going to sound familiar: you begin by purchasing a bird, or maybe a lot of birds. You feed it and play with your birds until you decide to breed or sell them. You spend your money on buying more birds, with the option to acquire much more interesting species than the vanilla parrots you start with at high levels.
The only thing you can buy besides more birds is a bigger cage (which lets you own more birds at once) and decorations for your cage. There’s clearly a lot of customization possible with Birdland‘s cage décor, probably enough to satisfy the “paper doll” type of fan who enjoys arranging virtual toys. The game stumbles in terms of giving you interesting things to do with all of this stuff once you’ve acquired it.
Birdland is such a relaxed game that there’s no real sense that your virtual birds will suffer if you ignore them for awhile. Their cage doesn’t get that dirty, playing with them is no more than just clicking onto them to raise a happiness meter, and feeding your birds is practically automatic. The birds are cute-looking enough and you can design a very charming cage, but once you’ve got something you have no real meaningful way of interacting with it.
This game is shaped like one that intends to thrive on the social element, in time. Birdland‘s one uncommon feature is the ability to take in-game snapshots of your birds, presumably so you can share them with friends. You can also give friends gifts. Birdland needs a little more game before it will really have something to build its social experience around, though. Right now it’s a social game that lets you relax so much, you tend to forget about it.