"Farmville is a free, browser-based video game that is played through one’s Facebook account. Users harvest crops, decorate their farms, and interact with one another, in what is ostensibly a game about farming. While this may sound like a relatively banal game, over seventy-three million people play Farmville. Twenty-six million people play Farmville every day. More people play Farmville than World of Warcraft, and Farmville users outnumber those who own a Nintendo Wii. This popularity is not surprising per se; even in the current recession, video game revenues reached nearly twenty billion dollars in America last year. The video games industry is a vibrant one, and there is certainly room in it for more good games.
Farmville is not a good game. While Caillois tells us that games offer a break from responsibility and routine, Farmville is defined by responsibility and routine. Users advance through the game by harvesting crops at scheduled intervals; if you plant a field of pumpkins at noon, for example, you must return to harvest at eight o’clock that evening or risk losing the crop. Each pumpkin costs thirty coins and occupies one square of your farm, so if you own a fourteen by fourteen farm a field of pumpkins costs nearly six thousand coins to plant. Planting requires the user to click on each square three times: once to harvest the previous crop, once to re-plow the square of land, and once to plant the new seeds. This means that a fourteen by fourteen plot of land—which is relatively small for Farmville—takes almost six hundred mouse-clicks to farm, and obligates you to return in a few hours to do it again. This doesn’t sound like much fun, Mr. Caillois. Why would anyone do this?
One might speculate that people play Farmville precisely because they invest physical effort and in-game profit into each harvest. This seems plausible enough: people work over time to develop something, and take pride in the fruits of their labor. Farmville allows users to spend their in-game profits on decorations, animals, buildings, and even bigger plots of land. So users are rewarded for their work. Of course, people can sidestep the harvesting process entirely by spending real money to purchase in-game items. This is the major source of revenue for Zynga, the company that produces Farmville. Zynga is currently on pace to make over three hundred million dollars in revenue this year, largely off of in-game micro-transactions. Clearly, even people who play Farmville want to avoid playing Farmville.
If people don’t play Farmville because of the play itself, perhaps they play because of the rewards. Users can customize their farms with ponds, fences, statues, houses, and even Christmas trees, and compare their farms with those of their friends. It’s important to note that Farmville is a public game, shared with friends across the largest social networking site in America. It makes sense that some people would enjoy the aesthetics of Farmville, of designing and arranging their farms. No doubt some users want to show off their handiwork, and impress and compete with their virtual neighbors. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine seventy-three million people playing a game that isn’t fun to play, just to keep up with the Joneses. After all, we have real life for that sort of thing.
Even Zynga’s designers seem well aware that their game is repetitive and shallow. As you advance through Farmville, you begin earning rewards that allow you to play Farmville less. Harvesting machines let you click four squares at once, and barns and coops let you manage groups of animals simultaneously, saving you hundreds of tedious mouse-clicks. In other words, the more you play Farmville the less you have to play Farmville. For such a popular game, this seems suspicious. Meanwhile, Zynga is constantly adding new items and giveaways to Farmville, often at the suggestion of their users. Hardly a week goes by that a new color of cat isn’t available for purchase. What fun."
h/t to cryptogon
It's astounding that so many play this game. I have to believe the ersatz work and rewards satisfy some sort of a deep longing to get back to the land, pretending at getting your hands dirty and doing something that's more real than our increasingly phony lives allow. I don't have any truck with social networks; I had never heard of this before now. It's amazing.
Here's Wikipedia, although I suspect I may be the only person online who was clueless about it.