TrainStation, the game that made me add 200+ unknown people on Facebook as friend

I’ve already ranted about Facebook games, hey, I even made a comparison table between a few Facebook games. But not everything is bad, and TrainStation is one of the few games that truly leverages Facebook “friend” network and stays addictive beyond the first 30 minutes of play.

Why’s that ? Why a single Facebook-based flash game can hook a player for days, weeks, months, even years, while dozen of others hardly achieve to retain most players after a few minutes of play ?

While playing, I started to collect thoughts about why I was playing it days after days, adding unknown people on Facebook as friends (based on their profile picture, if it was a train, true story), signin in on the game forums and posting in it.  Here’s the result of this collection, hope it’ll help future game designer/developer.

Specialized game

TrainStation is (obviously) about trains and stations, but in a way that it’s designed for train enthusiasts. It features real train engines, along with actual names and description/history. The gameplay is somewhat simple, you send and receive trains, graphics tend to be realistic, and the game itself is pretty long-haul.

The result : less global audience, as non-train fans will be repelled by the game, but train fans have a great chance to be hooked up by the game and to become a regular player. I don’t have the numbers, but I guess that long-term players are the most likely to spend real money in the game, and enjoy it.

Even if they don’t want to pay a dime (like me), they still would be more likely to participate on the forums and support the community one way or another.

Regular bonuses, even paying money

I really liked how the game is constantly throwing bonuses at you, even it’s still up to you to catch them, sometimes literally. The whole game is about loading/unloading trains filled with resources or passengers/mail, allowing you to buy building for your train station. Aside from the trains you bought and sent manually, you can collect resources from many other sources :

  • Mail envelopes popping up on your train station screen
  • Random bonus trains arriving at your station
  • Bag of mail and bonus trains waiting at your friends’ station
  • Resources popping from the train you follow on his journey
  • Daily mini-game on the game website
An unexpected train

The important thing is that these bonuses are only awarded if you play the game. The longer you play, the more bonuses you get.  It’s very different  than all those games with action points that limits your play time. Here you know that if you play more, you will get more, as it should be the case for every other game.

Game pace choice

Unlike most other game, in Trainstation you can decide the pace of the game. When sending your trains getting resources or delivering passengers/mail, it’s up to you to set the time they will take to make the round-trip to your station. The longer you sent them, the more you get resources, but short trips are more efficient. At first you are tempted to send your train for ten minutes each time, as it maximizes resources output. But after a few times, it becomes too time-consuming and you switch to 30-minutes rides, until you find 2-hours ride to be your cruise speed.

But if you can sustain 10-minutes ride rythm, you’re free to keep this pace of game, it’s entirely up to you, the game itself does not impose any constraint on this matter.

There is always something to do

One of the major flaw with Facebook-based game including limitations like action points or building time is that once you’ve done everything you could during a game session, you just have to close the game and wait. Because of that, you can completely forget the game for days before reopening it. In this case, you’re not far from quitting playing this game. After all, if you can’t remember it ?

On the contrary, TrainStation allows the player to play almost infinitely, as there is always something optional to do. If you want to play for a long time, you can. If you are on a short schedule, you can play too.

Every action awards XP points

Available items to buy (trains, cars, buildings, decorations, game enhancements) are unlocked through a classic experience/level system. The good thing is that you gain experience points for nearly every action in the game :

  • Sending trains
  • Loading/Unloading trains
  • Buying anything
  • Earning achievements
  • Planting flags at other player’s station (improving their passenger rate)
  • Experience popping from the train you want to follow on his journey
Experience Points !

Even if some of these actions only give a handful of points, it helps to realize your progression in the game. If you play regularly, you can steadily pass a level each 2 or 3 days, you’re never stuck, unless you don’t play at all.

Friends requirements are low

Having friends is not mandatory to progress in the game. You don’t have to ask them for items you could not get otherwise. Still, having friends playing the game is nice because they get you free resources that boost your progress. And since the game has his own community (because it’s specialized in trains), you know that some people in Facebook will be happy to be your friend in the game.

I guess that’s why I looked for a thread in the forum offering friends request for add in the game. From this point, things sky-rocketed. I added a dozen friends, then I answered to a dozen request more, then I started adding friends based on Facebook suggestion and the fact that they had a train on their profile picture (true story). Up until the point that I couldn’t manage this much friends in the game, I spent too much time collecting various bonus generated by friends.

I guess that I didn’t think that Facebook could be used as a game community platform before. Because, amongst friends you really know, only a few is interested in games, and not necessarily the same as you. But here, I can safely ask people to be friend in the game, because I already know they play it before I ask !

Internal Gift System

TrainStation features a gift system that enables you to send free gifts to your Facebook friends also playing the game. It’s the case for almost every game on Facebook.  But where most games use the ugly game request system provided by Facebook, TrainStation chose to implement its own ingame screen that runs smoothly.

The internal gift system

Maybe it’s a detail, but for me it’s really convenient, because I don’t have to wait for the Facebook game request overlay to load when I send gifts, and I don’t received Facebook notifications when I receive a gift, leaving only important updates in my feed.

Spending real money is neither mandatory nor sufficient

As many other Facebook-based games, TrainStation offers to trade real mony in exchange for a special resources (the Gems) that helps you go beyond the standard limits of the game : you can teleport trains with full load, you can buy things without having sufficient materials to do so, and so on.

But TrainStation is built that way that you can’t buy everything with Gems. At some point in the game, you just have to earn the right to buy some of the items that can only be purchased with actual resources. Moreover, some items are available by both means, resources or Gems. This compensates greatly the usual frustration of not being able to get everything in the game by transforming it into a choice : not paying is a choice you make, you will only be able to get 60 % of the items in the game. But paying is also a choice, you will only be able to get 60% of the items in the game. Either way, the remaining 40% of the items must be obtained the other way, by paying or playing, and that’s very clever from Pixel Federation.

Achievements are hard to get

Achievement are pretty common in Facebook games (as well as console games).  Completing a certain set of in-game tasks awards you a bonus, being resources or the symbol of this completion. Initially, achievements were hard to get. They allowed to extend the game lifetime by encouraging to reach the limits of the game.

However, over time, achievements became less and less difficult to get, to the point where achievements is awarded solely by playing the main game. As they are now easier to get, they are less interesting and rendered ineffective to increase play time. TrainStation put back the “achieve” in “achievements” by setting very high goals, sometimes ridiculous.

10 000 000 is a lot. Really.

But their difficulty makes them fully-fledged game goals instead of just being mere checkpoint of game completion. Sometimes the bonus makes them priority targets, because the reward could not be obtainable by other means, sometimes it’s just for the sake of it.

Furthermore, completing an unexpected difficult achievement is greatly rewarding, as it really shows your progression in the game.


TrainStation is not the ultimate universal game that everyone could enjoy playing, but that’s for the better. Through careful design choices, often against common practice from big game editors, Pixel Federation achieved to make a great game destined to trains fans. Maybe that’s the lesson to learn : Sticking to a narrow audience, and making everything possible not to bother them during their game session.

11 thoughts on “TrainStation, the game that made me add 200+ unknown people on Facebook as friend”

  1. Very accurate about the game.
    I have been playing this game for about 1 year now and have never grown tired of it.
    I would slightly disagree about the type of players it attracts as I know of players that love the fact that it incorporates two different and very popular aspects of traditional facebook games ie:–
    1 City building
    2 Logistics
    Myself as an ex Trainspotter from the 60’s I love everything about the game
    There is also one major aspect that Trainstation holds over and above all other games I have played on facebook.
    That is Devs that communicate with the players and actually play the game (I have some as facebook friends of mine so I can vouch for that). So many other companies seem to want to take your money & time but never seem to want to answer you if you have a problem or tell you if they have a problem

  2. I would like to commend the excellent and informative article written by MRPETOVAN, and would like to add my agreement to Ian Hutchings comments. I started playing this game several months ago, thinking it would be another flash in the pan like all the others. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the game and by the fact you can only really help other players……no robbing or attacking an unsuspecting opponent at three o’clock in the morning here. This is one aspect of games on the internet I disliked, forcing the player to endlessly keep checking their position at all hours in case some other player tried to surprise you.

    Thankfully there is no such nonsense in TrainStation. A game that is fun and intellectually stimulating at the same time…? Pixel have hit the nail firmly on the head with this one.

    There are also many helpful groups out there dedicated to TrainStation, further enhancing the players enjoyment of the game.

    Another great aspect of playing this game is the great support given by the Devs mentioned in Ian’s comments. My experience is they will bend over backwards to help, will always strive to sort out a problem to the players satisfaction, and are courteous and polite to boot!
    How many games have that going for them?

    Pixel have set a gold standard in internet gaming, and I can’t praise the game enough. There is so much in the game that it will keep me a fan for many years to come, and if there was a Michelin Standard for games on FaceBook, TrainStation I am sure would get the full Five Star rating.

  3. Dear friends,
    I want to tell my experience about “train station” game on face book.
    I played that game for about 3-4 months , every day for many many hours and finally I was at level 105 when I decided to stop playing.
    All the others games on face book (those I know) , ask you for real money directly , or for the “help” of your web friends.
    “Train Station” is more clever. It gives you the feeling that you can play completely without real money, but if you try it for a long time (more than 3 months) you can easily understand that you are a “second class” player.
    For example : After 105 levels , a lot of times and enough “hard job” , if you want to continue playing, you can use only small cargo wagons with very small capacity and you can get an achievement very very difficult.
    I antithesis , if you have real money to spend you can buy very strong locomotives (40-50 wagons capacity) as well as cargo wagons with high capacity , that means , you are a player who can do everything you want on game.
    After all if you have not problem to play as a ‘slave’ without the necessary tools ….. except you pay for them … ‘Trainstation” is a very good game to spend your time.
    Archelaos Stavrianos

    1. Thanks Archelaos for your comment.

      It inspired me that thought: maybe you were a “slave” by having to play more to achieve the same result as a paying player, but at least you were a “free slave”, pun intended. Pixel Federation is a professional corporation employing people to create games. They pay wages and taxes and hope that their products (=games) will sell enough so that they can keep on running.

      They chose to open all the main aspects (running trains, building station) of their game TrainStation, which is quite a bargain: they knew that a fraction of their players would never spend a dime playing their game, all the while enjoying the free entertainment and draining their computer resources. Yet their never put any paywall anywhere in the game if you just want to play it. Their didn’t make some major gameplay features only accessible after paying.

      Did you know that even with premium locomotives and big capacity wagons, I quit playing before getting all the achievement? At some point, I got bored of the gameplay, not because it’s a freemium game with paid items, but because I always get bored of every game I play, freemium or not. The difference is the time I spent enjoying the game. And TrainStation does a great job at making you enjoy it for a long time with very simple game concepts. Just consider your comment: you played for about 3-4 every day for many hours, enjoying every single minute of it (or else you would have quit before), all that for free!

      Yes, that’s true that you can progress faster in the game with paid content, but in the end I don’t think that’s the point, you can’t *beat* that game, you just have to go the farthest you can before getting bored with the game mechanics, as it happens with every game you and I play 🙂

  4. I just started playing and can’t get enough…love the fact that I don’t have to wait for an energy bar of some kind to refill in order to keep playing. Also, what I think sets this game apart from other fb games is the way you can easily add friends. Most games require you to first get someone to respond to your friend request AND THEN get them to also accept an invitation to play. With TrainStation, you simply send friend requests to those already playing and when they accept (they almost always do for obvious reasons) they automatically show up as game friends.

    This is a great feature, because, if you play multiple fb games, it can get extremely confusing trying to remember which friend request goes to which game.

    1. No way. But on some devices you should try playing online at the using your facebook account.

  5. Excellent article and commments. In response to Archelaos Stavrianos, the money resources in the game is Gems to buy better buildings, wagons and engines. You can buy them as stated above, but, Trainstation has built in features so even non-payers can earn gems. You can then use them to get premium items or use them in other ways to enhance game play. The more you play, the more you earn. You get a special bonus each day you sign in and another if you go through portal and play mini-game. I have been playing for 3 years and achieved all the goals I want to so far (yes, that includes the 10,000,000 mail, I’ve probably sent twice that by now) and am still enjoying the game. I’m at level 314 and have friends in the 600+ levels.

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