Hay Day – iOS/Android Review

Released on the 21st June 2012 by developer and publisher Supercell on the iOS before arriving on Android devices a year later in 2013, Hay Day was an ambition to develop a cross platformed farming game from this Finnish studio. Adopting many of the characteristics of what has been established as a freemium gaming experience, it’s necessary to clarify this does indeed fall into the free at the point of purchase games that uses and charges for ingame currency to derive its primary income for the studio and in turn make it a viable product to continue to support. In 2014 as this new profit generation model was starting to expand into the mobile domain, the studio were reportedly earning upto $30 million a month through income generated by its two main releases, Clash of Clans and Hay Day. When opening the game for the first time it is easy to recognise many of the indications and directions of travel so familiar to users of other games of these types, the base currency, the premium wealth handed out sparingly but available to purchase for often excessive amounts. Short cuts and boosts available to buy to improve the user experience.

Subjectively it could be seen and easily dismissed as entirely a profit driven exercise to capitalise as a cheaper alternative to other premium or fee paying experiences such as the recently released Animal Crossing title on the Switch. Indeed the generally simplistic and stylised aesthetic of Hay Day is in keeping with other similar titles in the genre such as Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley, and the premise entirely familiar if not identical, taking over a rundown farm with a basic range of resources to start with before expanding and developing into a thriving and commercial local enterprise. But beneath the superficial trappings of what could be seen as an exploitative game appealing to a young demographic hoping to emulate the more costly alternatives is a rewarding and generous experience that has consistently expanded its core and supplementary content without charging any additional costs, that continues to thrive and succeed long after its initial release in a way many of its competitors have fallen at the wayside. Hay Day is unquestionably a freemium title but equally, through time and continued support shows a methodology and approach other studios could adopt that doesn’t immediately deter the user from the experience.

Another game was a farming game codenamed Soil, which would later be named Hay Day. Our goal was to develop a next generation farming game, specifically designed for touch and mobile from the ground up. There were two things we really wanted to focus on. The first was user interface; we wanted to the most of swipe and other controls specific to touch. The second was social, which lead us to design a real-time trading mechanism where players could buy and sell ingredients amongst themselves.

Supercell.com

The ambition was clear, to create and maximise the use of the mobile specific interface in touch and swipe control, secondly to expand and make use of the social function prevalent in successful mobile titles. On both accounts it succeeds, the controls and interface are easy to use and understand from the simple swipe mechanic to harvest and plant crops to the creation of items in game utilising the ingredients and produced items to expand your farm. Equally through the social mechanic, the game has expanded and evolved from its earliest release version now including amongst other features a friendly competitive derby feature that allows you to compete by yourself or in conjunction with others in a points based limited time event completing set tasks to win the occasion. The background to the experience is money and wealth, items and crops, the two staple ingredients to many of the challenges involve time and money, often, it can be seen as the one area that divides opinion with freemium games where real world cash can accelerate and give an unfair advantage for those willing to pay. In Hay Day, subjectively, it does feel the game gets the balance just right and is an enjoyable title to play that rewards the player through perseverance. There is room to improve but the same could be said for most games.


The Playing Experience

The core mechanics of Hay Day are principally designed and curated around the touch interface experience of mobile devices, as such there are no compromises or feeling second tier to the controller or mouse and keyboard control input. As noted, everything from harvesting crops to baking pies and dishes is a simple drag and drop with every action and task simplistic by design. There are ways you could imagine a mouse or keyboard interface could alternate the experience but fundamentally, its difficult to see how it could improve the game substantially. Farming as with other games in the genre is the central appeal, as such crop harvesting and replenishing is the principle way to create dishes and items for sale and the subsequent expansion of your farm. As your experience level increases you gain access to additional crops that allow you to develop more complex dishes though the items required never really go beyond four or five base items to create. In addition, through expansion and continued support these items are retroactively introduced to lower levels, for instance with the most recent addition nut bushes these were available instantly to gamers provided you had reached the required level and could be planted immediately. With every new ingredient you are given a small amount to start with then required to plant them to generate more. Of course there is the option to accelerate the growth through the use of the premium diamond resource but a little patience is all that’s required to build up a plentiful harvest.

Besides money, crop’s are the games principle resource of use, crucial in creating a multitude of food items for sale and to compete in events. Equally, they are used in creating food for your animals who in turn provide resources such as the milk from cows and eggs from chickens. It’s a fascinating simplistic take on interconnected markets and how an environment of this type requires a multitude of inputs to succeed. Item’s can be sold and traded with online players, there is no direct competition or rival mechanic, only an ambition to grow and expand your personal farm to be the best it can be. In trading, there is no direct option to search for a specific item as such, as a consequence users have taken to only advertising the more common items they have listed in order to avoid users simply buying the required item and leaving everything else untouched. It speaks to the second hand market vulture mentality of buyers picking off the best items and leaving everything else untouched. As such there is a feeling of joy and satisfaction when you open a wheat listing for instance to buy and discover the seller also has listed items to expand the farm such as title deeds and markers. This is entirely self governed but it’s interesting to see how universally more experienced users adopt this mindset without any verbal or written communication between each other. There are several aides available in the game to assist for a limited time that use the premium economy, one of which allows you to search for specific items but in turn this also has a checks and balance approach with every specific search requiring a cool down between each activation. You can succeed with real world money but your path to growth won;t be entirely truncated.

“We made sure that (Hay Day) is truly social, it means that on our platform not only can you visit other players, but you can help them. One of the core features of the game is that you can not only produce but also sell goods to other players.”

Game Product Manager Stephan Demirdjian 2013, Forbes

Since its release in 2013 there have been three main additions to the base game that is available today, a fishing game that takes you to another part of the virtual world you inhabit and is enjoyable to play in its own right. A market town feature which is a principle trading game with virtual guests arriving by train looking to inhabit its various structures and purchase specific items, this was expanded in recent years with a zoo animal safari feature that yields additional items. And finally a neighbourhood feature that runs intermittently and allows you to drive around from point to point completing certain tasks and delivering items. Beyond these core areas a wealth of activities including the aforementioned derby feature whose difficulty is tier based meaning you are competing against farms of a similar competitive status but not necessarily level meaning if you have lapsed and come back after a while you won’t compete straight away against users at the same level who are challenging for higher honors. The notion of community and social interaction is built into the game with the ability to go into and help your neighbours and other farmers out completing their tasks and orders to assist them and gain experience yourself. This in turn merits a thank you card which is received at your farm and allows you to purchase a mystery box of decorations or items. By intention and design, Hay Day captures the spirit of its premium peers in encouraging and rewarding this type of communal behavior in its users who can revive your crops or finish a boat order allowing you to both succeed, maybe not altruistic but certainly a positive spirit to coax amongst its players.

As with other games of this type there are two competing financial resources, gold and diamonds, the latter dished out in reserved fashion or available to buy with real world money. Gold doesn’t lose its worth in the game, it remains the main tool to purchase animals, crops and items across the spectrum of the environment and as such doesn’t feel like a secondary or token item as the game starts to progress. Many Freemium titles reach a certain apex where the premium resource supplants the more readily available income, another title I play Star Trek Timelines suffers from this to an extent where the charged crystals became the main form of purchase power over the readily available latinum ingame. It creates a two tier economy there but thankfully that impulse has been reserved or curtailed to date by SuperCell that continues to place an importance on gold in your purchase power and as such diamonds feel like a luxury item allowing certain expansions but nothing that hinders your primary experience. Certain additional mechanics rely on diamonds to operate, the ability for a limited time to hire workers to feed your animals, harvest your crops or search for specific items but ultimately, every task you can pay someone to do is one of the games fundamental playing mechanics and why you gain enjoyment from playing a farming game of this type. The main area that the premium income can influence is the ability to expand your farm, sealed off sections of land that require specific resources that randomly drop through playing or using diamonds to unlock. Ultimately this is a personal preference how eager you are to expand and grow, from a subjective standpoint these items through general play are dropped sufficiently to expand in due course and as mentioned previously a nice surprise when you come across someone selling them on a rare occasion.


Presentation

The appeal of Hay Day is in part due to the familiar and welcoming aesthetic of the farm that continues to implement only minimalistic and incremental changes to the gaming world. It uses a Disney esque animation style in relation to its animals and guests, distinct in their appearance but very much recognisably of being of this particular world and game. One of the endearing touches the studio introduced was seasonal changes to the inhabitants of this gaming world, in the summer the pigs and cows for instance are adorned in sun glasses and shorts to reflect the heat and sunshine. Equally in the autumn and winter small weather effects cycled to come into play with frost appearing on the ground and the animals now in scarfs and hats to guard against the temperatures. Its entirely a superficial touch but equally does suggest to the player the notion of this living world reflecting the admittedly Western or Northern hemisphere climate around you where the darkened cold winter months would have a tangible, visible impact on your animals and farm. There is some element of asset reuse with visitors taking the form of a half dozen character models that cycle through, perhaps there could be a way to randomise the appearance at a later date but its entirely a stylised or functional choice providing some differentiation without taxing the developers to much. In contrast, a pet expansion allows you to purchase a variety of animals that serve no practical function beyond fulfilling a personal fantasy to own a selection of horses, cats, bunnies and dogs in a variety of colours and appearances. It’s interesting to note there is more variety and individuality here than in the entirety of the visitors who come to visit your farm.

The game has a similar animated and graphical prowess as other titles in the genre, harvesting the crops through the animated scythe is satisfying, equally how each seed or produce has an individual growth dynamic over time before yielding their crop is a nice embellishment. Your machinery animates during production, for example on the smoothie maker ingredients are blended together during production, just superficial, superfluous details that add to the nuance and tapestry of the farm you inhabit. The fishing game introduced after launch follows a similar approach to other titles that use this as a mini game of its own, using line tension and resistance to capture your fish before pulling it in, rewarded for perseverance with larger catch with diamonds to use in the games premium features and abilities. Broadly you can probably surmise it doesn’t look to push the boundaries of what is possible in its approach, but ensures everything that is released to the user is solid and functional. Embellished where possible, for instance the use of dynamite in the mine area of your map startles your animals momentarily sending them running in a panic before returning to their normal tranquil state. The music is pleasant but largely repetitive, thankfully an option is available to mute this in the settings and allow the sound effects to play as a preference only. Equally, there is nothing substantially missed by playing this with no sound or audio, there is no real set dialogue or narration with the exception of the opening video. It adds perhaps to the ambience of the experience but equally enjoyable with sound and music turned off to just enjoy the visual spectacle.


Summary

Hay Day succeeds and finds the right balance between being a free to play experience and ultimately generating sufficient revenue to allow the company to continue to support and expand the game long after its initial release. From a holistic perspective it doesn’t challenge or subject the user to the harsh realities of the life it attempts to portray, there are no consequences of abandoning your responsibilities for a prolonged period of time, returning to the game after a break of several months or years doesn’t yield a scene of starved animals and dead crops, everything remains in the static digital ether patiently awaiting your eventual return. As such, it is an enjoyable experience to return to and enjoy, a world of familiarity and change designed to assist the user where you can drop into and yield an element of control perhaps lacking in the present day environment. Maybe that is the appeal of these types of games, the simplistic nature of presenting an environment that has direct consequences to immediate actions, growing wheat and corn to make bread, milking cows to make cheese and cream. Every substantial expansion is methodically designed to complement and work with the core mechanics of the game, equally given time to breathe and flourish in its own right. As a result, even after going away for a period of time you never feel disadvantaged or left behind on your return.

I’ve spent a substantial period of time on Charles’ farm harvesting my crops, tending to my animals and ensuring the continued viability of my small acre of virtual land is a prosperous and happy place. Has it added any objective worth or sense of accomplishment? arguably not however I don’t feel that is what this type of game has been designed to elicit amongst its users. Yes it has the trappings of a freemium title and there are certainly mechanics and aspects designed to part you from your real world income. It’s not an approach I ordinarily abide by and will freely admit in the many years I have spent on my farm in the digital ether I haven’t spent a single penny enjoying this game or purchased items through the limited advertising that is optional to click and endure. If my experience is typical of the general demographic of players it doesn’t suggest a business model that is viable or profitable to the developers, besides word of mouth or positive acclaim such as this I don’t immediately see how I contribute to its enduring and continuing legacy. But then if the intention is to create an amicable and prosperous community of farmers and players that work to assist each other, I can say confidently I have made a small, token difference here in allowing others to prosper as I help revive their crops and fulfilled their boat orders that may have encouraged them to continue to play, to buy diamonds, to make Hey Day a welcoming and prosperous game to support.

I don’t envisage I’d step up and purchase a premium, full retail release of an equivalence to this game, the simplicity and appeal of games such as Harvest Moon in this genre or other day to day living experiences such as The Sims holds no real sway over me. I can’t objectively surmise why this game has continued to appeal to me many years after its release. From a personal perspective it is one of few games my partner and I will come back to from time to time together to restore our farms and push our neighbourhood derby credentials competing challenges and tasks together. But fundamentally, as alluded to before, I believe it’s the simplistic communal aspect of the game that encourages cooperation and engagement with your neighbours and peers in succeeding together, maybe an idealised fantasy of the socialist mindset of the redistribution of wealth ideology but there is something to be said for the positivity of the experience encountered in this game. There is a small element of gatekeeping around the premium economy but nothing that detracts or stops a sense of progression experienced through natural gameplay and dedication. I’ve reached an experience level of 77 which has afforded me an opportunity to experience all the games different areas and play styles whilst natural levelling has unlocked a wealth of animals, machines and crops, none hidden behind a paywall. Quite rightly, there are a great many freemium titles that I would discourage and actively speak against for how they treat the user as a source of income and wealth, for however long Hay Day continues to function, it’s not a motivation or experience I could attribute to this game. And if you ever find yourself in the bright coloured world of Hay Day come swing by Cowldeaux and say hi.

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