While undeniably fun in spots, Fametown never really makes it past the B-List.

A few well-meaning souls might try to tell you otherwise, but fame largely comes down to who you know. Consider the case of Fametown, a new social game backed by the likes of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner and Napster founder Shaun Fanning. These two names alone have secured the game’s recognition in venues as diverse as Vanity Fair and Teen Magazine—publications that would have ignored similar and possibly better games—and we have little doubt that this publicity will prove a boon in the game’s first few months. But does it live up to the hype? Well, yes and no.

Like so many new arrivals in Hollywood, you start off as a penniless waiter or waitress, and your basic goal is to climb the ladder from D-List to A-List by starring in many movies and getting your face out in the news. Sadly, there’s no option to choose a male or female avatar here, and there’s no profile view to chart your visual progress from penniless bum to celluloid deity. Even so, Fametown does fairly well with what it has, and it even has the sense to throw a few twists into its Zynga-inspired mechanics rather than merely reskinning them as so many other social games do.

FameTown

Take the hobnobbing. This takes place in a part of Fametown called “Events and Nightlife,” which could have used a better name to fit in with the “city” theme. Here, you can live the high life by getting sloshed at bars and clubs, partying with the stars and making out with bartenders, or hanging out in jail in the underbelly after getting booked for public intoxication. If Lindsay Lohan isn’t your style, you can emulate less colorful stars by participating in charity or fundraising events.

Each separate section of Events and Nightlife comes with its own text-based quests that initially evoke memories of Mafia Wars repetition-based missions, but the comparison ends once you click. After a menu pops up with some flavor text (e.g., “Weed’s not your thing, but even our governor wants to legalize it. Go on, no one’s looking. Except that paparazzo behind the dumpster.”), you’ll see a menu that looks like a slot machine with categories for XP, Cash, Fans, and Bonuses. Fans in particular are important since they decide how famous you are and ultimately which list you make. You’ll receive a random number or amount from each category along with an option to hold on to the best slots while respinning the others at the cost of energy. It’s a good way to gain small amounts of fame and money, and occasionally you’ll even get important props for your movies as a bonus. The lesson, it seems, is achieving fame is also based on luck. Unfortunately, there are no visuals for any of these mini missions aside from some generic stars of the five-pointed variety, and illustrations of, well, getting busted for smoking a bit of weed would have probably made the game a classic.

FameTown

Movie productions, naturally, are at the heart of Fametown, and this is where you’ll get the most fans, the most money, and the most experience. You can select which film you’d like to star in by visiting the “Make Movies” part of Fametown, and you’ll choose from drama, action, romance, comedy, and sci-fi. Diversion could have taken an easy road out here and made generic quests for these, but each is surprisingly detailed and the game is all the better for it.

Take The Rising, one of the productions listed under science fiction. The custom-made movie poster features a skeletal robotic hand rising from the rubble of some post-apocalyptic nightmare à la Terminator along with the following summary: “The machines tried to warn us that we were destroying the planet. We didn’t realize they were warning us that if we didn’t do anything about it, they would.” In other words, this is awesome stuff, and finding out the premises of each new available production provides some of the many joys of Fametown.

Fortunately, making movies isn’t just a click and win affair. To produce a movie, you’ll need some predictable basics like cash, but you’ll also need some trade skills or movie props for the greatest success with the critics. In the case of The Rising, for instance, you need a “secure satellite” prop to actually make the movie, and a bonus trade skill of a Russian accent to help with the reviews. There are also different quality grades for the trade skills, but since many of these can only be unlocked at higher levels, you may have to jump into your film with only the second tier of a Russian accent. You are, after all, a D-List actor.

You then play a very simple mini game designed to look like a camera shutter, in which you’ll attempt to stop a slide precisely when it falls over “Good.” This contributes to the success of the film, and each turn stands for things like reviewing your lines and obtaining a Hazmat certification. Then it’s just a case of waiting a bit while your movie’s being made, and when it’s ready you’ll receive a review score and an appropriate number of fans and cash based on how well you performed. One of these films, Burlesque, is even a real movie starring Cher and Christina Aguilera, and it’s a unique and acceptable method of in-game advertising. Wait too long to release your film, however, and you’ll be forced to shelve it or release it with a poor rating and a devastating loss of fans. Think crop withering.

FameTown

To strengthen your outcomes and keep the cash and XP rolling in, you can hire a staff for bonuses to stats like “XP gain” and “fans generation” (and you can fire them when you can afford the next level). In addition, you can buy a snazzy new car or upgrade your housing from a rented room to a full blown mansion. This, again, would have been an excellent opportunity for a cosmetic profile view, where you could see your surroundings change and your entourage grow more impressive with every level.

But there’s nothing to see. In fact, seasoned social gamers may balk at Fametown’s comparatively antisocial gameplay, especially for an industry that’s so based on who you know. Still, Fametown has made some recent strides to improve social interactivity, which is important for a game’s that’s based on an industry where connections are of the utmost importance. For now, you can only Fametown’s “give buzz” about your friends (which does noticeably help a production’s ratings) or tipping off the paparazzi about their locations, which sometimes restores energy. Put simply, two clicks and you’re done for the day. Future social options such as production-specific gifts and “favors” (the game’s purchasable currency) are planned as well, you clicking on your friend’s name gives you a brief run-down of their achievements. There’s apparently no option to star in a movie with a friend, and while some of the Events and Nightlife options require multiple friends to unlock, these can be more of a hindrance than a bonus.

FameTown

That said, Fametown is a fun game, at least for a while, although its focus on repetition without any visual and cosmetic profiles may hurt its success in the long run. Fame, after all, is partially about bragging rights, and there’s no way to brag apart from some opportunities to post to your wall. Seeing the work that went into each movie poster and the fairly plausible ideas behind each film is a treat, however, and the game actually follows something of a true career path for emerging Hollywood stars. Even so, it currently feels more like memorable popcorn flick than a cinematic masterpiece for the ages, and only time will tell if Fametown can compete with the likes of Farmville as Eisner hopes. For now, though, take a seat and try it out. It’s a long road to fame, but it might just be worth it.