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Hi, My Name is Alex, and I’m addicted to FarmVille.

October 27, 2009

I guess it all started about a month ago. I had seen some friends of mine on Facebook were starting to use FarmVille. “Hey man. Be my neighbor on FarmVille. All the cool kids are doing it,” they were saying. After ignoring multiple neighbor requests, I finally gave in. “It’s probably lame. I’ll try it once, for work,” I told myself. Well, that was all it took. The next thing I knew I was sitting in the darkened back room of a focus group, begging Crystal to let me use her laptop to check my farm. “You don’t understand. My crops,” I pleaded with her, “If I don’t harvest them, they’ll wither and die.” That’s when I knew I had a problem.

So, maybe that’s an exaggeration, although they did just open the first center for the treatment of internet addiction. The real story here is that “social games,” like FarmVille, are changing expectations when it comes to gaming. They’re also adding a surprising new layer to social media.

If you’re one of the 300 million people using Facebook, chances are you’ve seen posts or received requests from your friends who are playing FarmVille. In fact, according to Mashable, FarmVille claims to be the fastest growing social game in history, reaching 11 million daily users in a little over two months.

“To put that in perspective, World of Warcraft is the largest massively multiplayer game that dominates MMO market share with, at last report, 11.5 million active subscribers. Its publisher Blizzard hasn’t revealed any new population statistics since the end of last year, but assures the press that its figures are still growing. It took WoW four years to reach that many subscribers after its launch in late 2004.”

So, just what is FarmVille? Check out this video from the game’s creator, Zynga:

Did you ever, in your wildest dreams, expect a game about farming to become so popular? Of course, you didn’t. And that’s the genius of FarmVille. All of a sudden everyone wants to be a farmer. Teenagers, young professionals, middle-aged lawyers – they’re all harvesting their crops as you read this. Crazy, right?

So why is FarmVille so popular? Two reasons:
1. It is highly social.
2. It is highly addictive.

FarmVille is perfectly integrated into Facebook.
The defining characteristic of FarmVille is that it is a social game. As a Facebook application, once granted access, FarmVille has access to your Facebook profile. That’s how it spreads.  You can visit and help out on neighbors’ farms, send them gifts, and fertilize their crops. As you become a more capable farmer, you get awards and prizes. “Do you want to share the good news with friends.” “Yes?”  CLICK… BOOM…  every one of your Facebook friends was just exposed to FarmVille. Think about that happening two to three times a day per FarmVille user. That’s the power of social gaming, baby. As Crystal would say, FarmVille tumbles like crazy.

Farm coins are like crack.
To buy anything in FarmVille (seeds, animals, trees, houses, tractors, decorations, etc.), you need Farm Coins. As you get deeper into the game, you’ll discover more and more ways to earn Farm Coins (you can buy them with real money, but that’s for posers). You can see your neighbors’ farms, and they always seem to be cooler than yours. So you plant more seeds, milk more cows, but it’s never enough. You want more land, more expensive crops, bigger barns, better houses. The next thing you know, you’re helping out on a farm owned by some girl from grade school you haven’t spoken to in 10 years just to earn 5 extra Farm Coins. Just today, a friend of mine asked me if I thought it was poor FarmVille etiquette for her to pawn gifts neighbors had given her for more Farm Coins. Addictive? I’d say so.

Picture 1

My Farm (I'm saving up for a sweet barn)

Ultimately, success on Facebook isn’t measured by number of fans; it’s measured by level of engagement. And if that’s true, FarmVille is doing a hell of a job. So, what lessons from social gaming can we apply to brands on Facebook?

Try FarmVille for yourself on Facebook:

4 Comments leave one →
  1. kimtrokey permalink
    October 28, 2009 10:26 am

    Great post. I think you are totally right that Farmville is the perfect example of the changing expectations of users when it comes to engagement and enjoyment. And Facebook continues to deliver. Just think, a few years ago the most entertaining way to engage with others via Facebook was through a poke. Now, you can save someone’s corn crop and give them a cow to show your friendship. Facebook meets and beats the changing user expectations on a daily basis, which is why they are #1 on the digital hot list this year.

    However, this child-like game also reminds me of a post that I did earlier this year on the motivation behind Facebook. One theory is that Facebook is in a sense infantilizing our brains into the state of small children who need constant reassurance that they exist. The popularity of Farmville would justify this theory. People feel a sense of self worth in the fact that they can keep a farm alive or help another friend sow their crops. It’s kinda weird.

    I guess I better check it out. For work, of course.

  2. October 28, 2009 1:46 pm

    Thanks for the great post.

    This game is tapping into basic human emotions like desire to reciprocate, compete, and showoff all at the same time. And the sharing and social is integrated within the game as opposed to added as an after thought.

    I use it as a casestudy often when speaking at the IGDA and explaining to traditional game developers how social elements work and need to be built in:

  3. October 29, 2009 1:52 pm

    The mention of addiction reminded me of Laura Miller’s review of Winifred Gallagher’s book, “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life” in which she discusses our brains’ perpetual internal conflict between reactive and reflective tendencies:

    “…our interest is grabbed by movement, bright colors, loud noises and novelty — all qualities associated with potential meals or threats in a natural setting; we are hard-wired to like the shiny. The attention we bring to bear on less exciting objects and activities, where the payoff may be long-term rather than immediate, requires a conscious choice.”

    Because the payoff for paying attention to movement, bright colors, loud noises and novelty used to be so closely tied to survival, it’s still a very strong tendency, and games like Farmville benefit from it. What Ms. Miller says remains to be seen is whether, over time, “our brains will adapt themselves to these activities and find it more and more difficult to switch gears [to reflective mode].”

    Either way, there’s no doubt in my mind that the developers of social games know all about these tendencies. In Farmville, they’ve also tied into long-term payoffs and the American obsessions of productivity, nostalgia for simpler times, and manipulating the natural environment. Even with that horrendous music, the combination almost guarantees success.

    Here’s the link to the full review:

  4. alexmkerlick permalink*
    November 2, 2009 11:46 am

    UPDATE: I got my barn over the weekend. 40,000 Farm Coins, baby.

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