Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Farmville, Social Gaming, and Addiction

CM Comment: The power of social gaming at work.

December 4, 2009: summarized from Gamasutra -- Facebook bragged to the public this week that Farmville, a farming sim game hosted on their site, is now more popular than Twitter, with over 26 million daily users and in excess of 69 million monthly users to its name.

Farmville's popularity is impressive on a few levels--more people are playing it than World of Warcraft, than ever bought a Wii, and a look at my own Farmville friends list indicates it's seducing players to the joys of gaming who would never even pick up a video game under normal circumstances.

Granted, Farmville exists with a very different business model than most video games: you don't pay by the month to play it, you don't even shell out a one-time payment to play: you play for free, and then the game tries to sell you in-game perks and a chance to skip the grind to unlock all of the game's content by spending money rather than time.

It exists in a social rather than solitary space, while it's not an explicit pyramid scheme like some online games such as mybrute that rely on referrals, Farmville locks you out of some content unless you have enough friends playing Farmville with you, and having friends in your network playing Farmville is a reliable source of coins, experience, and gifts, the main resources of the game.

Farmville leverages the social aspects of Facebook very effectively: every time you so much as sneeze in Farmville, a message pops up and asks you if you would like to share with your friends how much fun you're having sneezing and and encourage them to come sneeze in Farmville with you.

The game is also more than happy to bribe players for participating in its viral spread: cute lonely animals will show up on your farm periodically and as a player you face a dilemma in sentencing them to virtual abandonment and death unless you post on your Facebook wall that you need one of your friends to start playing Farmville and "adopt" the adorable little self-promoter.

The genius in how Farmville has succeed in getting so many people addicted comes down to how it handles commitments on a player's time: every time you play Farmville and plant a crop, you're making a commitment to come back during a 12 hour window or so to harvest your crop, or else you forfeit your investment.

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