I use a Japanese social networking site called Mixi, that is a kind of blogging/photo uploading/community/facebook style site all rolled into one, minus (mostly) the spam weirdness of facebook, with a lot more privacy settings and slightly more obtrusive advertising. Recently I have been roped into playing a farming game with my friends, called Sunshine Ranch:

See the turtle god smile on my harvest...

See the turtle god smile on my harvest...

The principle is that of all civ-type games. I grow plants, I sell them, I make money and buy seeds and upgrades. You can see in my dock down the bottom[1] that I have various tools. Sometimes I have drought, sometimes insects infect my crops. I start with 6 plots and as I get rich I can buy more, and when I get to level 10 I can go to the animal yard and start growing chickens (which are very cute; I’m looking forward to the cute way they die horribly when I “harvest” them). This game has competitive and cooperative options though – on the right hand side of the screen you can see a list of those friends of mine who have replied to my request to waste their time harvesting stuff. I can go to their farm and put insects in their crops, and scrump their apples. I can also water their crops or kill insects. I get experience for this (and I can sell the apple-y loot).

The thing is, it’s all in Japanese (this is why I use Mixi!). I can read most  of what’s on the screen and the tooltips, but there are some things I can’t read properly – particularly the explanations of what the various  purchasable items do. So I have this suspicion that putting fertiliser on your plants increases the amount they yield as well as the speed at which they yield; but the tooltip doesn’t say this and I can’t read the more detailed information (well, i could, copy and paste and the joyous rikaichan being very useful; but I can’t be bothered). So instead of reading about it, I am doing a kind of randomised block experiment where I choose one of the blocks of similar plants (in the picture above, it’s apples) and apply fertiliser, while the other one remains natural. I then compare yields at the end of the period. Normal fertiliser costs 30 coin and gives a 1 hour increase in speed, and I can apply it once at each stage of growth  (there are usually 4 stages). But an apple tree (for example) takes about 15 hours total to grow and yields about 100 coin; so unless I gain a significant amount of yield benefit from the fertiliser beyond the time frame, it’s not worth spending the money. Hence the experiment. The problem is, yield may depend on my level and also on how many insects my friends blight me with; so I should really be keeping detailed data on covariates.

If I were going to do that though I would just as well translate the help, eh?

Anyway it’s fun, and I’m currently a better rancher than my friends. I even have a 7th plot! Just wait till I have a horde of chickens to slaughter!! I’m sure they’ll be very cute…

[1]  I didn’t notice at first but it really is exactly like a dock – the tool symbols increase in size when you roll over them.