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New Zynga game The Ville allows virtual sex

Casual game is the most grown-up and realistic yet in the company's franchise.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
3 min read
Things are beginning to get freaky in The Ville (screenshot from video presentation at Zynga press conference). Rafe Needleman/CNET

In a first for a Zynga casual game, users can now have virtual sex in the company's new title, The Ville. It will be available tomorrow.

The Ville, which appears to be heavily inspired (to put it kindly) by the popular game The Sims, is the most realistic game yet in the Ville series of games that includes FarmVille, CityVille, and CastleVille. The concept is that you build your dream house in the app and then invite your friends over to hang out.

Or more.

According to Zynga executive producer David Gray, when someone is in your house and you begin to interact with them, you can level up by interacting with them in ways that the game sees as romantic. As you climb the experience tree, you eventually unlock the capability to initiate the "happiness home run," or just "whoopee," as Gray called it in an interview.

When you do so, the two characters begin to disrobe on-screen (not completely, though) and the bed in the virtual bedroom gets covered, briefly, with little floating hearts.

Then it's over. Congratulations.

While you can have virtual sex in The Ville, you cannot yet get virtually married. And there are no virtual consequences, like children. Some pro-family groups are bound to take issue with that.

The game is not age-restricted. Gray says that since the game requires a Facebook login, Zynga can rely on Facebook's own age restrictions. No news on what happens if Facebook opens up (officially) to users under its current cut-off of 13.

While all Zynga games are social, this game is more of a dating app than anything Zynga has yet done. Users will want to feather their nests to attract friends over to hang out, and there is an option, when talking with an on-screen character, to click over to see their real-world Facebook profile.

A big part of today's Zynga press conference was a discussion of the platform's new matchmaking platform, which will help players connect with new users that they're most likely to enjoy playing their favorite games with. Gray says that The Ville doesn't yet use the matchmaking system, but it may in the future, and it will be opt-in.

Gray estimates that the overall game design -- it's not all about sex -- will lead to a female gender bias. He estimated about 65 percent. At least at the start.

Update at 4:20 p.m. PT: Zynga's SVP of product development, Mark Skaggs, takes issue with the characterization of The Ville as a dating app. "It's a house-and-people game," he told me. "You build the house of your dreams and invite friends over to play with your toys. The romantic relationship channel is just a small part of it."

I concede the point that there's plenty more you can do in the app and that The Ville is not a dating app per se. But it is more about modeling ordinary human interactions than anything else Zynga has done. And social-game designers know where their bread is buttered. As Draw Something creator Dan Porter told me before Zynga bought the game, "It's designed for an 11th-grade boy to flirt with an 11th-grade girl."

Skaggs is adamant that The Ville is a typical, family-friendly Zynga game. "The inspiration really does come from the dollhouse genre and from YoVille [Zynga's first "ville" game]. We're trying to come at it from a wholesome point of view."